Monday, July 8, 2013

NDC: An exchange of Ideas

This post is a bit lengthy but is beneficial to those who are curious about Yemen's National Dialogue. In response to an article I wrote in regards to transparency in the National Dialogue, I received comments from Samira Ali BinDaair, who holds a Masters in Education from the University of Manchester,U.K. She is a lecturer and has worked with UNFPA, OxfamGB, UNIFEM and IPEC. She has several publications on Education. The following exchange occurred:
Dear Sama'a, 
It was nice seeing you and talking to you and a pleasure to see the little girl I once knew blossom in to a beautiful and smart young lady. 
I agree with some of the points you raised about the NDC but here I would like to clarify to you as to why the dialogue is as it is  but also to make a general comment on the dialogue.
First of all, about the dialogue being too fast I do not agree….On the contrary, the majority of Yemenis think it is dragging on and on and this fact is not to the advantage of the dialogue.The Yemeni public is getting impatient and the initial enthusiasm for the dialogue is beginning to wan, especially seeing that the talks have not been accompanied with the implementation of transitional justice and restitution of the loss of people's rights.
I agree with you that the NDC suffers from a lot of flaws but are all these shortcomings due to the points you raised... lack of transparency choice of attendees outside political parties etc. 
I would like to argue that the stage had already been set for either the success or failure of the NDC and goes beyond these logistics.  I think most of the reasons that may stand in the way of its success are structural and lie within the socio-political structure of yemen that goes back to decades. The power centers in yemen that have prevailed since the revolution of 1962 in north yemen and independence in south yemen are difficult to dislodge even at this stage (after the spring)  and even Abdurabo Mansur would not have survived to oversee the process of the NDC had he attempted not to include them as the major players in the NDC. The whole purpose of the NDC is to get these power centers to dialogue and accept the concept of power sharing  and diffuse the underlying dynamite to start with. It would be naïve to expect more than that at this stage in yemen. The civil state that we dream of is going to take time and will need a lot of hard work in the near future and despite the bleak outlook at the moment there is hope . The rewriting of the Constitution may be an important step but in the end it is a piece of paper that may lack credibility if mechanisms for implementing the different clauses are not effectively defined. Therefore we need to look beyond it and as to how we can achieve social justice.
Revolution is a process not an event and the best type of change is change that starts from the bottom up and is gradual not drastic change that leads to social upheavals. Therefore we have to accept some of the negative aspects in order to lead to the positive in future. (We cannot afford armed confrontation in yemen)  These power centers will gradually filter away and outdate themselves if they do not do their homework if we are to believe the lessons of history.. As Ibn Khuldoon says in his Preface about  the reasons for the rise and fall of empires as  prevailing from within (ie internal flaws). People have woken up and become aware and we cannot go back to the past since the chains of silence have been   broken. Indeed what is the alternative to dialogue imperfect as it may be? I have yet to see anyone delineate this alternative…. if I were to conduct a random survey about what should have been done at this stage within the prevailing circumstances in yemen I doubt I would get a convincing answer. I notice that we Yemenis or Arabs in general (and this is not about your article Samaa) tend to make sweeping statements about everything without focusing on a specific issue or criticizing a specific point about a phenomenon. I have heard people who are involved in the NDC make statements like "we don’t know what is happening it is all a mess" etc etc. Surely all this effort that has been made for people to sit on the table and discuss issues is not all negative? The reason why there is dialogue is because there are many differences of opinion which is inevitable in any society.
To come back to your points  regarding transparency etc….some of the proceedings were shown on yemen tv but I do not think it would be in the interest of the dialogue to show the different actors thrashing out the issues when the process is incomplete that might lead to more loss of confidence in the dialogue within the general public. Isn't it better to publicise results once synthesized? We should not compare yemen with western countries which have experimented with democracy for decades and built institutions that support it. The variables here are different and we cannot jump stages in the process.
About the Yemeni public being made aware of the assistance from the world bank you said etc….what is the significance of that and in what way will it contribute to the success of the dialogue or achieve transparency? In fact it could work in the opposite direction because people are already disenchanted with the US due to many reasons one of them being the unmanned drones that cause havoc to civilians. The world bank /IMF are at the moment pressurizing the Yemeni gov. to remove subsidies from petrol and gas thus putting the govt in a very awkward situation considering the suffering of the people at present from high rates of inflation. Thus it will further antagonize the public to know about the involvement of the world bank in the dialogue. Honestly I have yet to read a complete success story about the structural adjustment package of the WB/IMF in any third world country.  Yemen is in a weak position at the moment and all these regional and international forces dictate their terms. Where is the money that the "friends of yemen" promised to get us out of the economic emergency situation? The answer for yemen lies in attracting investment as partners in future to get us out of this position of "beggars" that the regime has got us into for the last three decades.
Further on in your article you rightly criticized the involvement of foreign experts and the money being wasted on them…..but then considering the fact that the gulf initiative has been transacted by the gulf the UN and the foreign partners this is inevitable. All these international partners are waiting for a pretext to demonize yemen…..and as the Arabic saying goes:"if your hand is under a huge stone remove it gently lest you break it"Much as we resent their interference we have to know the rules of the game and play it right. Moreover publicizing the nitty gritty of daily expenditures of the NDC will not necessarily set a precedent for accountability to the public but publicizing the returns from oil and gas and gov. expenditure and how budgets are spent is going to achieve that starting from now. I believe civil society organizations and the general public should demand that from the government.
You mention engaging the Yemeni public or the lack of it ….but how do we do this beyond the field teams that are supposed to have gauged opinion limited as it may be? I agree that to some extent the NDC has excluded some important independents but then in the end how many people can be included in a dialogue without it turning into a circus? I think it might be a good idea to find a way of including peoples opinions and presenting results of research of experts to the NDC to be included in the final draft of the working groups. I think Dr.Waheeba Fare has tried to do this through her academic group of experts but a way has to be found to effectively transmit this to the NDC before it is too late. There may be other forums who may also be doing this and I am sure that in future there will be a lot of opportunities for expressing public opinion on different matters.  In the past this was not possible and even if youth inclusion in the dialogue has been limited in future I believe they will make the changes for better or for worse. Social movements take time to grow and mature and create leadership and this will happen slow as it may be. There are many  smart young people like yourself in whom we have hope for the future. We have to be positive and we need some idealism that will spring people into action and believe the picture is not all negative. It is healthy to criticize provided we are objective and offer alternatives.
Abdurabo Mansur is in an unenviable position and considering many facts about the present situation which we all know he has managed to achieve some results even if slowly but there are so many challenges to contend with and the old regime is not letting go yet and is doing everything to disrupt the process of rapprochement and national stability. The main mistake he made was to ignore the southern issue and not go there sooner to dialogue with the southern movement and thus the vacuum has led to the forces inside and outside yemen to capitalize on this state of affairs  and incite the more rigid section of the Hiraak to create the explosive situation prevailing in the south. The southern issue is a core issue and will determine the nature of the future state and it has to be taken very seriously and secession is not at all to the interest of yemen. However there are genuine demands that have to be met before this is done.
Unfortunately yemen has suffered from too many armed confrontations in the past….in the north the educated and good leaders like abdulrahman aliryani,Abdullah salaal and alhamdy did not last long and since Ali took over we have not seen much progress and with all the outside assistance should yemen have the lowest human indicators in the region next to Somalia? But people have short turn memories and want him back some from sheer ignorance and others with vested interests. This is a transitional stage and we cant have miracles overnight.  In the south too the good leaders like Qahtan Alshaaby and Salim Rubaya ali were knocked off by the more extremist socialists and armed conflict also has led to the destruction of the country and alienating some of the best people who could have made a difference. Now we need to move forward and start creating the stage for a different yemen and how we will do that depends very much on keeping our heads above water and think of solutions to different problems rather than drown in the sea of troubles and become paralysed  negative and defeatist and repeat platitudes like it’s a big mess and we are heading for disaster nothing can prevent it. Maybe I am one of the lucky few who always see the silver lining in the cloud and half the glass as full rather empty. I would suggest looking at some of the positive things in yemen and remain optimistic and take it from there. 
 I know I have not entirely focused on your article and have digressed but all these issues are interrelated.I do hope however I have managed to clarify some of your doubts even if you are not convinced I am ready to be convinced by you when we meet and discuss.
Have a good day and keep up the good work.         

In response, I wrote: 

I am thrilled to see such a response! Thank you for sharing all of these points. I agree with several points you make but first, I want to let you know that I am restricted in my writing (especially when I have a 1500 word limit). I need to focus on a specific topic. In this article it was transparency.
It's hard to present my entire opinion on the dialogue in one article. So, I write on specific topics in little doses. Second, I really enjoyed the points that you raised and I would like to share it in my blog with your permission of course. Unfortunately when we met, we did not have a chance to speak longer. I appreciate that you took the time to write this and I delighted to see that you mentioned Ibn khaldun and use Yemeni quotes. I am one of those who fully understand that Yemen is not part of the West.

Now, I stand by what I wrote in regards to transparency. I think we tend to underestimate the Yemeni people. While many are illiterate, they deserve to know what is happening in the dialogue. Especially when it was promised to them. Perhaps the only way to get the dialogue participants to respect the transitional process and their duties is to publicize their irresponsible behaviors. Since the number of participants is very big, cutting participants out (who are not working towards a resolution) would solve two problems: 1) members who are not serious and are there to play can be removed and 2) the dialogue would look more credible because it is not tolerating child play. I know this will never happen and I am being idealistic here but it's unfortunate to see that we like to fool and undermine the worth of the average Yemeni citizen. The original flaw lies in the selection process but now it is too late to fix.

I recently started to hear about the work of dr. Wahiba Farea. While her process is not officially adopted by the national dialogue, it seems to be operating better. She selected academics who are capable of drafting solutions and I look forward to exploring this process further soon. Again, this process and similar parallel processes highlight the flaw in the selection process of the NDC: giving seats to please and occupy all of Yemen's influential figures.

As for the process of reconciliation, this is the subject of my next/current project. Without it, the dialogue would not be able to produce long term solutions. I look forward it sharing it with you soon.

As for the speed of the conference, It is possible that the transitional process seems slow to you because the dialogue has failed to move according to plan because its not managed well. Moreover, so many people outside of the dialogue are continuing to make other plans (like separatists, Islamists, etc), it is in the interest of Yemen to reach solutions soon. There is pressure building inside the dialogue and I sympathize with all of the participants who are pouring their hearts and souls into this process. That being said, the only way to calm the Yemeni people is to provide them with services like water, electricity, etc. This would relieve them of their anguish and foster trust in the future Yemeni government. The dialogue failed in providing a temporary economic solution to Yemen. The NDC process is purely political. On the bright side, it succeeded in providing temporary jobs to 565 individuals.

Each transitional process needs to be custom made to the country undergoing transformation and in Yemen's case, the structure of the dialogue could be described as "too sophisticated". At times the structure of the 9 committees and the large number of participants created an obstacle in the path of political progression. Many of the subjects intersect and the second general plenary meeting failed to achieve anything. All our hopes are now in the hands of the final and third plenary meeting.

I definitely agree that the decisions that the committees come up with will need implementation. Without it, all of this hard work would go to waste (& this is a possibility).

Finally, my argument on the subject of transparency is based on the fact that the NDC promised something that they didn't deliver. I was just following through. Also, It is hard for a single person like me to provide solutions to such grave problems. I think my criticism in this particular article is just a cry for better transparency so people like me, who are not members of the dialogue, can feel that we are somehow included.  At the moment, I am still waiting to get my badge to go to the NDC. I think I will have a better picture then

Thank you for reading what i wrote, for sharing your thoughts and for your encouragement.

Best,
Sama'a


She then added: 

In addition to what I wrote you yesterday (as I said I couldnt type long from my fon with one finger its so slow thus I couldnt reply to all your points I am more comfortable now using my laptop) I forgot to mention to you that I hope my point about the yemeni public not following every little point of the dialogue did not indicate my considering the fact that they are illiterate that they cannot understand whats going on.....that would be terribly patronizing  what I meant is that as it is there is so much frustration that this will only add to their frustration which is not to the advantage of the NDC because the reaction from the public could be really fierce .We cant afford whats happening in egypt right now and added to the fact that yemenis are armed to the teeth. Transparency could be achieved by transmitting the outcome of the discussions at different stages of the talks which I think is being done from what I read in the papers and also on yemen tv and radio. I think a list of people who left the talks and people who were replaced has also been publisized if I am not mistaken .
On the contrary yemenis are very politicised and very aware and as I said in my article "Yemeni spring nipped in the bud - where do we go from here" it does not take a university degree to know that one is dispossessed of one's most basic rights. I believe my grandmother had far more wisdom and awareness than a lot of Ph.D holders who may be qualified in a specific field  but not necessarily aware.....I had also pointed out the process that Paulo Freire the latin american educator had undertaken in raising the consciousness of the oppressed in his revolutionary adult education programme.(Pedagogy of the Oppressed)  This is also possible in yemen but not through the NDC....I still maintain that the NDC is not the panacea to resolving all the problems in yemen....on the contrary it has quite a limited function which as I said before is to get these power centers to agree as a first step because whether we like it or not they wont let go at this stage and   their lack of agreement could be threatening to yemen. We also hope some of the good people(I am sure there are many despite our doubts) in the dialogue would also act as a neutralizer in some way. I think the real work of nation building will start when the NDC ends and then the role of the people will come in. I have heard people say that once the NDC is over and the big guys concoct the articles of the new constitution their own way  then the game is over. This is not true because there are technical experts who have given their input and are still doing so and whats more important is the nature of lines of accountability that will be established where officials are concerned including the President and the type of political system i.e. parliamentary (the way it is now) and how will decision making powers be delineated between cabinet parliament and president . I am sure you know that there are many types of sytems where the president could be a figure head and prime minister have more power or like the old regime president is the be all and end all of yemens existence and so on and so forth. Let me give you an example about the old constitution which clearly stated matters concerning human rights, women's rights, etc but did we have the mechanisms for ensuring its implementation and define the checks and balances. I agree that once things are in the constitution they are binding but still we  have to go beyond this formality to the more important issue of specifying all these other matters and I think a kind of opinion poll needs to be done before it is concluded. There could be many other mechanisms for ensuring public opinion is included in the process but the most critical issue at stake at the moment is resolving the southern issue and understanding the demands of the houthis and other forces which might threaten the very stability of yemen and turn the country into small warring factions and provinces. I am not saying we need to compromise to save the country but there are some serious issues  that we have to take into consideration  since the situation in yemen is not idealand not to demand the impossible so as to pave the way for the possibilities in future.. The spring has achieved something but it will take time and effort to achieve all the aspirations of those who initiated the process and the rest of the public. I sincerely hope that we will have more honest people in future who will run the country and who will put the interests of yemen and the people before their own. Now that the public is more aware they will be more proactive in keeping a watchful eye and expressing their opinions on issues that concern the welfare of the yemeni people.
As it says in the Holy Qoran"
فأما الزبد فيذهب جفاءاً و أما ما ينفع الناس فيمكث في الأرض
So I am hoping that what is now not obvious to the eye all the precious jewels of yemeni wisdom and goodness the people who are the unknown soldiers ...the independents if you like or call them whatever you will ....all those who did not have a voice will have it soon.....it does take time for things to crystallize institutions to be built and institutionalised corruption to be purged but what is two years in the life of the nation. I think we have made a start and the process will continue.

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