To the President, Politicians, Businessmen, Intellectuals, and People of Yemen: Hey Fellows, This is The Way it Should be Done! [Archives:1999/22/Focus]

May 31 1999

Mohamed Bin Gabr 
Engineer – USA 
I have been thinking about writing this article for the last three weeks. First, I delayed writing it because I had a Ph.D qualifying exam, which took place on January 10, 1999. Then, I never got around to writing it since I thought that what was on my mind must also be on some other person’s minds. I felt someone must have already written about the ideas I have because they are obvious and don’t need much explanation. So why am I writing now? The only explanation I can come up with is, I want to get them off my chest so I can concentrate on my studies again. I am not a good political writer. I am a better engineer, but I will do my best to express my thoughts as clearly as possible. 
I agree with what Yemeni citizens have been saying about the government. It is financially corrupt and the administration is grossly inefficient. But the main problem of Yemen is not the corruption of the officials, because what they are stealing does not make a significant difference in our lives. The people of Yemen should realize the hard, painful facts about the problems of Yemen. I summarize these in the following points: 
1- Yemen is a poor country with limited natural resources. 
2- The majority of Yemenis today can’t read and write and probably more than 70% are not even high school graduates. 
3- The majority of Yemenis still hold pre-Islamic traditions, such as revenge and tribalism. 
If anyone thinks that the main problems of Yemen are not the three reasons above and the main problem is the government, then can he/she explain to me why Yemenis have been famous for their migrations for thousands of years? Can someone deny that tribalism has been a major problem for Yemen since even before Islam? The proof for those who will deny it, is that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) says that Islam will spread its justice and peace all over, and the traveller from Sanaa to Hadhramaut will feel safe with his goods. 
If we wish to find solutions to Yemen’s problems, we have to recognize and admit the roots of the problems. We cannot blame our backward life on the government alone. We should not expect the government to perform miracles that can make us live in prosperity in a few years. Our problems are complicated and they will take generations to be solved, if we start taking the right steps now. 
I even have doubts that we will be able to do it by ourselves if there is no economic coalition between all Arabs and Islamic countries. Please don’t rush to conclude that I am a pessimist who calls for us to accept the situation we are in. But I want the people of Yemen to realize that we are in a bad situation and it needs every single Yemeni effort, if we want to live a decent life in which we don’t have to worry about our children’s basic needs, such as food and shelter. 
I think the solutions can be summarized as follows: 
The President: 
The president should establish a real democracy in Yemen. When I say democracy I don’t mean the freedom of electing 301 parliament members or the ability to insult and sharply attack officials in our newspapers. I mean by democracy the ability to elect real decision-makers directly by the people. I strongly believe that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has accomplished more during his presidency than any other previous president. He has achieved political stability for the last 20 years, unification of Yemen, and many other things that every one knows about and can’t deny. 
In the past, every time a person took over the presidential office or stepped down without the people’s vote, it was considered a revolution. Both North and South Yemen since 1962 have been through more than 10 revolutions. Every revolution destroys whatever has been accomplished in the previous revolution. On average, Yemen had only three and half years of re-construction. Yemen and the 18 million Yemenis can’t depend on the life of any president. 
From the bottom of my heart, I would love for history to remember President Saleh as the George Washington of Arabia. He has accomplished so much and the only challenge he has left is to accomplish the dream for the Yemeni and all Arabs to directly elect their leaders. When the United States of America was declared, George Washington was elected as the first president. In his second term, the people loved him so much that he was the only American president that had nobody run against him. At the end of his second term, the American people wanted to make him king of the USA. He strongly refused, so they tried to convince him to run for the third time because the USA was at war with England, Spain, and France. He again refused and volunteered to lead the army as a general under the newly elected president, John Adams. He established a tradition of not running for election for more than two terms. 
Since then, it has taken the United States of America less than 200 years to become the only superpower in the word. Two hundred years is nothing in the history of nations. It will be very hard for our president to step down and become an ordinary citizen, after all power he has been holding. But that is what it takes to distinguish national heroes and ideal leaders from the other rulers. 
Opposition Parties: 
The opposition parties should stop nagging and crying for not being in power. They should stop attacking the officials blindly to mimic the negative side of western democracy. The opposition parties will not gain favor with the people by engaging in destructive criticism and attacks on the officials. In the Yemen Socialist Party paper, all their concerns are about their 16 former leaders who are now in exile. They forget the 18 million Yemenis. 
When you read The Islah (Reform) party newspaper, you can imagine that there are drinking bars and adultery centers on every street corner of the streets of Yemen’s cities. They should stop questioning people in their religion or whether they have been fulfilling religious rituals. They should be advised by Allah’s verses which say “Invite (all) to the way of the Lord with wisdom and good preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious for thy Lord knowest the best – those who have strayed from his path, and who receive guidance”. 
The other opposition parties should really unite with one of the three major parties that share more common ground with them. The opposition parties should talk about specific plans for Yemen before they participate in the election. They should investigate corrupt officials and prove their claims with hard evidence. They should also put pressure on the president to prepare the country for the construction and re-structuring after the end of his term. 
The opposition parties should pressure the president to begin implementing decentralization and establish local government based on people’s votes for the different governorates. These local governments should be organized with consideration of their economic ability. We don’t need local governments like in America, where every state has its own parliament and police. Yemen is too poor to support all that bureaucracy. Yemen should optimally be constructed of local governorates, so the people will have no large burden to support in the form of too many local governments. 
They should help the president in reconstructing the military so there will be no reckless generals or radical groups that will overthrow an elected government after him. We need a military that will protect the borders of Yemen and the will of the Yemeni people. Yemen does not need a democracy where a committee of generals has power over the elected president or a democracy where a religious leader has more power than the elected president. 
Businessmen and Intellectual Yemenis: 
I think that some Yemeni businessmen exploit an already poor and bloodied citizenry. These businessmen should start to engage in investment that will employ large numbers of jobless Yemeni. They should produce products that can be exported and bring in hard currency. 
The experts and economists should conduct studies for possible investment projects, based on market dictates. I know that our businessmen do not have the capital for big investments. They should try to form a stock market and let the people get involved in investing in these projects by floating shares. Instead of the traditional investment in real estate and land holdings, the economy should move into modern activities. 
Intellectuals have a great role to play in a more broad-based enlightment of the our society. They have to be the beacon that guides our people. 
The Yemeni People: 
The people of Yemen should really stop crying about their misery and start thinking hard about how to generate new opportunities to improve the standard of their life. The first thing they should give up is chewing qat. There is absolutely no gain in qat. Those who claim that qat chews are gatherings for exchange ideas are fooling themselves. Instead of wasting at least 6 hours every day talking about the same subject for several years, why don’t they search for better ways to spend their time? At the very least, they could be with their families and children. They could help in household work, help illiterate members of the family, or simply help the kids in their school work., Instead of wasting their money on something useless as qat, why don’t they spend it on things that their families will benefit from? We should help the people control population growth and rural-to-urban migration. 
One president of the USA told his people, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!” 
Finally, we should always remember what God said in the holy Quran: “Allah will never change the grace which He hath bestowed on a people until they change what is in their souls”. 
So let’s begin changing our souls from today.