To fight terrorism: empower the people [Archives:2002/07/Focus]

February 11 2002

Hassan Al-Haifi
It goes without saying that if people of any country have a greater stake in their society, they will defend it against intrusions. But when people are denied access to the fundamental elements that move society: government, natural resources, information, education, etc., then they are bound to take a careless attitude towards the society and threats to that society. In fact they may even encourage these types of intrusions, believing it to be a God-sent relief from the repression and the injustice of the prevailing order.
Time and again, we have insisted that 90% of our ills can be addressed by giving people a greater role in managing the affairs of their own country, and in infusing their grassroots ideas into government and the economy.
But the fact of the matter is that the prevailing establishment in Yemen sees contempt for a greater public role in managing the affairs of our state and economy. Thus, even feedback from the public is considered anathema to the will of this establishment, which has taken the Yemeni people through all kinds of ineptitude — including war — for the sole sake of holding on to power, regardless of consequences.
Its a narrow-minded approach to government and to society in general.
As a result, we tend to manage our affairs on an ad-hoc basis, flying by the seat of our pants. Or, we rely on the instructions of external forces, on outsiders who wont interfere with the way the establishment runs the country. Along the way, this makes it easy for such problems as poverty, deprivation and apathy to set in. The latter are obvious roots for rising discontent, which, unfortunately, provides the seeds for terrorism and contempt for government.
The tragedy is that, constitutionally, on paper, we already have the basis for getting broader public participation in government. But realistically, all the legislation and government programs that call for more participation lack teeth. It seems they are hardly worth the paper theyre written on.
So, we have the constitution going in one direction and the laws that are meant to regulate the fair and equitable application of these principles going in another. This leaves the vast majority of the population in disarray and confusion, and barely able to focus on anything else beyond surviving: No more, no less.
It will not do anyone any good to just fight terrorism by using the mechanisms of the State, without getting the people involved in all facets of government at the same time. This means, simply put, that we need the government to look at doing some things differently, such as, for starters, running fair and honest elections, easing the procedures and red-tape for the creation of non-governmental organizations, and having greater transparency and accountability of government officials.
And lets not forget the great importance of independence of the judiciary, to make it the safeguard for the embodiment of the principles that guarantee greater freedom and empowerment for the public at large.
Only then we will see an effective counterforce take on terrorism. And the average citizen of Yemen will feel that he or she is a contributing member of our society, rather than a victim of forces that are out of their control.