The view from outsideYemen under tough pressure [Archives:2005/886/Opinion]

October 17 2005

With the President of the Republic, Ali Abdullah Saleh due in Washington soon, it is clear that he has a tough job convincing our American friends that all the reports that are being published on Yemen are not at all painting the truth about the situation in Yemen. One however would expect, with so many mutual interests between Yemen and the United States, these unfavorable reports would not affect the overall mood of the trip and most likely most matters would have been smoothed out in due time before the trip. It might be helpful to the President if some matters are clearly laid out in due course. These include the efforts towards getting real progress along the front towards democratization, including the release of all political prisoners and issuing orders to put an end to the harassment of journalists. The President has already ordered an “amnesty” for the so called “Al-Houthi followers”, but it is not known as to how much of them have been released, if any, or when that will happen. Furthermore, the President might do well to assure the Americans that all religious institutions “harboring extremism” have been closed and not just the ones that are affiliated with the mainstream Zeidi sect or Shafe'i sect, while some of the more obviously extreme religious institutes manage to continue operating unchallenged.

There is the clear issue of corruption that Yemen needs to address and probably Washington would be interested in knowing what Yemen has done to at least begin the awesome task of making all government officials accountable to independent oversight bodies that should begin diligently finding ways to root out those officials who continue to abuse their public positions to serve their own narrow interests. These oversight bodies should include Parliament, which should call on any officials that it finds are not going by the rules. This would go a long way towards improving the investment climate in Yemen and help make government services more accessible to the majority of Yemenis, who are presently facing deprivation from the most basic of public services. Concrete steps towards decentralizing authority would also be a positive approach towards empowering communities to play a greater role in the planning, formulation and implementation of development projects. This might include allowing local communities to make their local government officials accountable to the local elected officials, in the same way that officials at the national level would be accountable to Parliament, as they should be.

The security situation would probably present a thorny issue and the President would have to point out what Yemen has achieved to preventing Yemenis from getting drawn into terrorist activities. Understandably these are probably sensitive issues, but the reports being issued from the outside are pointing to many difficulties that Yemen is facing especially along the security front.

On the home front, the President would have to make it clear to Yemeni citizens that the Government is fully aware of the many difficulties faced by the Yemenis and he would have to impose certain performance criteria that the Government must fulfill in order to remedy these difficulties and put the Government to task accordingly, by setting deadlines and expected output.

On the transparency front, the official press should be made to report on the issues that are of concern to most people and not consider any opposing opinions as acts of treason or ingratitude for all that the Government has done. Furthermore, the Government should be ready to promote innovative ideas in the form of public feedback as to how Government efficiency could be enhanced and where the weaknesses in Government are seen by the people. The official press should not be just a medium for solely polishing the Government to the public, but can be an effective forum for constructive exchanges of ideas.

The President would also have to show how much of a tolerance there is to opposing political views and what constructive dialogue has been initiated with elements in the opposition to institute real meaningful reforms that will enhance democratic governance and sound public administration of government assets and natural resources.

It might be worth it for the President to meet with some leaders in the opposition, political and social dignitaries and even members of the independent press to obtain their views on how to ensure that the President is fully prepared with all points of view on the existing situation in Yemen and a consensus on the prospects for the future.

On another note, the President would do well to meet with the Yemeni community in the United States and to have an open session with them regarding what they feel they can contribute to setting Yemen on a new sound footing and to learn what they have to offer in terms of possible solutions to the problems faced by the country. In addition, he might get some of them to start channeling some of their savings in the form of investments in their homeland and whatever expertise they can offer in the fields where they have achieved success in the United States, whether as employees or as entrepreneurs.

Of course, it is expected that these suggestions may have already been considered as the President plans his trip with his advisers, but one hopes that by taking note of the unfavorable press reports that Yemen has been getting overseas, the President will be equipped with the right answers that reinstate reassurances in Washington that there is still room for hope and grounds for continued cooperation with the United States on all fronts.