This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 14/05/2011
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh came out yesterday to tell the opposition that those who want to govern must come to power via the ballot boxes, not the street. However the question that must be asked here is "what credibility do these ballot boxes hold, whether we are talking about Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, or Syria, or other Arab states?"
The problems being faced by the presidential systems in the Arab world today is not just because the people want change and are demanding reform, but rather the problem is due to the lack of confidence and credibility between the ruler and the ruled. This is something that we have seen clearly, particularly in the countries that have been affected by the political earthquake that has reverberated through the region. In Egypt, the cases of voter fraud at the last election went far beyond the rules of the game, and this was something that was done openly, and this is not to mention the president's insistence on bequeathing power to his son. Despite everything that former president Mubarak said during the Egyptian revolution, he had no credibility in the Egyptian street, in fact Mubarak only succeeded in reaching the feelings of a broad section of his people on one occasion, and this was during the speech in which he pledged to implement the people's demands, however this was followed by the shocking "battle of the Camel" the very next day.
Whilst in Yemen, we have seen the president in power for three decades, and now he is coming out to say that anybody who wants to rule should go to the ballot boxes!
As for Syria, we saw the president, and the members of his government, speaking about the legitimate demands of the people, and then surprisingly the official media came out to describe what is happening in the country as being part of a foreign conspiracy. The Syrian security forces have killed 850 Syrians, and have arrested no less than 9,000 citizens, and then after all of this the Syrian regime came out on Thursday to say that the president had issued strict instruction to the security forces not to fire upon anybody, however despite this the security forces did fire upon demonstrators [on Friday], killing some protestors.
The same applies to Tunisia and former president Ben Ali, and his famous "I understand you" speech was not enough, because he had already completely lost his credibility. As for Libya, there was no credibility in the first place between the ruler and ruled to be lost, and it is enough here to recall Gaddafi's statement on the day that the Libyan revolution began, in which he said that he had offered the Libyan people the country's oil revenues, but that they had refused this. I do not know how to describe a statement such as this, and whether he was joking or not?
What is clear is that this crisis is a crisis of credibility, for promises have no deadlines. Some of these regimes have never fought an enemy, or developed their country, but rather all they have done is suppress their citizens. If the ballot boxes and the dignity of the people were honored, then our region would never have reached this state. What is even worse is that in our Arab world, our Arab republics are following a strange equation, which is undoubtedly Lebanese, where "there is no winner or loser." For whoever loses the elections remains in power, through the use of force, such as Hezbollah, or thanks to Iranian pressure, like the government of Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq.
The crisis being faced by the majority of Arab republics with regards to their citizens can be summarized by the famous [Arabic] saying "I am not sad that you are lying to me, what saddens me is that I don’t believe you." This is now the mantra of the people, therefore our region is facing a sad and terrifying situation, for those who lie think nothing of killing and torture, for lying destroys all values, whatever they are.