Fatima Abo Alasrar
September 26 marks one of the most important days in North Yemen’s history as the day that Yemen’s theological imamate was toppled and the republic established 60 years ago. Yemenis within the country and the diaspora proudly celebrate this national day, perhaps more than before, affirming an identity rooted in the values of the republic they established. Yemen’s Republic gave citizens their fundamental human rights, from health and education to equal political representation and justice. This day is also a symbol of rejection of the Houthis’ takeover of Sana’a 8 years ago and refusal of theological rule.
How Yemen will be governed in the aftermath of this conflict is yet to be determined. However, one thing is certain: the Houthis will be a powerful player in any agreement. It is also to be expected that the values of the republic or the National Dialogue Conference held after Yemenis overthrew former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime will not persist. The sooner Yemen’s government’s newly formed Presidential Council realizes this, the better the chances of crafting an agreement that would strengthen equality among the various competing identities in Yemen.
The international community must positively promote universal values of democracy and governance, which cannot happen without pushing the Houthis to accept pluralism and tolerate religious diversity. As Yemenis en masse reject the radical religious influence in their affairs and the exclusive right of any group of people to monopolize governance, they will need support to implement their ideas and live in their own country without fear of violence or marginalization.
Yemenis are fighting for these democratic values not because they are western ideals or departed from Islamic values -as the Houthis claim- but because they have been proven to give them equality and justice, the two pillars without which Yemen has experienced repeated violence and protracted conflict. They appreciate the universal values in Islamic teaching as long as they are not skewed to the benefit of the rulers or the governing authorities. Religious wars have been a thing of the past in Europe, and western countries managed to overcome their divides and rebuild their countries through strong governance and institutions. There should be no doubt that Yemenis desire the same.
Fatima Abo Alasrar is a Senior Analyst with the Washington Center for Yemeni Studies and a Non-Resident Scholar at the Middle East Institute. The views expressed in this article are her own.