The Ingredients of Civil Society [Archives:1999/32/Focus]

August 9 1999

By: Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi,
Managing Editor, Yemen Times

Democracy is becoming the most important and substantial virtue and the main issue of the people in the modern time. This is because it has proved to be the best way of governance. However, it cant not be a political term. Rather, it is, as once the late Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf observed, ” a way of thinking, of managing and developing a country.”
One of the basic essentials of democracy is to establish a civil society that adheres to the virtues of human rights, participation of all citizens ….etc. A society that applies law and order to all people irrespective of who they are or what position they have in the society. In this way, we will have established a civil society that renders democracy a way of life. But one of the focal points that has to be highlighted in this respect is this. It is virtually the question of the NGOs and their inevitable and genuine role model on the establishment of a civil society. These NGOs are of a pivotal role in pushing the realm of development in various arenas ahead and laying the foundation for a better tomorrow. Their work should be mutual and competitive for the better of the society. In short, they are the ingredients of the existence of a civil society.
Such terms of civil society, democracy, human rights and other modern norms should be introduced to the people through diverse mass media and the people should be educated about their importance in the society. Furthermore, they have to be included in the school curriculum so as our students understand them and their value in their life.
In Yemen we have a good number of operating NGOs. But I believe the work of some of these NGOs is very little. Some were brought to halt because of financial straits. But some of the existing ones don’t interact positively with the issues of the general public in a way to enhance the role of such NGOs in the development of the society. Some have to work in launching vital development projects for the well-being of the society, some will raise the public awareness towards important issues; others will focus on other relative issues in a way that all NGOs will meet at one point which is to serve the society.But, what staggered me a lot is the negative attitude of the Yemeni NGOs towards the issue of the prisoners at different prisons in Sanaa Governorate. The prosecutor Mr. Salem Al-Shaiba left no stone unturned to convince the people in charge of these prisons to release the prisoners who are not charged without a recognizably criminal offense or those whose sentence terms have expired. 
He has also been calling for reforms to be introduced to the Judiciary. When his efforts did not succeed, he together with other lawyers decided to go on strike, a civilized way to show and express their displeasantness with the on-going affairs in the prisons of Sanaa Governorate. He and everybody expected that the NGOs, particularly these working in the field of human rights will stand by him and his friends and voice the interests of the oppressed. But to our surprise, nothing happened. At least, messages of appreciation and support of Salem’s efforts should have been sent. They should made the hell broke loose and accordingly created a big fuss in response to the efforts of the prosecutor.
I believe some of these NGOs have become a source of frittering money and nothing more.
Another plight for the NGOs in Yemen is the interference of the government in their work. In other words, the officialdom tries also to have its own NOGs, or better say GOs but under the umbrella of NGOs. This way hinders the work of our NGOs and makes the potentiality of establishing a civil society very difficult.
As a matter of fact, real NGOs are these which defend the rights of the oppressed and voice their interests. Therefore, a plan to make the work of the NGOs more well-organized has to be conducted very soon.
When Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf launched the Yemen 21st Forum, he felt the need for organizing the work of the NGOs, as institutions of the civil society. Therefore, the Yemen 21st Forum will doubtedlessly be with its staff and members able to conduct the plan, organize and monitor the work of the NGOs in Yemen. In fact, it can be along with the Yemen Times instrumental in continuing the mission of the late Dr. Saqqaf which is to introduce the values of democracy and civil society into Yemen.
Finally, I hope these established NGOs and these on their way to be created will be motivated by the desire and will to serve the society in various aspects. Let us keep our fingers crossed that these NGOs will live up to their decent job, do it properly and never turn to be GOs.