What do the calls for reform mean?We are just not there yet [Archives:2004/743/Opinion]

June 3 2004

Hassan Al-Haifi
One would not think there is not anyone in Yemen, who is not ready to admit that the overall situation in Yemen is not one that does not call for reforms. Our frail economic situation reflects this quite well and our almost static progress in the political arena does not portray that Yemen has truly shaped into a modern vibrant democracy, the Yemeni people aspire for. In fact, it is the call for reforms that may be heard here and there that could help find the inefficiencies in our socio-economic framework and are surely a sign of strong belief in the democratic system the Yemeni people have opted to adopt. On the other hand the government itself recognizes the needs for reforms on all facets of government and has been pursuing, rather sluggishly, an Economic, Financial and Administrative Reforms Program since 1995, which can only become effective and worthwhile if we all recognize that everyone must play a part in the implementation of any reform agenda.
Associating calls for reforms with some conspicuous “evil”, or merely to nourish inherent political ambitions, is both unfair to the genuine intents of many of those who call for reform and a misrepresentation of true democratic interaction. Even many of those who are well placed in the ruling establishment are not doubtful of the many people who wish to effect positive changes that will set the country back on a forward pace towards modern democratic government. Surely it is not hard to be willing to comprehend that the motives behind the calls for reforms primarily have the interests of the country as a whole to heart. Moreover, such calls may be generated by the obvious lessons that are learned by the Afghanistan and the Iraq experience, rather than a dubious desire to fall into such mystifying and chaotic situations. Thus, there is no harm in at least listening to any calls for reforms that are based on the desire to enhance the plight of the people and to further our progress towards genuine democratic political interaction, where all Yemenis have a chance to provide inputs. This in itself will prove that our democratic experience is a lot more than the superficial image work that most foreign observers have portrayed our marginal strides towards democratic rule. There are yardsticks and standards that adherence to democratic systems are gauged by and if those yardsticks and measures are not met or appreciated, the whole effort then only becomes a front that pleases no one but the real enemies of the country and the Arab Nation as a whole.
Yes, it is safe to assume that those who are indeed calling for reforms have an inkling that if such calls are not at least appreciated as coming from fervent desires to avoid the Iraqi or Afghanistan situations, then indeed we have not learned the true lessons of these unfortunate tragedies in the midst of our region and the circumstances leading to them. It was former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir Mohammed, who rightfully said during his recent visit to Yemen, that government must listen to the people and make use of as much feedback as possible to enable government to provide the appropriate venue that will show that the management of public affairs is in order. He should know, because the example he set is truly a landmark case in the right development approach and the right political venue for a country that only recently embarked on several reforms that catapulted Malaysia to a respectable place in the international community economically and socially. A ruling party should never consider that ideas voiced by others or differing viewpoints emanate from personal ambitions, for that is a serious infraction of sound democratic governance. Yes, a ruling party must be ready to accept criticism and find ways to avoid such criticism from arising, rather than seek to annul criticism altogether and view disagreeable political perceptions and outlooks as heresy.
We all love Yemen and we certainly are the last to want to have American tanks coming in and out of the streets of our cities, God forbid, and it must be borne in mind that many of those who are calling for reforms, would be just as outspoken about an American or foreign occupation of our land, if not more, than their calls for reforms now, before it is too late.
On the other hand, there is substantial value in reflecting on some of the great strides we have made politically and if one remembers correctly the Pact of Reconciliation and Accord, which was reached in Early 1994, was not only a significant document that embodied a road map for genuine political progress, which could have helped to avert much of the difficulties and the political standstill that are characteristic of our present times. It was drawn up by representatives of almost all the political forces that were active then (and more or less now) and it touched upon most of the issues that are still plaguing our society today. Moreover, the Pact was signed by every leading personality in the political theater then – rulers and opposition – and the wide acclaim for the document domestically, regionally and internationally was a matter of short-lived pride for Yemeni politicians across the range of the political spectrum. The document is innocent of the unfortunate Civil Strife that followed the signing of the pact. The Civil War only confirmed that all elements in the ruling coalition then saw the document as demanding from them considerable sacrifices, which apparently none of them were ready to make. That alone shows how the document was worthy of application, because the truth of the matter is that at some points in the forward political development we all aspire for, sacrifice is both warranted and highly recognized as a true sign of fealty to the nation and belief in what we claim to be standing for.
For the moment, it is safe to say that Yemen is beset by many difficulties and surely the elements that make up the ruling establishment has been given ample time to work things out their own way. Now, it is healthy to state, it is time to put the gauging yardsticks and standards to the results so far achieved and one of those vital tools of measuring performance in a democratic society is genuine calls for reforms, which we certainly can assume to be having the interests of all Yemenis at heart, rulers and opposition.