On Yemen, Egypt & Jordan

From friend Mazen Chouaib, who recently wrote…

“The challenge now in Egypt is to see how far these diverse groups can sustain the civil protest and present a counter offer that allays the fear of some regarding total chaos while at the same time advancing the legitimate movement for reform and a new governance model for the country.

Yemen is also ruled by a similar military structure. The difference is that the President has developed a governance system that elevated the role of the tribal leaders to the national level. The President turned the clock back on Yemen by re-establishing the tribal political order when he had the opportunity to move the country towards a democratic, party based system. Yemen is a wonderful country with great potential, but the President has failed in galvanizing the population to elevate the country out of poverty to achieve their potential. Corruption and the refusal to impose rule of law is impacting every aspect of life in Yemen.

The majority of Yemen’s population lives in extreme poverty, while his circle has benefited from the now disappearing oil wealth. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has lost the trust of the population and the political parties that coalesced with him two years ago to prolong the Parliamentary session and “stave off” the economic crisis. Their trust was betrayed by his lobbying to appoint his son, and prior to the latest events, his party’s efforts to change the constitution to make him president for life rather than engaging in true dialogue to deal with the problems of the country and to build the new governance model he promised.

Demonstrations in Yemen have been ongoing over the past couple of years. They are now much more emboldened by the events in Tunisia and Egypt. The difference is that the Government cannot resort to using violence with the protesters because the prevalence of arms in Yemen is a deterrent. As well, the army and the police are divided over tribal lines, which would make it more difficult to attack the protesters. There are too many challenges in Yemen which have been exacerbated by the President and his policies; economic challenges, the Southern secessionist movement, the debilitating tribal conflicts, the Al Qaeda emergence, and most importantly the total collapse of rule of law outside of Sanaa are all the result of bad policies and a corrupt political order.

Jordan’s social and economic system combines factors found in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia. Jordanian political parties and civil society, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have all agreed and yielded to the rule of the Hashemites. There is no wavering of this unless the tribes agree that the King is no longer trusted, something that cannot be conceived of at this point in time. The Hashemites under current King Abdullah understand the balance of power, but there remains a governance problem. The country is managed from the Palace, governments and the parliaments are frequently disbanded and blamed for all the economic and political problems in the country before the population has the chance to experience the outcome of their policies.

Jordan has a thriving civil society, unions and freedom to assemble and associate. However there are also redlines. Today, these redlines are being challenged further by regular protests which are no longer seen as caused by “Palestinian” Jordanians; there are true blooded Jordanians from the large tribes and families protesting. The King responded to the protesters by meeting with them, listening to their concerns and finally making changes that were expected to appease the protesters.

However, the appointment of Prime Minister Bakhit is perceived by the political parties as a slap in the face. Mr. Bakhit is not a popular figure, he brought the much hated elections law that civil society considers undemocratic and in favour of the largest tribes. His appointment should be seen as more than that; it is an indication that the hard line political elite including the strong military and security institution in Jordan is winning the debate. This marked a hardening of positions, not a compromise. This is exactly what Arab regimes have been doing for the last 30 years – appearing to compromise while not really taking the substantive changes required. Will the Prime Minister return with policies of appeasement or will he start rounding up the leadership of the protests? Unlike in Egypt, this is easy to do in Jordan and Yemen because the protests are managed by political parties and civil society organisations.

The events in the Middle East should be seen as a generational change. They are seismic in a stagnated political order, with serious implications to the region and the West. The youth of the region, the political parties, the human rights activists and all those disenchanted by the status quo have coalesced to throw off the old regime in favour of a new one. The challenge will be for the West to be on the side of the people; these protesters are looking for the same governance model that we are enjoying in the West (law, order and good government), a betrayal of that will turn another generation of well-educated and western trained activists into enemies.”

Mazen Chouaib is an Ottawa based Middle East Affairs specialist. He is working with Canadian and international organizations in democratic development and good governance in the Middle East and North Africa. He has worked in Jordan, Yemen and Egypt and writes regularly on matters of Canadian policy in the Middle East and on Arab and Muslim affairs in Canada and internationally.

Comment closed.