Cablegate: Mepi: Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is

DE RUEHYN #1220/01 1841246
P 031246Z JUL 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. SUMMARY: Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI)
funding, combined with our diplomatic clout, has enabled the
USG to shape Yemen's national reform efforts of the past 18
months. MEPI's flexibility, responsiveness to post needs,
and support for Embassy goals have brought positive change to
Yemen's civil society and governance. Crucially, having
resources available to back up our policy advice has meant
that our bilateral relationship with Yemen on democratization
and economic reform has become a productive, pragmatic
engagement largely unhindered by regional developments that
have dampened our efforts in other countries in the region.
Put simply, MEPI allows us to roll up our sleeves and help
change Yemen -- not just talk about it. END SUMMARY


2. As the only republic on the peninsula, Yemen is something
of a political anomaly in the region. Elections are held
regularly, women have been enfranchised since 1993, a
somewhat unruly media regularly airs government's dirty
laundry, and civil society organizations operate largely
unhindered. That said, things are not perfect. Electoral
fraud still occurs. Women often do not participate as
candidates. Some journalists practice self-censorship and
others claim varying degrees of harassment. Much work
remains to be done to improve democratic freedoms in Yemen
and to continue this country's progress as a model for other
countries in the region.

3. The same has held true for economic liberalization. While
Yemen has long since moved away from a command economy, the
country's GDP per capita hovers around the same level as
developing countries like Madagascar or Niger. High
population growth coupled with diminishing oil reserves
create the potential for instability if the economy does not
diversify and grow. Instability for Yemen's 22 million
people could also prove threatening to Yemen's rich neighbors
to the north and east. Expansion of economic freedom is
therefore imperative not only for Yemen's own interests but
for those of U.S. allies in the region as well.


4. Fortunately, the United States still holds tremendous sway
in Yemen. Telephone calls from President Bush to President
Saleh are treated as front-page, above-the-fold news in the
official press. Words of praise or criticism by the
Ambassador or DCM are carried prominently in all media, and
inevitably engender much discussion among Yemen's political
and economic leaders. Discussions with government and
non-government personalities alike routinely focus on Yemen's
development and specific problems to address, not on the
situation between the Palestinians and Israelis or the
conflict in Iraq. Yemenis frequently ask their Embassy
interlocutors, "Everyone agrees on what we should do next in
Yemen, but how can you help us accomplish it?"


5. In steps MEPI. In Yemen, post has been able to call on
MEPI funding for dozens of projects to advance reform goals,
push the envelope on freedom of expression, and engage Yemeni
civil society in debates about how to improve their country,
not just hold conferences to complain. There are more than
34 projects funded by MEPI in Yemen, many of which can be
considered lynchpins for that particular reform goal. For

-- Islamic Preachers' Program: This project funds a local
NGO to engage a group of young preachers, both male and
female, on human rights and democratization issues from a
religious standpoint. Presenters conduct workshops to engage
the preachers in a dialogue and convince them of the
importance of human rights in development and
democratization. The preachers have received and engaged in
fruitful discussions with Embassy officers and local
employees as part of the program, thereby opening up channels
of communication for the Embassy with a group whose influence
on average Yemenis at the grassroots is immeasurable.

-- Women's Political Participation: Yemen has no shortage
of conferences featuring talking heads who rarely leave the
capital and who claim that this or that magic bullet will
bring about reform. This is particularly true of women's
issues in this traditional, conservative society. That is

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why this year in particular, post took a creative approach to
the problem by directing more than $150,000 in small grant
funding to women's NGOs all around the country, including in
tribal areas, to put together television and radio spots,
broadcast interviews, and engage female preachers on the
subject of women's political participation. Several of the
NGOs will approach the problem from a religious and cultural
perspective, aiming at breaking down barriers by speaking to
women -- and men -- in a language they can easily understand.

-- Judicial Reform: The USG and other donors pushed
exceptionally hard over the past two years for the ROYG to
sever executive control of the judiciary. When the President
dramatically removed himself from the Supreme Judicial
Council (SJC), the body that governs the judiciary, the only
donor standing ready with immediate funds to help the new,
reform-minded head of the SJC was the United States. Through
MEPI's rule of law funding, the Embassy offered study tours,
training courses, a computer network, and a website for the
new SJC leadership. This support has in turn emboldened the
SJC. Since Saleh stepped down from his judicial role, dozens
of judges have been fired, retired, or put under
investigation for corruption or incompetence. A woman has
been named to the Supreme Court for the first time. The
Higher Judicial Institute has a new, modern curriculum and
has also opened its doors to women for the first time.

Meanwhile, the Embassy has silenced critics who claimed that
the USG was only interested in funding the ROYG, which some
derided as a "payoff" for support in the GWOT. We provided
$50,000 in funding to one of the staunchest critics of the
ROYG and USG, which is also the most highly respected human
rights organization in the country -- HOOD. Their project
will culminate in the writing of and lobbying for a new draft
Judicial Authority law, which aims at further enhancing the
independence of the judiciary.

-- Economic Reform: The largest single provider of
contracts in the country is the Yemeni Government. The
official procurement system, however, is a complicated,
politicized process that is often circumvented in favor of
"sweetheart deals." When the USG and World Bank pushed for a
comprehensive new law as a critical part of the country's
reform strategy, our words were heeded because we offered
immediate expert assistance through Booz Allen Hamilton
consultants funded by MEPI. On three occasions, Booz Allen
experts came to Yemen to help Yemeni reformers draft a strong
new law, and persuade key parliamentarians to adopt it. Even
Yemen's brightest, most committed reformers admit that the
law would have died in the conception phase if the Embassy
had not been able to send experts each time the Yemenis
needed them.

6. MEPI programs have also provided important leverage when
we needed it. For example, when the Yemeni Customs Authority
(YCA) refused to support legislative and regulatory changes
to help Yemen move further along the path of WTO accession,
the Embassy successfully induced the YCA to change directions
by threatening to end a MEPI-USAID customs training program.
The YCA in turn pulled draft legislation that was not WTO
compliant from the Parliament and replaced it with amendments
that it has asked the USG to review before they are submitted
to the legislature.


7. In the coming years, post looks forward to continuing to
use MEPI's toolbox to keep the engine of reform running
strong in Yemen. As the MEPI program evolves, post
encourages the Department to continue funding it robustly,
and to consider providing even greater country-specific focus
for individual reform goals. For example, while media reform
may be a worthwhile regional goal, we have found that Yemen
is enough of an outlier that it cannot benefit from many
regional programs, either because it does not have enough
English speakers, or because its training needs are often
more basic than for other countries with more developed

8. Similarly, an expansion of the small grants program could
provide post with even more options for testing creative
ideas. Some of post's small grants from previous years have
grown into full-fledged NGOs who have begun to export their
ideas. For example, the Children's Parliament -- a program
in which high school students from across the country meet to
debate both with each other and government officials about
issues of the day -- is now being shared with Bahrain and
Kuwait. We believe that more funding to experiment with
small projects such as this could yield even more expandable

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and exportable ideas, given Yemen's diverse and underfunded
civil society sector.


9. If thinking about traditional diplomacy conjurs images of
suits, ties and shined shoes, the kind of diplomacy that we
are able to practice thanks to MEPI should evoke images of
Americans with their sleeves rolled up, standing side-by-side
with government reformers and civil society activists. MEPI
has allowed political and economic officers to evolve from
relying on moral suasion as their primary tool of engagement
to having experts, funding, and technical advisors at the
ready to support USG goals. This, coupled with concerted
diplomatic support from senior Embassy and Washington
officers, has helped us move reform in Yemen from a question
of "if" to a question of "how," which is the very essence of
transformational diplomacy.

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