Who is jeopardizing national unity: the citizens or the rulers? [Archives:2008/1151/Community]

May 1 2008

By: Hashim Ahmad Al-Sha'abi
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At the beginning, the southerners and the northerners where happy (both the rulers and the citizens) that unity was brought about by our leaders, especially President Ali Abdullah Saleh. These measures were highly welcome and appreciated by the people of the united republic of Yemen. Our leaders achieved this through dedication, sacrifice and zeal to move the nation forward. The question today though is “have those leaders changes their minds?”

What makes me write this are the president's words at Hodeidah: “Do you want to be like Somalia or Iraq?” The question is when our leaders had thought of unity, had they sought the opinion of the citizens then? To my knowledge, the answer is no. So, then why now ask the citizens their opinion about how they “want to be”? Is this a kind of trick? It pains me, as I voted for the president in the last election, that his words don't sounds like they came from a president elected by the people, as they are harsh. If he had used the same language during the last election, people would have voted for an alternative.

We hear accusations from the ruling party accusing its citizens of threatening unity, stability and the security of the nation whenever people try to express their problems through peaceful demonstrations or writings, which the authorities ignores. I am not in support of demonstrations that destroy private and public properties or those that call for separation. However, I believe those groups calling for separation are not speaking from the heart, but out of frustration. Whenever citizens want to express their disdain for certain policies or make known their suffering, they end up being beaten by security agents or being arrested. If peaceful demonstrations and writing are not the right ways, then please let us know what way will be effective. Ten years ago or so, there were few demonstrations, if there were demonstrations at all, so what causes these demonstrations now? This is what the authorities should seek to find out, instead of forcing its citizens to be quiet out of fear of being beaten, arrested or – in the case of the media outlets – out of fear having their licenses canceled, like Al-Wasat newspaper.

What am trying to say is that whatever is happening in our nation today is caused by our officials, for they know they will not be held accountable for what they do. For instance, the resent problems in Al-Dhale', Habeeleen and Tourolbaha were caused by certain military personnel that agitated the youth, who came out to show their feelings using the language they felt was right. Supposing the ruling party questioned those officers in a reasonable amount of time and they were punished for their deeds, would there be any riots in those areas? If all officials know that they will be held responsible for all their deeds and sayings, do you think we would be in our present situation?

Or take another instance, like price hikes in the country. The government allowed importers to set prices and the citizens are crying on daily basis. Instead of the authorities approaching the issue with sincerity, they help the minority of businessmen versus the majority of consumers by saying that these price hikes are international. Yes, there are international hikes in price, but not from 20 percent of our current prices, or in extreme cases, 300 percent as in some commodities. The government's solution was to increase the salary by about YR 3,000 for government workers and around YR 1,500 for pensioners. In Yemen, there are around 22 million people. What number of these 22 million are government workers or pensioners? The answer is that only 10 percent of the population works in the government or related jobs. What then is the fate of the rest of the 90 percent of the population? Is this the right solution?

An increase in price of the oil derivatives, an issue raised by the Prime Minister in Parliament, was – according to him – the means to discourage diesel smuggling to neighboring countries. But this implies that security is weak or that the government can't stop the smugglers. Is smuggling the cause of price increases, or merely a result of pressure by IMF and the World Bank? Was this solution correct?

Let our leaders pursue justice. Misinformation given by some ministries, negligence in judicial cases and countless other problems are threatening the stability of our nation. Our leaders must face reality, if they want to keep their credibility they achieved by uniting the nation. If they can't control the situation, then they should take the wise and brave solution of stepping down and creating a temporary government that will organize a new election. That way, people can vote for the candidates they think can handle the situation in the country, in a fashion similar to the one in Nigeria, instead of maintaining positions and failing in their responsibilities.

I hope for a change in the government's attitude, or for a real solution from Abu Ahmad, father of the nation and its unity.