Under Secretary of State, Frank Loy to Yemen Times: “Yemen is a Kind of Success in the Move Towards Democracy” [Archives:1999/27/Law & Diplomacy]
The Emerging Democracies Forum is a real manifestation of the worldwide interest of the emerging democracies. In fact, it was a recognition of the appreciation of the world for the efforts of the developing countries to democratize.
America is one of the strong supporters of these efforts. An example of this is the participation of Under Secretary of State, Mr. Frank Loy. On this occasion, Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi, Yemen Times Managing Editor talked to Mr. Loy and filed the following interview.
Q: Could you please give us a brief idea of the nature of your participation in the conference, and your impression of the discussions of the previous days?
A: I participated all day yesterday in the morning session. I heard every participating country make a statement about its experience. I must say that that was a remarkable experience for me. These were stories are of very serious efforts to build democracies in very difficult circumstances, and I learned a lot. I was able to present just a brief comment from the US. Yesterday afternoon I participated in a session that asked a very difficult question ” How do keep the momentum of democratic change going when you have to take difficult economic steps?” That was very interesting. Today I led a session on the participation in countries governance of the civil society, the non-governmental actors. We got many very strong views. Among the views that were frequently expressed were those that reflected the desires of women to be more fully representative in their societies, and to have more political and economic values. There were other issues that were talked about. All together, I think that it is quite a successful and remarkable conference.
Q: Why is America trying to show a good picture of Yemen, and to attract the national attention towards Yemen?
A: You mean by the establishing of this conference here?
First of all, we did not initiate this conference. We are guests here. The conference I believe was the idea of your Prime Minister, who got together with the American NGO, the National Democratic Institute, to help implement that, and we have actually contributed funds to the NDI in order to permit this conference to go ahead. So we are very supportive of this conference, but we did not start it. I think it is a good idea to have this conference in Yemen, because Yemen is kind of a success story in the move toward democracy, and the government of Yemen and president Saleh made some very courageous decisions to move this country from where it was ten years ago to where it is today. I think that it is a wonderful idea that that be recognized. So while we did not bring the conference here, we are delighted that it is here, and that Yemen has an opportunity to describe how far it has gotten along this long road that leads to democracy, which I might say never ends.
Q: How do you see the future relationship between Yemen and America, particularly if we consider the important location of Yemen?
A: Well, I see the future between Yemen and the US as very bright, and not particularly because of the geographical location, but because we like to support emerging democracies wherever they are. We think that America is going to be better helped if we have democracies around the world than if we have non-democracies. So one part of our relationship is based on the fact that Yemen has made such important steps towards democracy. So I would say that our relations are good, but not particularly because of its geographical location.
Q: Does this conference signal that America has changed its policy towards neighboring countries, particularly Saudi Arabia?
A: No. We have good relations with almost all the neighboring countries of the peninsula, and we hope that they will continue that way. We are very frank with them too when we meet with them. We have differences with them from time to time, but we hope to continue our good relations with every country in the peninsula.
Q: Is America trying to make Yemen a good example for these countries?
A: I don’t think I would put it that way. I think countries have to figure out for themselves how to govern themselves, but when a government chooses the road to democracy, we do want to be helpful.
Q: How do you see the democratic transition in Yemen? Is it going forward?
A: I think so. We have known cases where all of a sudden what looked like a smooth road to democracy got a little wobbly, but I have no reason to think that will happen here. As I talk to people, it seems to me that the belief in democracy, and the belief that democracy is valuable, not only as a matter of principle but in a very practical way, because it is a way to attract investments, a way to resolve disputes without fighting. I think those kinds of beliefs are quite widespread in this country. If I am right in that belief, then there is no reason to think that the path shouldn’t continue on that road.
Q: Do you think that we can create a match between democracy and a tribal system in Yemen?
A: Well, I think to a large extent you have done so. It is not perfect, and you know you have long traditions here, and to a some important extent you have married the two together. For example, as I understand it, you have let certain tribal groups settle some disputes, family disputes and the like. You sort of build that in the system. I am not an expert on Yemen, but my sense is that you are addressing this very difficult problem of how to combine a more modern democracy with a more traditional culture, and that Yemen is doing that very well, and I’m quite optimistic.
Q: How far do you think this conference will help development in Yemen?
A: I think the conference generally will be a positive development, because people learn from each other and they take courage from each other. This is not a directly important milestone in the path towards democracy. It is kind of s meeting place of ideas and I think those are useful.
Q: Any concluding comment?
A: I would just would like to add that I am delighted that this conference took place here, because it gave me a chance to come here. I have never been here before, and I have only seen a little bit of this country, but I am absolutely fascinated by it, and I am absolutely fascinated and very impressed by this great experiment in democracy that this country is taking, and I am sure that it will succeed.