Winds of change and NGOs [Archives:2005/872/Reportage]

August 29 2005

Hassan Al-Zaidi
The winds of change blowing across the region nowadays require that we establish new systems that respect human rights and democracy and adopt policies that result in social justice. This is more needed now than ever as the issue of democratic and political reform in the area has drawn a considerable attention from the world in the form of some initiatives such as Group Eight's in 2004.

Notwithstanding much reservation about the hidden reasons behind the international initiatives proposed for the Arab World, it is notable that they comprise a number of the most important reformative demands set forth by the programs of reformists, political movements and civil-rights organizations in the Arab World. They have made the proverbially indifferent Arab governments to think of the public opinion and of the necessity to make reforms in their respective countries.

Reform scenarios:

In spite of the international initiatives, the peoples in the Arab World are in a dilemma. As they question the motives and seriousness of international reform propositions, they also realize that their governments are not in favor of reform because that would endanger the absolute power they enjoy and by virtue of which they dispose things as they like. Even the supervisory authorities have not enough authorization to embark on the process of real reformation.

Being among the first countries in the area to embrace the notion of reform, Yemen may consider the things it has achieved and plans to achieve in this realm. Muhyi al-Din al-Dhabi, Senior Deputy of Foreign Affairs Ministry, said that the current democratic successes has deserved respect and recognition from the international community. In the “Civil Community's Role in Current Democratic Transformations” symposium, al-Dhabi said that part of the recognition is manifested in allowing Yemen besides Turkey and Italy to sponsor the “Democracy Assistance Dialogue” (DAD) Program. In the trilateral dialogue, Yemen suggested inviting NGOs to improve our joint initiative and promote democracy in the countries of the region. Yemen has selected the Human Rights Information and Training Center (HRITC) as a civil community organization to implement the mutual outlook.

The question that poses itself is whether the HRITC will ever be able to create a mechanism for government-NGOs dialogue in Yemen and theorize for other regional countries.

Izzadin Ali Sa'eed, HRITC Director, told us that the project which the HRITC is assigned to implement focuses on encouraging the participation of the NGOs and will develop a future vision regarding political and economic reform in the region.

According to him, the HRITC, along with other NGOs, will act on different levels:

– Promoting dialogue among civil community members in every Arab country concerned. The recent symposium was part of this effort.

– Promoting dialogue among civil community members, official institutions, and parliamentary and consultative council representatives in each Arab country concerned.

– Adoption of a harmonized and organized communication strategy on the regional level.

Statistics show that the number of NGOs in Yemen until June, 2005, came to 4830 including 98 working in the human rights sector. The number of woman organizations reaches 325. However, politically oriented organizations do not play the role they are supposed to play. They do not, for example, provide visions and thoughts to enrich the process of reform. Such organizations in Yemen have the custom of “courting the authority”.” They sometimes adopt suggestions just to make certain profits or get some gains from the authority.

Having heard about the international financing for reform efforts, it is expected that such NGOs will rush to organize symposiums and workshops without performing anything in reality or creating a forceful public opinion to pressure the powers that be to make real and lasting change.