Al-Marwani:”The law applies to only the common people” [Archives:2006/972/Reportage]
In an exclusive interview with the Yemen Times, Abdul-Rahman Al-Marwani, Chairman of Dar Al-Salaam Organization to Combat Revenge and Violence, stated that absence of confidence in the judiciary and security and absence of awareness are the main reasons for armed fighting and revenge among Yemenis.
How do arms enter the country?
There are known local arms dealers. There also are local markets that sell arms openly. Perhaps every city contains a weapons market; if not, there are shops for selling arms and the state knows this. Even southern Yemeni districts, which didn't use to be this way, now have many arms. It's said that owning arms has become part of Yemeni citizens' importance.
Does the ease of getting arms in Yemen help terrorist groups?
Yes, even in neighboring countries.
What about the law regarding bearing and owning arms?
Such a law still is incomplete, as Parliament still is studying it. Some powers in Parliament are fighting against the existence of such a law. Every now and then, the state launches campaigns to stop arms bearing/usage. However, such campaigns only target the weak, while those powerful individuals ignore and care about no such campaigns. In most cases, the law is applied only to common citizens and the weak.
Some justify that they accompany armed individuals to provide protection from revenge consequences. However, it has become the norm that the more armed companions you have, the more distinguished position you receive. I experienced this myself, as I once used to have armed companions. I had the sense of being in an important position, but I didn't really serve the country.
The state sometimes resorts to using force against tribes. Does this beget violence?
The practice of resorting to force costs the state much. After using force against a tribe, it then must handle the problem and pay much expense to fill the gap.
What are the reasons contributing to the spread of revenge in the country?
The availability of small arms among citizens, lack of awareness, citizens' lack of confidence in the state, which is unable to resolve revenge problems, lack of confidence in judiciary and executive powers, the indifferent role of social figures and sheikhs and, in some cases, rational figures are displaced by those known for being irrational.
Some citizens resort to revenge due to feebleness in both judiciary and security. What's your comment on this?
Humans didn't reach outer space by means of words, slogans or speeches – they succeeded because of working seriously. Things begin with the state, which has tremendous facilities entitling it to handle the reasons behind the revenge phenomenon, especially by improving judiciary and security authorities. Official media should be a tool to change negative concepts; instead, 40 percent of official media is allocated to commercial advertisements, so official media plays no role at all.
Some influential state figures, especially those in the army, participate in tribal conflicts. Can you elaborate on this point?
Answering that question would raise problems for Dar Al-Salaam Organization and lead to its shutting down. I'm sorry, but I can't answer that question.
What are the reasons for tribal conflicts?
Shortage of natural resources, huge populations, absence of development, unemployment, fighting over land and absence of social conciliators, sheikhs and religious scholars, who are more loyal to their parties than to stopping bloodshed. Last year, more than 21 conflicts occurred among tribes and families.
In which areas of Yemen does revenge seem rampant?
Previously, revenge was confined to certain areas of Yemen. Unfortunately, it has spread to include many governorates like Sana'a, Dhamar and Al-Beidha, listed in order of priority. No Yemeni hospital is without deaths and causalities resulting from revenge and/or misuse of arms.
Does Dar Al-Salaam have statistics on the number of deaths and injuries?
Between 1,000 and 1,200 individuals annually become victims of revenge and arms misuse – both deaths and casualties. During 2001-2003, 35,000 crimes occurred due to misuse of arms. No one, not even the state, has accurate databases. Such incidents incur tremendous costs.
Do you think revenge-related problems will end in Yemen?
Such problems can't end in the current situation because there are factors upholding revenge. These factors include the weak role of judiciary, absence of religious scholars in raising awareness and absence of sheikhs' role for the same purpose. You see, Dar Al-Salaam Organization is the only one concerned with revenge issues, despite the fact that there are numerous civil community organizations and associations.
What is the organization doing to help hold a weapons-free election day?
We began a national campaign in May under the slogan, “Together: A day free of weapons,” targeting 5,620 electoral centers, i.e., 301 constituencies. In the beginning, 21 tribes signed an honor agreement whereby they agreed to not bear or use arms on election day. In cooperation with non-governmental foundations, we printed 250,000 awareness posters.
How did the idea come about?
We launched the national campaign earlier because we observed some instances of arms fire during the last election. Of course, arms bearing frightens observers and voters alike, with some citizens even deciding not to vote that day for this reason.
How cooperative has the state been with you in this campaign?
The state is very cooperative and has responded positively to this campaign. President Ali Abdullah Saleh met with the National Defense Council and they declared voting day a day without weapons. This is a sign of Dar Al-Salaam's influence at the official and public level.
So, will armed companions not be allowed to accompany officials and sheikhs?
As I mentioned earlier, only common citizens will be forbidden from bearing arms, so we expect this from what we see. If the law is issued and implemented fairly, citizens will find themselves in a position to stick to it. Only then, will you see no one bearing arms. You won't see Afghanistan in Yemen. Citizens will have time to develop and revenge gradually will vanish.
What are the bases on which Dar Al-Salaam Organization was founded?
Dar Al-Salaam aims to handle issues related to resolving disputes, often those among tribes and/or families, by calling organization members, who include sheikhs and other volunteers. We then seek to settle disputes according to tribal traditions. We also seek to clear up other problems before they run wild, with such problems usually ending in reconciliation, as well as try to contain other problems of a revenge nature using our simple facilities. The organization has 3,200 members divided among 11 branches and all of them are volunteers. We receive government funding, say $2,000 annually, but it's not enough to cover the problems we resolve.
Dar Al-Salaam Organization was established in 1997 under the name Dar Al-Salaam for Arbitration. It then intensified its activities and changed its name to Dar Al-Salaam Organization to Combat Revenge and Violence. Including 11 branches divided among nine governorates, the organization has settled 197 revenge cases and armed tribal conflicts. It also has conducted nine training courses targeting numerous tribesmen to inculcate them with values to help create a generation able to develop Yemen.