x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Long agenda for new president

Yemen's transitional president has plenty to do, and must begin with openness and good faith, an Arabic-language pundit says. Other topics: the fate of Arabic, and when leaders should quit.

The new chapter for Yemen must begin with a national dialogue to address some old issues

As the sun set on February 21, many hoped that Yemen had closed a chapter that was the most violent in its modern history, the Yemeni politician Mustafa Al Noman wrote in the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

Today, the former vice president Abdrabu Mansour Hadi becomes the new head of state for a two-year transitional term, as per the provisions of the Gulf initiative and with the blessing of the UN Security Council.

"During his brief transitional term President Hadi, along with his transitional government, will be required to finally settle a number of issues that have been disturbing Yemenis for years," the writer suggested.

"These are issues that must be submitted for review without any taboos, distrust or accusations of collaborationism."

The first and foremost among them is the "southern issue", which remains unsettled despite repeated calls for progress since the end of the 1994 summer war. But Sanaa ignored the issue and brushed aside anyone who tried to warn of the dangers it poses to Yemen's unity.

The security clampdown was the decision makers' first resort until they realised that money is the magical solution to that problem.

"Many southerners and northerners alike made fortunes out of bribe money, but not all were convinced to keep silent."

As matters worsened, separation became the only viable solution for what is seen as a northern occupation of the south. This is the primary point to be considered during the anticipated national dialogue in the near future.

The second order of business is the case of the Houthis. "Evidently, this will be a thorny subject at the dialogue table. The Houthis have yet to announce their demands or their explicit stances on most of the issues scheduled for discussion," the writer added.

The Houthis, who find themselves sought after by many in preparation for the future political map of Yemen that sees them expanding beyond their regions of political and confessional ideologies, are increasingly delving into opportunist politics. Will they allow dialogue with other entities or will they, like Hizbollah in Lebanon, remain far from the state's reach?

The shape of the political system to be adopted in the country is also a crucial point for deliberation. The issue will be closely tied to the southern issue.

In fact, in 1993 there were calls for a federal system under which Yemen would be divided into a number of provinces, but the leadership in Sanaa strongly opposed the proposals.

Other issues await resolution, too, such as the rewriting of the constitution, the terms for the presidency, the separation of powers and public and personal freedoms.

These are all essential ingredients in the new state of Yemen.

Arabs are abandoning their own language

Any language suffers when its own speakers turn away from it, and that's what Arabs seem to be doing to Arabic, wrote Khaled Al Khaja, dean of the school of information, media and humanities at Ajman University of Science and Technology, in an opinion article for the UAE-based Al Bayan yesterday.

For many decades, Modern Standard Arabic - which is more accessible to the general public than Classical Arabic, but is more academic than colloquial Arabic - depended on the media to sustain it and keep Arab speakers accustomed to its usage, Dr Al Khaja said.

"Media platforms were the windows through which the reader or the viewer would savour literature and poetry, and get to know the great thinkers who created an intimate bond between us and our own language," he wrote.

But, with the media prioritising colloquial Arabic in entertainment programmes and advertising, that intimacy seems to be fading fast.

Part of the issue is that increasing numbers of media students in the region are being taught in English. How can one expect them to master Arabic in their future jobs?

Worse, Standard Arabic lines on television shows, or even in stage plays, are used these days for jocular effect, Dr Al Khaja noted, as if the language is becoming something out of this world, a good old farce.


World leaders should learn when to leave

The recent decision of two unrelated western officials to leave their prestigious offices should put to shame all those developing-world bosses who would fight tooth and nail to stay in their positions forever, columnist Abdullah Boukhari observed in yesterday's edition of the Saudi newspaper Okaz.

The Federal President of Germany, Christian Wulff, stepped down last week following allegations of corruption during his tenure, a few years earlier, as prime minister of Lower Saxony. "He just left, didn't look back," the columnist said.

For his part, the head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, announced that he would not seek to stay in office for another term in June. "Needless to say, the head of the World Bank has more powers than some state presidents," the columnist said.

Yet the salary, the perks and the prestige of his position are not driving Mr Zoellick to megalomania. Leaving his job does not mean Mr Zoellick has gone mad; he just wants to spend time with his family and grandchildren. Sensible thinking.

Compare that to "our developing world … where a department head or a senior official never gets tired or bored," the columnist noted. "Why not go, and leave behind something good to be remembered by?"

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk