Saturday, March 12, 2011

Citizens or Officials: Who Is Helping Yemen?

A country is composed of officials and citizens. Who is helping the nation? In Yemen, today, it seems to be the citizens.
In contrast to the chaotic impression given by daily events, Yemeni society has some real strengths suggesting that it may be able to make progress, assuming it can overcome the obstacle of a repressive political structure. If one views the whole socio-political system as a combination of the contribution of society and regime, then the strengths of the former may compensate for the weaknesses of the latter. Needless to say, Yemeni society has its weaknesses, e.g., two separate insurgencies that the coming of democracy could either ameliorate or exacerbate, and its external challenges, e.g., increasingly scarce water. But an initial analysis of who engages in behavior harmful to society in Yemen placed blame on the regime rather than society, a hopeful finding.

Methodology.  Carrying the analysis one step further, one can add the distinction between official and private behavior, giving the following list of candidate criteria of functionality:

  • Whether behavior is that of high- or low-status individuals;
  • Whether behavior is individual or social;
  • Whether behavior is official or private.

In each case, behavior can be ranked along a continuum from helpful to harmful, with regard to society as a whole. This method can facilitate identification of the direction of change in the functionality of the political system, as well as pinpointing the source of the problem. The extreme case of a dysfunctional system would comprise harmful behavior by high-status individuals, the whole society and officials.

Contrasting the Behavior of Citizens and Officials. Who behaves more responsibly – citizens or officials? The answer is hardly obvious. Officials, of course, may follow “the law,” but no one can doubt the ease with which the law can be warped to excuse official murder now that Solzhenitsyn’s study of the law as child and mature weapon of dictatorship is in our hands. (It may be worth noting in passing that one of the most serious “crimes” defined by the new Soviet regime, according to Solzhenitsyn, was “assembling the people and proceeding in a crowd with a petition,” a stance that the Saudi regime, for one, has recently endorsed.) There must be a far higher standard of behavior than the existence of a self-serving statue for judging the behavior of officials.

On that principle, this analysis asks not what laws were broken but what harmful behavior was engaged in. If a law permits soldiers to fire on peaceful protesters, that is no excuse. If a law permits peaceful petitioners to be jailed for their impertinence, that is no excuse. If a law permits an arrested person to be held naked in a jail cell without trial, that is no excuse. You get the idea…

Behavior of Yemeni Citizens and Officials
Who, then, in Yemen is committing behavior harmful to society—private citizens or officials? An answer is offered in the chart by the simple means of plotting where a variety of actions that have occurred in Yemen during its version of the Arab Revolt of 2011. The chart is a tool, not “an answer,” and thus best used by replacing the current dataset with whatever improved dataset you may have, with the items more accurately positioned. (In this chart, events are simply put in the appropriate quadrant, in no particular order.)

The chart illustrates:
  • The grouping of citizen actions in the “helpful” quadrant, all contributing peacefully to public debate;
  • The preponderance of official actions being in the “harmful” quadrant, focused on violence to suppress debate;
  • The existence of an interesting minority of official acts in the “helpful quadrant,” raising the question of whether such actions might be tricks or indicative of some willingness to compromise.

As with the initial analysis, this comparison of regime and citizen behavior makes the citizens of Yemen look impressively patriotic, in contrast to a regime that appears predatory. Both impressions are based on a very short period of behavior, with significant potential for change. Watch for signs of the trends of citizen and official behavior either becoming more similar or more distinct.

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