Let your guard down—ditch the bodyguards too

National Yemen

Fakhri al-Arashi

By Fakhri al-Arashi

This past week, Yemen successfully concluded the first phase of the general session of the National Dialogue Conference. There were minor lapses – momentary set-backs caused by party influences on participants. The closing sessions, however, indicate significant progress.

In my opinion, what has happened in Yemen these past three weeks should serve as a model for the Arab region as it aims towards the path of democracy. The dialogue represents responsibility, forgiveness, accountability, change and placing the interests of the country above any one person or party’s interests.

The dialogue has been a humbling experience for some powerful players. Men who usually hide behind their bodyguards, including several sheikhs and ministers, have instead expressed modesty over the past weeks. For example, I approached Sheikh al-Shaif, a GPC representative to the NDC, and asked him a simple question. Why aren’t you at your session meeting? He said he skipped it to protest the manner in which the committees were chosen. Before three weeks ago, the idea of approaching a powerful sheikh for questioning would have been ambitious, to say the least. With his armed bodyguards, it’s doubtful I would have had the opportunity to speak to him. If I had, it’s even more doubtful that he would have so easily shared his thoughts with me.

Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar used to chain smoke in the hotel corridors as if he were at home. One day, he ran into Amal al-Basha. al-Basha was arguing with Abdulwahab al-Ansi. She turned to al-Ahmar and asked him to reason with al-Ansi. He told her he had accepted the dialogue and that these problems were to be discussed, debated and sorted out during the conference.

This suggests that Yemen would be in better shape if the people with the bodyguards—the ministers, military generals and sheikhs, rid themselves of their bodyguards, and simply let their guards down.

Yemen is making history. May it be a beacon of hope to the rest of the region. Forgiveness and generosity of spirit beat fragmentation, sectarianism and bad will every time.