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May 25th, 2009   

Ambassador’s National Day Speech

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Distinguished Guests and Friends,

On behalf of the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen, I wish to welcome all of you to this very special celebration of our National Day. It is a pleasure to be surrounded by such a distinguished gathering of eminent parliamentarians, including Speaker of the House Milliken, accomplished diplomats, government and business leaders, and illustrious guests. As if that were not enough, it is an honour of the highest order to have Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Delegation among us. We are indeed privileged that they have taken time out of their hectic two-day visit to Canada, to join us and transform tonight’s celebration into an event of historic proportions.

The celebration of National Day is always an auspicious occasion which commemorates May 22nd, 1990, a date that represents a significant turning point in Yemen’s history. Prior to 1990 our country was divided by two distinctly different regimes, backgrounds and systems. In that year, North and South were reunited to form the Republic of Yemen. The implementation of this historic re-unification changed the course of our social and political history for ever.

The great industrialist, Henry Ford stated that, “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, but working together is success”. Correspondingly, in Yemen, it took a day to unite, but 19 years of nurturing to progress, and quite possibly, the efforts of a future generation to attain success. While we have made enormous strides, we must be realistic and I will not trivialize the substantial challenges that lie ahead. Despite this, I wish to make it abundantly clear that Yemen is resolutely dedicated to its journey along the road to democracy. It is a destination that we deem not only worthwhile, but critical for Yemen’s future as a productive nation. We look to our brothers in the Horn of Africa, and know that a strong and democratic Yemen will provide calm in a region presently plagued by instability.

To understand Yemen, one must be familiar with its illustrious 3000 year-old history. Once a land of flourishing kingdoms and great wealth, it was a significant center of human civilization. It became the world’s first democratic state under the reign of the Queen of Sheba. Yemen dominated the trade routes of the ancient world with the Port of Aden presiding of these waterways. Aden has been a commercial hub for over three millennia and is even referenced in the Old Testament.

It produced frankincense, a product considered more valuable than gold, and during the time of Christ, thousands of tons were transported by camel to faraway lands.

We have proven ourselves resilient over the centuries, having survived occupations and invasions. A few centuries ago, the country was split with the Ottomans controlling the North and eventually the British to the South. This was followed by two local regimes who, despite being victims of a cold-war situation, were able to put their differences aside and their valiant efforts to unify proved ultimately successful.

Though we have survived, time has not been kind. Decline in the spice trade, years of internal strife, the Gulf war, civil unrest at home and nearby tragedy causing a flood of refugees; have reduced Yemen to a shadow of its former self. Even the mighty port of Aden, ranked 2nd in the World after New York during the 1950’s, has fallen from grace. The plunge from enormous wealth to recognition as one of the poorest countries in the world has been devastating, drowning us in a sea of unemployment, illiteracy, lack of adequate health care, large population growth and terrorism.

And now for the good news... we have many treasures from our past that have been recognized as World Heritage Wonders, and considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. Among these are Sana’a, our capital, the world’s second oldest surviving city; the city of Shibam with its sweeping 1000-year old skyscrapers; historic Zabid, and the island of Socotra. Our fortune lies in ruins, quite literally, in priceless artifacts, poetry, art, architecture, and remarkable archaeological discoveries. Our wealth lies within the narrative of our history, the beauty of our land, unblemished coasts and natural resources, and the friendliness and astonishing optimism of our people.

As a provision of unification, we adhere to a multi-party system with an absolute commitment to human rights and freedoms, including that of the press, publication, association and speech. We are dedicated to the principles of democracy, free elections and structural reform, including recognition of gender equality and universal suffrage.

The impact of these democratic reforms has been substantial. As a result we have been able to improve our economic performance and to adopt a free market approach with the private sector. These advances will also stimulate exports, strengthen good governance, support decentralization and allow the development of national, scientific and technological capabilities demonstrating our worthiness as an international business partner. We are a third world country with all the implied difficulties and hardships. But we are determined to continue our progression towards first world status.

There are an increasing number of Yemeni communities internationally. Since I have been in Canada, it has been a great pleasure to become acquainted with many Yemeni-Canadians; several are here tonight. We are a people known to contribute and prosper wherever we land. This is aptly demonstrated in SE Asian countries, where most of the prominent politicians, government and business leaders of Arab descent have their origins in Yemen. Many of these former Yemenis watch the reforms and developments in modern-day Yemen, poised to contribute with great anticipation. Our progress to democracy would have been all the more precarious had it not been for the great relationship that we have enjoyed with Canada. We have been afforded the great opportunity to learn from the best. We have analyzed the fundamentals of your internal policies, values and infrastructure, and also the conduct of your association with others. Canada has consistently demonstrated at home and abroad, a steadfast and wholehearted commitment to the principles of honesty, tolerance, democracy, liberty and multiculturalism. For this reason we deeply value and cherish our relationship and close friendship with Canada, respectfully holding it in high esteem and warm affection, considering it as a loyal friend and the definitive role model for our own development.

Since the Yemen President’s visit to Canada in 2000, we have enjoyed many reciprocal visits between the Shoora Council and the Canadian Senate and I think it is fair to say that our Senate Speaker and yours, the Honourable Noel Kinsella, have developed a close bond and friendship. Other missions included Ministers and Members of the House and Senate, senior government executives, trade representatives and officials from a variety of business groups. One of my many ambitions as Ambassador is to further stimulate business and economic relationships between our countries so that we may both benefit from our potential future growth.

Proof that growth is looming on the horizon can be seen in several exciting new projects. In August of this year, the first shipments of gas from the $4 Billion Yemen Liquefied Natural Gas project will arrive in North America and Korea. Agreements have been signed with Dubai Ports International that will expand and revitalize Aden port and restore her to her former glory days. In addition, the cement industry has seen $1Billion invested into four privately-owned factories. The first opened for business last year, a second one will be opening this year and two more next year.

A further crucial development, Yemen is currently a partial Member in the Gulf Cooperation Council, This represents an extremely important strategic development. With the addition of our population of 22 million to the existing 35 million of the GCC, Yemen will become a major player. It should be noted that the GCC accounts for 80% of the $600 billion GDP of the Arab world. There is no doubt that Yemen will prosper with significant economic development and expansion in many sectors.

As a result, we are destined to attract more Canadian companies to our country. There is already a significant number, of which Nexen Inc of Calgary is the largest and most active. These companies are doing excellent business and they will attest to the fact that they are safe, happy and prospering from their business partnership in Yemen.

Presence and communication are key ingredients for success in the Arab world. We are dedicated to making the Canadian Government aware of the critical need for a Canadian Mission in our capital Sana’a. We have received much support from Canadian companies in Yemen who have valiantly championed the cause, and we are making impressive progress. An Embassy is crucial, if we are to promote our future trade, business and investment at a world class level to Canadians and if Canada is to benefit from future prosperity. We are also one of Canada’s most diligent partners in the fight against terrorism. A Canadian Mission would be a shrewd tactical development, providing a valuable conduit to developments in the entire region.

Earlier today, the Arab Ambassadors’ Council met with President Abbas of Palestine. We see Canada with its historical participation as peace-broker, and a key ally in the road to peace in the region. This is a role for which Canada has gained international respect and one by which Canada can make a significant contribution towards resolving the Palestine-Israel issue. There is no doubt that this problem overwhelmingly demonstrates the root of our regional conflicts and, as such, threatens the security of the entire Middle East. We concur with our Palestinian brothers in support of the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative, which we believe will result in a viable Palestinian State. We implore Canada to support this Initiative.

In bidding farewell, I wish to mention our exceptionally tall and furry friend who greeted you upon your arrival this evening. While he has certainly added a Middle-Eastern flare to tonight’s festivities, I must confess that he is a landed immigrant and has taken up residence at the Granby Zoo in Montreal. He received an invitation because he believes he is of Yemeni descent and does possess many Yemeni characteristics. He is not the fastest, but he is sure to arrive at his destination. He always holds his head high with quiet dignity. He is a determined creature and once a direction has been chosen, it is quite difficult to alter his mind. He is hugely resilient to hostile terrain and can travel for days without a drink. He has been around for thousands of years and has a very long memory. But, most important of all, once he gives his friendship, his loyalty will be for life.

It is my fondest hope that I have given you reason to add Yemen to your short-list of places to visit in your lifetime. I assure you that you will not be disappointed. It had exotic kingdoms and powerful queens and to this day is veiled in mysterious intrigue, extraordinary adventure and magical charm. It is the land that time forgot. A word of warning however…Yemen has the power to enchant you and steal your heart. I wish to invite every one of you to be our guests and see for yourselves…if you dare.

Distinguished guests, please join me now in offering a toast to the Republic of Yemen on its National Day, as well, a toast to this magnificent country of Canada and its wonderful people for whom we have a special affection. May our happy friendship and future together continue to endure, flourish and strengthen in the years to come, and may we all continue to work together to secure enduring peace and happiness in the State of Palestine and the entire Middle East.

Khaled Bahah
Ambassador of the Republic of Yemen to Canada

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