Diplomats, VIPs and media representatives (including UN Special Envoy Jamal Benomar) were on hand at the US Embassy in Sana’a on July 3 for the 236th anniversary of the signing of the United States’ Declaration of Independence.
During the ceremony, U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein gave a speech to assembled Yemeni politicians and guests. He imparted a note of encouragement for Yemen’s people and their efforts to overcome current political challenges, saying that the United States was once in a similar position.
Observing the Yemeni members who took in Feierstein’s speech, it appeared that they received the ambassador’s words more as a message for themselves, their fellow citizens and their country than as a commemoration grounded in American history.
Civil Services Minister Nabil Abdo Shamsan, who gave a speech on behalf of the Yemeni government, thanked the U.S. government for support for and friendship with Yemen.
Following is the U.S. Ambassador’s speech in its entirety:
On behalf of President Barack Obama and the American people, I would like to welcome you to today’s celebration of the 236th anniversary of Independence of the United States of America. It is a particular honor for me to celebrate this day with you here in Sana’a.
Every 4th of July, Americans celebrate the day in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was first read aloud in towns and cities throughout the thirteen Colonies, the day not only that we declared our freedom from the British but also the day that we began the journey that continues until today of building a country and creating the more perfect union envisioned in our Constitution.
Thus, on that day, representatives from each of the thirteen American colonies came together and agreed on a document that did not simply declare freedom from Great Britain, but also began a process of nation building. It was not a culmination, but a starting point on the path to our freedom.
The journey that began that July day with that Declaration and the seven long years of fighting that followed it was not just about a struggle for freedom from, but rather it was the beginning of our path of freedom. And really, when Americans raise our glasses at barbeques and other gatherings, around the country and around the world on the 4th of July, the toast we drink is for the freedom to pursue our own dreams in our own way without the dictate of an overbearing government; the freedom to elect our representatives who we choose as our servants and not the other way around; the freedom to decide how we are governed; the freedom to raise a family in peace and security.
Our Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed with “certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” For years afterwards, our Founding Fathers debated and struggled over how to bring the meaning of those words to life and finally came together in Philadelphia more than a decade later to create a government that would represent the people and a Constitution that reflected their will.
After declaring freedom from, the work really began in creating a government that would ensure our critical freedoms to. That work has never stopped and some of the most spirited arguments in the United States to this day are over the meaning of those words and the vision of the authors.
It is not difficult to draw a parallel with what is happening today in Yemen. Just this past November, the GCC Initiative and its implementation mechanism were signed. It was a crucial moment, but it was just the beginning. Since then, a new Cabinet was appointed, a new President elected, and preparations are now being made for a National Dialogue, redrafting of the Constitution, and reorganization of the military and security forces.
These are enormous challenges, but they also present enormous opportunities for Yemenis to make decisions about how they are governed. All of these elements are necessary for the people of Yemen to be able to enjoy the freedoms to: the freedom to create a system of government that reflects the dreams and aspirations of the Yemeni people, the freedom to draft a new Constitution that will allow all Yemenis to live in equality with equal opportunity for all; and, of course, the freedom to raise a family in peace and security.
Once again, I’m delighted to have this opportunity to celebrate this 4th of July here in Sana’a, as we celebrate also Yemen’s own long march to a better and brighter future. Let us celebrate together our freedoms. They represent both opportunity and challenge, and they are what allow us to make tomorrow better than today.