The Habit of Complaining: First Step in Adjusting to a New Role [Archives:1997/50/Viewpoint]

December 15 1997

It is as if Yemenis are trying to perfect the art of complaining. Wherever you go, people complain. Businessmen, Intellectuals, Government bureaucrats, Members of parliament, and of course, the guy in the street… they all complain. It is everywhere, and each person tries to convince you that he/she is the victim of some idiot out there who is doing his/her job. The blame is often put on the President of the Republic. I sometimes chuckle when senior government officials complain.
The problem is the helplessness people feel. Most people feel they have lost control, and even a sense of direction. They drift along with the current. They feeluncomfortable with the flow as they believe there is no one in charge.  This is because the Yemeni individual is used to an autocratic system in which things are predetermined and people are given exact roles to play. They are used to a system in which there is a mastermind who orders everybody around. But things have now changed and individuals are asked to make their own decisions. Unable to immediately take charge, most people revert to the habit of complaining.
Given Yemen’s transformation towards democracy, there are less central orders, and there is more room for self-driven decision-making. Individuals are thus expected to make up their minds about many things. This means that our people will need a lot of preparation and training. Yemenis, by and large, have not been raised and trained to interact positively in a democratic setting. The learning and catching up that needs to be done pertains to self-esteem, knowledge of rights and duties, and proper interaction in the new setting. Democratic countries, especially in the West, could serve as a catalyst by helping in public awareness and cultural orientation programs.
Another dimension to this new setting is that the country needs to fight apathy. The citizens of Yemen need to feel they are part of the system, and that what they think, say, and do matter. They have an active role to play in the public life of the nation. This interaction has reached such advanced levels in the USA to the extent that ordinary people do “citizen’s arrest”. We do not expect Yemenis to get that far, although in our tradition, we have a similar drive along what is known as “Al-amre bil-ma’aroof, wal-nahyi a’an al-munkar”. Roughly translated, this means the right of citizens to “encourage (order) good deeds, and block (stop) bad deeds”. At the very least, our people need to interact fully in public events such as elections, public policy, and in monitoring officials and holding them accountable.
In the meanwhile, the complaining will continue. This by itself is not a bad thing. It does reflect the new order of things. You would often hear people blaming the president for a number of shortcomings. You would hear sentences like, “Why doesn’t he do something about this? Why doesn’t he sack this fellow? Why doesn’t he order this to be done?”  Well folks, we don’t want him to do this or that, or sack this fellow or that, or give this order or that. In a democratic setting, it is not his job. The rest of us will have to be more involved, and to do our bit in the overall management of our country. Each individual has a role, which cannot be replaced by any other person. The sooner we start to do our share, the faster things will shape up. Democracy is a learning process. Let us learn fast!

By: Pro. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf  Editor-in-Chief and Publisher