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Democratic Developments in Yemen

Democratic Developments in Yemen
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The seminar papers compiled in this book present a good overview of the development of democracy and its practical application in Yemen. They also shed light on the unique features of this particular democratic experience and will help in deciding on how to create political awareness among our people.

The paper written by Muhammad Shahir Hasan explains the beginning of Yemens democratic course with the establishment of the Peoples General Congress. This major party became one of many political organizations that encouraged and participated in the introduction of a multi-party system, culminating in the parliamentary elections of April 27, 1993. The author comes up with interesting details and facts about this early period of Yemeni democracy.

The original meaning of democracy, in the words of de Tocqueville, is the system of self-rule, which simply means that cooperatives, schools, scientific institutes and other civil institutions can take care of themselves without government interference. The cooperatives, in particular, seem to hold the potential of becoming an effective organizational base for our society, especially after the abolition of the one-party system. Once organized properly, they will become the training ground for applying and practicing democracy.

The same holds true for unions and other social institutions, which are independent from the state or certain party organizations. They form the fertile ground for democratic interactions among the members of society, thus guaranteeing the continuation and growth of democracy itself.

The paper presented by Dr. Ahrnad Muhammad al-Kibsi was selected because it gives an overview of our understanding of democracy since the Movement of the Free Yemenis in 1948 and the drafting of the Holy National Charter up to the present days. The paper focuses on developments taking place in the former North Yemen before unification. A university professor and specialist in the field of political science, Dr. al-Kibsi traces the very early roots of democratic development in Yemen. He also explains the constitutional and legal foundations for our current democratic system, much of which is based on a national dialogue that resulted in the compilation of the National Charter under the umbrella of the Peoples General Congress.

Ahmad Muhammad al-Harbi provides a historical overview of the forms and developments of cooperatives prevalent in the Yemeni villages. For ages these villages have known the meaning of social solidarity in the form of cooperation, especially in the area of agriculture and irrigation. AI-Harbi not only explains the various forms of cooperation, but also the internal power structure of the Yemeni villages and their indigenous ways of solving problems. These forms of cooperation and methods of solving disputes have their roots in the pre-Islamic age and evolved over a period of thousands of years. It is impossible to pinpoint the exact beginning of these structures, which seem to have always been a part of our rural and urban societies.

During the last few years, the Yemeni cooperatives have been experiencing a tremendous leap of progress. They are responsible for supplying the rural population, which still constitutes some 88% of our entire population, with much needed services.

In fact, the very rise of the cooperative movement bears witness to the inability of the central government to provide all social services required by the population. The destiny of these cooperatives will be their evolution into decentralized structures of local government and administration. This, incidentally, is one of the goals of all our parties, big or small.

Ahmad al-Harbi is himself an active member of the cooperative movement. His paper, therefore, not only deals with the historic development of the cooperatives, but provides a wealth of personal experience as well. It is not difficult to imagine that these cooperatives will quickly pick up the concept of democratic participation as it was already envisioned by the National Charter and confirmed by the public referendum of 1981.

Dr. Sad Eddin Ibrahim describes in his paper how the winds of democracy are blowing over the countries of the Third World, including the Arab World. Concerning the Arab World in general and the Arabian Peninsula in particular, Yemen seems to play a pioneering role in the development of democracy. This is of considerable importance to other parts of the world since the peninsula holds the planets greatest resources in oil and gas. Also its economy is closely intertwined with that of Europe and America.

The following three papers were presented during a seminar on election systems and the future of democracy in Yemen. Dr. Ahmad Abdurahman Sharaf Eddin, a specialist in law, explains the basic principles of democracy and their effect upon the peaceful and stable development of society. Dr. Sharaf Eddin mentions the need to extend the right to vote to the community of Yemeni emigrants and those traveling within Yemen as long as they fulfill the two basic requirements of Yemeni nationality and age. He explains the basic principles of the Election Law, such as equality and the requirement of voting in person, i.e., not by delegation. This requirement of voting personally was blatantly disregarded in the recent elections in Algeria, where husbands were allowed to vote in place of their wives, even without written consent.

Ms. Ilham Muhammad Mane gives a careful analysis of the background and circumstances surrounding the problematic development in Algeria. She explains, the Algerian election experiment, which, although it held the promise of finally ending the long-standing one-party rule by establishing a new democratic multiparty system, resulted in something entirely different.

Even though the paper written by Mane specifically deals with the Algerian election experience, it is certainly a very relevant case for other parts of the Arab world. It gives a vivid example of the highly destructive consequences that ensue if just one of the basic principles of democracy is altered. In fact, these consequences threaten the very stability of the country and undermine all possibilities for a future peaceful transfer of power in the future.

Dr. Muhammad Jafar Qasim comes up with some critical remarks about the current Yemeni Election Law. He does so to make sure that the democratic experiment in Yemen can start from a sound basis. Dr. Qasim draws upon a wealth of information and knowledge of different election laws, especially from European countries, yet does not neglect Arab, African, or Asian nations. There is much that Yemen can learn from the experiences of the countries that preceded it in the establishment of parliamentary democracy. The paper discusses in detail the legal conditions needed to give the election process proper direction. It also sheds light on the weak points and pitfalls of our existing Election Law.

A number of pointed questions are asked in the paper presented by Ahmad Ali al-Wadii. According to his view, democracy in Yemen took on a liberal Western pattern and became necessary because of national reunification. Thus, he views democracy in Yemen from a new and unique perspective. The author expresses his worries about the continuation and growth of democracy in Yemen, which is built on weak foundations. People are much more conscious of unification than of democracy. He even envisions a scenario wherein Yemen remains united, but abandons the democratic system. This, of course, depends on the success or failure of the political forces responsible for the protection of democracy. More social studies will have to be conducted to identify these forces and possible ways of strengthening them. Could these forces be strong enough to turn the initial momentum of our nations sudden and rather unexpected surge of democracy into a stable and continuous development? Is there a possibility that the Yemeni people would let go of democracy? Are not the two leading parties of the former South
and North Yemen the chief advocates for the adoption of a modem democratic system? It seems that these questions have much to do with the economy. Economic success contributes a great deal to the stability of democracy, whereas economic failure leads to its disintegration.

Dr. Mansur Aziz az-Zindani is concerned in his paper with the influence of the main powers (the developed countries) upon the young democracies of the Third World. The countries of the southern hemisphere are quite happy with their newly acquired democracies. They view democracy as a means to solve all political corruption and other long-standing problems and issues. However, these hopes are surrounded internally and externally by threats and dangers. Dr. az-Zindani enumerates some of the external threats that come with the embrace of a certain type of democracy. He urges developing countries to reject the mere adoption of the pattern of Western democracy, whereby a whole new value system is being adopted as well. He contends that this new value system will eventually erode the original traditions and characteristics of the Third World country.

Dr. Muhammad Ahmad as-Saidi explains what he feels are the prerequisites for democratic development in Yemen. Among those, he lists economic and political stability, a broader participation of the public in the decision making process and unrestricted freedom of expression. Dr. as-Saidi defends the hypothesis which states that the seeds of democracy are already present in the tribal systems of Third World countries, especially in African countries that have experienced colonialism. He rejects the idea that democracy is a phenomenon implanted by Western countries into their former colonies. In his paper, he lists further conditions, such as a sound constitutional and legal system and an increasing involvement by independent social organizations and institutions in politics. Supporting the process of decentralization and giving new political power to the local governments is another important prerequisite for the smooth unfolding of democratic development.

The paper presented by Fritz Piepenburg gives a brief overview of the beginnings of democracy in former North and South Yemen. He seems to imply that early developments in the South were influenced by Western ideas, as a result of the colonial establishment. The examples of democratic developments in the southern regions of Lahij, Abyan and Aden are cited from a book written by Dr. Qaid Tarabush. In his introduction Mr. Piepenburg also describes the practice of shura (consultation) in Islam as a kind of religious democracy. Without clarifying his own viewpoint on this issue, he mentions that some people put this practice on an equal level with modem democracy. Later on he seems to support this opinion by stating that parliamentary democracy is by no means the only form of democracy, even though it might be the most advanced.

His presentation of what happened on April 27, 1993, aided by tables, graphs and maps, and based on official documents of the Supreme Election Committee, gives a complete picture of the first parliamentary elections in reunited Yemen.

The paper by Amat al-Alim as-Suswa deals with the issue of women and democracy. It attempts to shed light on yet another aspect of Yemeni life. The paper points to the vast cleft that often exists between purely theoretical concepts and the cultural and political realities regulating our daily lives. For example, during the 1993 elections, the gap between what was presented in the election programs of various parties and the reality of political practice, especially concerning women candidates, turned out to be immense.

Recent events, especially the 70-day-war against the separatists (May 5th till July 7th 1994), will not alter the road of democracy chosen by the Republic of Yemen. This was confirmed by a proclamation on part of the Presidential Council in July 1994. In this proclamation, the adherence by the leadership to democratic values and principles, such as freedom of expression and a multi-party political system, was confirmed. Thus the original political direction, upon which the unified state was based in 1990, will be preserved.

The goal of the selection of presentations and research papers included in this book will help the reader gain a deeper understanding of what is happening with the birth democracy in Yemen. It is a democracy heavily influenced by our special circumstances, such as the deep cultural roots of our society and its complicated structure. Because of the heritage of a complicated social fabric, Yemen may well be one of the most conservative societies in the Arab world, socially, ideologically and politically.

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