Aiman Mohammed Nasser: “Attariq newspaper has succeeded by leaps and bounds.” [Archives:1998/31/Interview]

August 3 1998

Attariq is a weekly that comes out of Aden. Though classified as independent, it is a hard-hitting newspaper critical of the regime. It often voices the concerns and aspirations of the people of Aden in particular, and the people of the southern/eastern governorates, in general.
The publisher and chief editor is Aiman Mohammed Nasser, a young man, who is better described as a fighter. He has put up with hell to continue issuing his newspaper.
At the end, however, Aiman, 29, and Attariq have grown together. Over the last year, the newspaper was transformed into a modern set-up, including an impressive computer type-setting and pagination system. It continues to grow in copy distribution and in loyal readership. Last week, Attariq joined few other Yemeni newspaper to be on the world-wide website.
Mohammed Bin Sallam of Yemen Times spoke to the chief editor about his worries and dreams. He filed the following interview.
Q: Could you briefly tell us about Attariq’s early beginnings?
A: Attariq was first published in 1966 by my late father, the martyr Mohammed Nasser. The country then was in the throes of armed struggle against British colonial rule. Also at that time, the revolution in the north was under vicious counter-attacks by royalist forces.
Attariq, a daily publication then, played a widely recognized role in supporting both revolutions by promoting principles of freedom, justice, equality and unity. It remained a forum for all patriotic writers until it was closed down by the colonialist authorities in February, 1967.
Q: What about the new Attariq?
A: The idea to start re-publishing Attariq came in 1993, taking advantage of the democratic atmosphere that prevailed following the re-unification of the country in 1990. Preparations took a while. So, actual publication started in 1995, after a 28-year absence.
Q: What is the general line adopted by Attariq?
A: Our aim is to look for the truth and make it public. Without promulgating truth, you can’t talk about freedom and equality. News items, information, opinion, articles, etc., all have to reflect the concerns and hopes of the nation. They have to uncover anything that is liable to harm the country’s security, stability, territorial integrity and future.
Despite its very modest resources, Attariq has been able to gain its readers’ trust through its impartiality and the integrity of its journalists. Our copy distribution grows so fast that we barely are able to keep up with the demand of our distributors.
Q: Who are Attariq readers? To which calls do they mainly belong?
A: Attariq is popular among people from widely differing backgrounds. Its readers are both intellectuals and laymen. They are professional people, academics, students, public employees, workers, soldiers, etc. Most important of all, Attariq has quite a big female readership.
Q: Does Attariq deal with issues concerning the southern part of the country only?
A: Attariq belongs to the whole Yemeni nation. We are sometimes accused of allocating a too much space to issues concerning mainly the southern and eastern governorates. This ” accusation” is often corroborated by the fact the Attariq is largely popular in these parts of the country.
In all this we have our logical and objective viewpoint. These governorates have witnessed and are still experiencing a lot of monumental events that can’t simply be ignored. For example, the relatively more socially and politically developed Aden and Hadhramaut represent a model for a more advanced civil society. Their citizens are law biding and are very proud of their history and culture.
The differences in awareness and social development have become a focal point of instability and confrontation in the southern and eastern governorates between the peaceful citizens and the arrogant and sometimes violent representatives of authority.
Q: How is Attariq financed?
A: We rely on our personal financial investments, the paper’s sales and advertising. It is quite ironic to note here that when Attariq’s patriotic standpoint becomes more deeply rooted, the advertisements – quite few as they are – become even less. This is despite the paper’s wide circulation. It is as if some hidden influences are at play here.
Q: How do you classify Attariq? Is it an opposition newspaper?
A: Attariq is independent of any political influence, whatsoever. We formulate our own policy without coordinating with any party or organization, official or otherwise. We are guided by our convictions, patriotism, professional ethics, and conscience.
For a newspaper to be truly independent, it must rely on independent financial means.
Q: What are the major difficulties you face in your work?
A: We face 2 types of problems. First, there are the common obstacles facing new enterprises such as lack of adequate resources and facilities to be able to effectively compete with others. This hindrance was surmounted through sheer patience and hard work.
Second, gaining our readers’ trust. We have achieved this with flying colors, overtaking many older and more established newspapers. There are in the country today three official daily newspapers as well 18 partisan and independent weekly publications and about six irregular ones. Due to particular circumstances, some readers lost their faith in what is published by the press.
Our task was, and still is, to publish trustworthy material so as to build a good readership base. This we have achieved successfully, thereby raising Attariq circulation from 3,000 to 12,000 a week. While other publications are still struggling at 5,000 copies a week, at best.
Q: Attariq has recently purchased new equipment. Could you tell us more about it?
A: Since publishing the newspaper in 1995 and up to very recently, we had relied in type-setting and other processes on other press institutions. Then were able to purchase modest equipment which enabled us to computerize the lay-out and type-setting and get the various pages on tracing paper ready for the printing press.
The technological leap forward came when Attariq reserved its website on the worldwide Internet. This move came in response to the many demands we received from Yemeni living or studying abroad.
Q: How do you evaluate the current political situation in Yemen?
A: The ” legacy” left by the 1994 civil war and its malignant consequences constitute a far-reaching political, economic, security and other crises. There must be a comprehensive national dialogue with a view towards an ever-lasting national reconciliation. The hatreds of the past can only be overcome with tolerance and feeling of patriotic responsibility on both sides of the political equation. This way can we start to build a modern Yemeni state based on constitution and law.
Q: How do you view freedom of the press in Yemen?
A: There is no doubt that freedom of the press in this country is suffering some setbacks, as do other civil rights. This is actually one of the consequences of the civil war. The resultant imbalance of power has diminished the democratic margin.
It is very important that all people concerned with political and other civil rights should unite their to deal with this crucial issue. All agree that the current press law is a sure guarantee for freedom of the press. Any attempts to undermine this law, under whatever pretext, must be resisted.
The Journalists Syndicate must be more active and independent. Also, journalists must be a more responsible lot and avoid slander and blackmail.