"Now we have a road to go together"

Written by Helene Aecherli on Monday, 03 November 2014. Posted in Jemen

An hommage to the Yemeni politician Dr. Mohammed Abdul-Malik Al-Mutawakil

He had told me to turn left in the hallway, to walk up the stairs to the first floor and to meet him in his sitting room. He apologized for this - as he felt - rather unsuitable way to welcome a guest, but after he had been hit by a motorbike and been severely injured, he found it difficult to get up and down the stairs. This attack on him had happended about a month before I met him at his house in the Yemeni capital Sana'a in April 2012. He had stepped out into the street after a meeting, it was dark, but the guy on the motorbike aimed deliberately at him and run him down. The guy on the motorbike was never identified. In that night, however, Dr. Mohammed Abdul-Malik Al-Mutawakil, then 73, managed to escape death.

When I came up to the masraf, the sitting room, the sun was just breaking through the colored glass window turning the rows of books on the shelf beneath into a shimmering light. 

 

I remember that I was surprised how quiet it was. There were no generators humming. Electricity must have been on again. Dr. Mohammed Al-Mutawakil sat crouched on the cushions on the floor.  

He wore a beige jacket and a white headscarf, seemed as fragile as energetic, his face was lit with a warm smile. He shook my hand, invited me to sit down next to him, and offered me tea, raisins and almonds. I couldn’t help asking him how he was, how he felt after that assassination attempt and I asked him whether he wasn’t scared to leave the house. He raised his eyebrows as his smile broadened: “You know”, he said dryly, “death is better than silence. For me it's not an option to stop my work and shut up. I rather face any risk and go on with what I think is right and necessary."

Dr. Mohammed was a professor for political development and human rights and one of Yemen’s most liberal minds and cherished politicians. At the time I met him there was an atmosphere of cautious optimism in the country, or at least that is what I felt and saw in Sana’a. Dr. Mohammed seemed to mirror that:  "Now we have the chance to put down our ideas and discuss what kind of state we want", he said vividly. "The Yemeni people have to participate in this process, otherwise we risk to get an authoritarian state. We are in a time, in which no one has the strenght to overpower the other. No party can rule on its own. If any party tried to do that, it would have difficulties with the tribes, with salafism, with the army and with the people belonging to other areas of the country."

He ordered some more tea and checked on the almonds and raisins. "We want a modern state", he continued. "We want democray and federalism. Without democray there will be no stability in the country. And", he added with deep concern in his voice, "we will have to find answers to the following questions : 
How can we build a national army? 
How can we have a court? 
How can we manage to respect the law?
How can we manage to establish good and reliable institutions?
How can we arrange for clean and free elections?
How can we achieve equality between Muslims and non Muslims?
How can we achieve equality between men and women?"

Dr. Mohammed's face darkended. "55 percent of the Yemeni people are women. Can we just leave them at home? No! We have to push them. They have to be educated!"

I must admit, I was deeply moved by his words. I felt his love for his country. And I felt that he wanted it to surmount religious and political fundamentalism, he wanted it to overcome the inequality between men and women. He wanted Yemen to prosper.
I almost envied the Yemenis for this politician. In Switzerland deep passion for politics has become scarce - with politicians as well as with the people itself. Maybe it's because most of the things here run smoothly (well, more or less, at least) and the institutions are stable as rocks. Smoothness and stability are highly valued assets and we have worked hard to reach them, but they make passion superfluous. That's a pity. Because passion triggers passion. I think, that is why Dr. Mohammed left such an impression on me. And: I loved his smile.

 

"Now we have a road to go together", he said while we got up to say goodbye. "And let us go and say what we want to say. We have to do that for our children. It will take time, you know. But we have to start."

Last Sunday, the 2nd of November 2014, Dr. Mohammed Abdul-Malik Al-Mutawakil, was shot by unidentified gunmen on motorbikes. And in that night he didn't manage to escape death. I heard of his assassination from a dear friend of mine, and I sensed her tears. "God bless him", she wrote. "He was the last honest mind in Yemen, and we will not find any prosperity, because there are no more people like him."

But death is better than silence. Maybe his death will provoke the changes he strove for.

 

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