Thieves Do Not Build Nations [Archives:1998/36/Viewpoint]

September 7 1998

The other day, a senior official in government came to see me. He is a well-educated man. He was worried because he felt that his minister was pushing him around, simply because he refuses to play the dirty game of the minister. “You know, it should be the crooks who should look over their shoulders. They are the ones who should seek extra cover and protection. However, in today’s Yemen, it is clean people who need the extra protection,” he said with grief.
Indeed, the system that prevails in the Republic of Yemen today is basically controlled by and directed for the benefit of crooked people. If you want to have any say at all, you have to join the ‘League of the Crooked’.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh tolerates the thieves and crooks because he has accepted that it is a price to be paid to appease strong power centers. Some of these power centers are actually his own creation. But at times, the monsters may have grown out of control. As a result, almost all sectors of public life, to one degree or another, are today under the control of crooked people.

The system of government in Yemen today is based on some form of arrangement between the top rulers and the power centers. The arrangement says that the power centers obey almost blindly the dictates of the top rulers, and in return the power centers are free to mis-use and abuse their powers for self-enrichment and to the detriment of the general public, and rival power centers.

Often, one hears people justify the deviant behavior of the crooked people in high office. The other day a Western ambassador of an important donor nation described a minister in the present government like this: “Yes, I know he is a thief. But he works hard.” The ambassador can use that kind of lopsided logic only in Yemen. In his country, he would be laughed out of the room. Not that I let him off the hook.

Many foreign diplomats are unfortunately blinded by career considerations, petty privileges and other interests in their assessment of the situation in the country. They should be reminded of the dismal failure of Western diplomacy in properly assessing the realities of Iran before the downfall of the Shah. It is just a simple and basic fact that hard conditions for the majority of the population, like the one prevailing in Yemen today, cannot remain intact forever. Sooner or later, and in Yemen possibly much sooner than many would think, things will have to change.
Gradually, and as poverty begins to bite more savagely, an already tired populace gets out of control. There is already a growing consensus among the people of Yemen that an over-haul is required. However, it is in the hands of President Saleh to avert Yemen falling into chaos and lawlessness and to introduce real and deep changes.

There are some of us who still pray hard so that the President will rise up to the occasion and bring about the required changes, before it is too late. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is a shrewd and intelligent person. He should be able to see the signals and warnings that come from the many flashpoints which now trouble the nation. These are the signs of the times to come.
He must see that thieves and crooks do not build nations. It is individuals with integrity who are the great nation builders.

Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher