Who dares reforms and democracy (7) [Archives:2004/760/Opinion]

August 2 2004

By Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz Altarb
For the Yemen Times

Reforms and democracy in Yemen and the Middle Eastern countries require guts and strong and firm conviction. And before that, they require political will and genuine determination that would decisively set the line between reality and doubts and that would really pave the way to establishing a true democratic society and good governance.
The change and reform into an open-mindedly democratic society require a great revolution in the region to eliminate the characteristics that have diminished the capabilities of countries, whose combined gross national product does not equal that for Spain. The sought change does not only mean changing governments or specific individuals, but it should extend to the inclusion of changing the Arab culture that criticizes freedoms that begin at home, school, university, mosque and the workplace. The elimination of negligence, corruption, plundering public funds and the worshiping of autocrats and everything they represent from fighting ingenuity and creativity, isolating skilled individuals, specialists, geniuses and experts who constitute a threat to the autocrat and his puppets.
Of course, the changing negative traditions that Arabs have gained over decades requires tremendous and legendary efforts and extraordinary aggressiveness that may be impossible now regardless of the outcome of the Tunisia summit and external initiatives being offered, since the decision that would launch the siren for the commencement of reform, change and democracy would also mean the beginning of the era of transparency, accountability and liability, a matter that make reduce leaders and officials to within reach of law and questioning and punishment for what they have committed against their peoples.
Certainly, any government could not make the required change until after adopting the political decision in order to be applied to itself then opening the door for civic society organizations and corporations to participate effectively in such missions. Civic society organizations can strongly contribute and participate in reform and change operations only when they are permitted to, and not constrained and restricted by laws, obstacles, official statements and closely monitored as if they were terror organizations. Civic society organizations are not certain individuals, but they are qualified and authorized organizations formed with the objectivity to assist and to contribute towards the increase of social awareness in all aspects of life.
Despite decades of backwardness in Yemen and the region, the majority of social segments in Arab countries are completely aware of their frustration, political, social, economic and educational deficiencies and backwardness, therefore, it would be prudent and more practical to organize them and to gradually involve them in any suitable forms of governance in order to absorb their discontent. Their gradual inclusion would prevent their explosion instantly when the repressive hand is loosened or their desperation has reached an unbearable degree.
The current argument around the Middle East following the Tunisia Summit, the G-8 Summit and the meetings at Helsinki and Turkey regarding the greater Middle East Initiative and other seem to be departing from the core of the problem and holding on only to its tail. The issue has transformed to expressions that have no connection to reform and the principles and culture of democracy.
We in Yemen and since the Yemen Times' initiative – Together towards the modern State of Yemen and how to assist President Saleh in achieving his dream of prosperous and modern Yemen and a more developed and stable country- we decided to write and discuss the issue that focuses on change and reform from within, and connecting to resolving long-term disputes and conflicts headed by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The reforms and change have become urgent demands. Everyone knows that implementing reforms and democracy are easy tasks, but they require prerequisites, which are determination and political will. Of course, the implementation has no relation to the question of internal or external condition, but it has relation in terms of providing and having priorities, a clearly national agenda and the desire to achieve our objectives. Muslim communities should not contradict with the concept of democracy since in Islam, as we know, stipulates the adoption of the principle of “shoura” (democracy) the in governance practice and the fact that God creates people liberal and free.
We could accept a connection between reforms and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the departure of the foreign troops from Iraq, if we were told that that this connection was a pressuring tool on America for example to resolve the conflict, but we can not accept the notion that our society is unable and refuses to react towards change and democracy as long as the Israeli occupation remains. This is illogical and unacceptable.
The current state of weakness in Yemen and in the Arab countries was the result of decades of intentionally skillful scheming and planning. It does not permit our societies to convey their voice to the rulers in a civilized way.
There are other less-civilized societies then ours which are miraculously able to conduct peaceful marches, demonstrations and work strikes in order express their desire for change, but we, because of our current ethics, behaviors and traditions, do not know how to demonstrate without destroying public and personal properties that originally belong to us.
If in recent years, there has been a breakthrough in the margins of freedom, the level of freedom remains very small and differs from one Arab country to another. The Arab regimes have granted their peoples with varied margins of democracy and freedom not based on democracy and freedoms which are basic rights of the people, but rather the Arab regimes expect from peoples to express their appreciations and thanks.
The solution remains in the hand of each Arab government to assist the people to come out from the crisis they are gradually engraining a new culture, the culture of working, participation, equality, accountability, all kinds of freedoms and civil liberties, the principle of the peaceful transition of power, political pluralism and true partisanship.
This is the culture of reform and democracy that we wish our leaders to dare to embark on instead of waiting for them to be imposed on us, particularly if the elections in Iraq would be held on scheduled time and they would prove to be successful.
Finally, people look at what has been done in Yemen. And we must continue until the reform and change operations begin before practicing our democratic rights in the coming 2006 elections.
The most important question remains to be, would the President launch the reform and change operation during the Yemeni celebrations on the occasions of September, October and November of this year, so that the year 2005 would be considered the year for major change and reform programs in all aspects of life? Or would the President wait until the two-year Ba Jamal government expires and that would mean to wait until April of next year.