Yemen Common Sense
by Hassan Al-Haif
The dictatorships that have prevailed over the last half century in the Arab World and most of the Islamic World, some of which ironically supposedly evolved from revolutionary platforms, regrettably have killed all the will to demonstrate, protest and speak out against any and all the failures, abuses, and corruption, which has been allowed to sink in as irremovable, uncontested acceptable realities. Thus a mass rehabilitation effort is in order to make people aware of their ability to bring about political, economic and social changes in their societies. They have forgotten that there are two parties to the social contract, and they are one of the parties. Like all contracts, if one party is on the short end of the stick the other party has recourse to certain steps that such party can take to enhance the latter’s position and to uphold the party’s interest accordingly. The populations of most Arab countries have been repressed so severely that they have reached the abyss of social depression, despair, disillusionment, and even decay.
Civil society in most of these countries was literally frozen by a quagmire of legislations, laws and security organs, all set up presumably to maintain order and supposedly to protect the country’s interests from being undermined by domestic and foreign “enemies of the people”. This literally meant in the end that all decisions regarding government and public affairs had to be left with the guardians of public interests, who have been entrusted by the people to guide them safely through all the perils facing their countries and their people, while it would be almost suicidal for the latter to know what is the nature of such perils. Oh yes, there was some token presence of “civil society” or non-government organizations in many of these countries. But the truth of the matter is they were neither civil or non-governmental. In fact these so called “popular” organizations were no more than complimentary security organs set up to ensure that all the activities under their aegis never pose any threats to the longevity of the “masters of the state” and the indisputable writers of the destiny of their constituencies or more appropriately described “subjects”. Such state tied organizations, which supposedly represented avenues of advocacy for public rights and interest included, human rights organizations, unions, professional and trade associations , relief and humanitarian charities, press organs in all media channels, youth recreation groups (scouting and summer camps), student organizations, etc. You name it, you can be sure that Big Brother had a hand in it. As financial and performance accountability had all but taken a back seat in government oversight functions, such organizations were havens for corruption and unregulated and uncontrolled petty cash funds to be used by their senior management for self enrichment and favoritism towards the enhancement of their own narrow interests, as long as they never compromised their extraordinary security functions. If there was some token semblance of democratic practice in these quasi official organizations, all the processes were certainly subject to rigging and fraudulent practice that ensured that there is no deviation from the will and dictates of the masters of the land. Even tribal loyalties have become subordinated to the rule and wishes of the regime masters, thus eliminating the last public recourse to express disenchantment with government actions.
On the other hand religious authorities must become additional organs to manipulate public emotions and concerns that should never veer away from ensuring the unadulterated religious wishes of the “masters”. Religious scholars (sometimes called clerics) are no longer spiritual guides to Devine salvation to their religious constituencies, but work diligently to impress their constituencies that Devine Will is parallel to the dictates of the Rulers of the Land and any contestation thereof on spiritual grounds is unholy and a quick path to hell. Morality and religious affiliation are no longer inseparable, but deemed to be incongruent. Religion has become a tool of the “Masters of the State” and works only to instill the will of the bosses. Accordingly one can find in some of the most oppressive of these political regimes that death certificates can be issued to living persons, as long as there is benefit to someone within the labyrinth of regime servants, who know how to squeeze out doles of money from citizens trying to advance their interests or simply to obtain their dues and rights from the Government.
Oftentimes, the citizen is obliged to surrender to illicit bribes, kickbacks and gratuities, to public servants, as in such regimes there is no right of way for anyone wanting to pursue their interests without doling out the necessary grease to the public official that is responsible for overseeing the relevant interest of the citizen and to whoever may be involved in officialdom that msut put their initials among the hoard of clerks, checkers and managers in the bureaucratic maze that has mushroomed over the years to ensure that everyone gets a piece of the pie of Government service and to keep people tied up and busy trying to complete the complex processing of their services or dues from the government. In Yemen, this observer recalls that there are some thirty-four signatures in five government entities required just to process a payment certificates or invoices under and already approved donor grant/loan and/or government funded contracts.
In autocratic states, even claiming to be democracies, schools never work to instill fundamental principles of democratic practice, human rights, and public oversight of government activity in the students’ overall scholastic development. On the contrary, students are taught that total obedience to the state, king, or rulers is the only way to live. Parents have been also removed from the education process, because teacher – parent associations have become a thing of the past and the corrupt school administrations are undisputed in their wisdom as to how to educate their children and how to use funds allocated for their children’s education to further enrich the corrupt elements of the machine that has overtaken the educational system from top to bottom and at all levels.
Then we come to the legal system that is supposed to uphold the “Law” and safeguard the rights of the citizens form the abuses of Government. This would normally the existence of an independent judiciary, the magistrates of which have a full acumen of the professional duties encumbered upon them, which must put the rights of the citizens above all considerations. However, like all other branches of Government, the judiciary has become subordinate to the dictates and directions as well as total authority of the “Masters of the State”. Checks and balances are frivolous under such legal environs and the interpretation of laws and statutes must never fail to concur with advancing the interests of the top executive authority of the land. If there is any conflict, the law will then be amended to ensure that there is total respect for the rights and interests of the rulers, etc. In such societies, one will be shocked to hear that any government official has ever become subjected to legal proceedings for violations of human rights or civil liberties, failure in performance of public duties of office, illicit siphoning of public funds and corruption.
Yes this is the dehumanizing climate under which the poor citizens in most Arab states have been living over the last fifty years and it is safe to state that even the imperialistic administrations or monarchies that preceded the rise of most of these revolutionary regimes were more merciful and certainly more straightforward in dealing with the citizens. This is what has often been said by many national “patriotic” revolutionary leaders, who have become dumbfounded by the political systems that came with the regimes that followed independence or overthrow of monarchic orders that prevailed in many of the Arab states. Needless to say that these patriots share much of the blame for such torrid developments in the social contracts, because of their apathy and silence at the excesses of the regimes which they helped to establish after their “revolutions”.
The end result is that most of the resources of the Arab progressive states” have become under the control of a small knit of stakeholders, who are above the law and enjoy all the access to public resources and assets, which they need to further enhance their wealth and power. Under such systems these stakeholders continue to monopolize the ownership of the bulk of the economic means of production (sometimes alone and sometimes in partnership with private or corporate stakeholders), without any regulation or limitation, as long as they continue to maintain the longevity and enjoyment of full control by these super autocratic regimes that have demonstrably killed the political, economic and social will of their people.
This is just a quick overview of the sad plight of most of the Arab states, and why it is understandable that the frustrations of their people can no longer be kept subdued any further. There are of course other factors to consider, such as the role of foreign powers or corporate interests (especially oil and banking), which in itself is a separate subject to consider for discussion, not to mention the use of harsh repressive measures, torture, imprisonment without due process and the disproportional use of military or security force to subdue any displays of protests or discontent. Some autocratic regimes play on ethnic, tribal and sectarian conflict to keep their subjects occupied from seeking political reforms or redress from wrongdoing by political establishments or officials.
How much life is left in people who must live under such oppressive regimes to enable them to effectively go out and protest for any causes, let alone their own suffering? Surprisingly success has been achieved in some of the Arab states to overcome such horrible machines of political, economic and social subjugation that kills individual initiative and collective strides for reforms. In Tunisia and Egypt the oppressive regimes that have ruled for decades have been completely dismantled and there is hope that these states can begin to work for the realization of the long ago subdued aspirations of their people, albeit under democratically chosen governments that are still in their prime. It is of course too early to pass any judgments on the effectiveness of the Arab States in these two countries, but as long as they remain committed to democratic processes and maintain two way channels of communications with their constituencies, we can look forward to the establishment of models for political change and government reform in the region that will reestablish the social contract as a mutually binding arrangement that is governed by the will of the governed and which serves the interests of the people of the country before anyone else.