An Inefficient Regime Accuses the Media: Fighting Kidnapping & Terrorism [Archives:1999/04/Front Page]

January 25 1999

There have been two negative developments in Yemen’s recent experience with kidnapping and terrorism. These have, unfortunately, complicated the regime’s local and international relations.
During January 1999, four distinct watersheds have been crossed in Yemen’s bad experience with kidnapping and terrorism. These are:
1. For the first time ever, the nation witnessed a break-in by kidnappers to snatch a hostage. This was how John Brooke was taken.
In all previous cases, hostages were grabbed from the streets – while driving, walking, or jogging. We now have a case of someone being taken away from an enclosed compound. The next logical step is for kidnappers to break into homes/offices in order to snatch hostages. This is a bad omen.
2. For the first time ever, kidnappers have placed political demands – some local and others international.
That was the case with the Abyan kidnappers who demanded changes in the political structure of Yemen, as well as in the world’s attitude towards Iraq, Sudan, and Libya.
3. For the first time ever, the Yemeni authorities used force to liberate hostages. Although there have been some skirmishes between government forces and tribal groupings in previous kidnapping cases, the Abyan case was the first situation in which military/security forces stormed the hideout of kidnappers in order to liberate hostages.
4. For the first time ever, foreign experts came to Yemen to investigate cases of violence and terrorism. This is the case with the ten FBI and four Scotland Yard investigators who came here following the Abyan case.
The other complication has to do with the rising level of tension between the authorities and the independent and opposition media. Senior politicians of Yemen, including some highly educated ones, repeatedly tell media personalities to team up with them against the terrorists because “This is a national crisis”. They insist that the media should show more patriotism by supporting the politicians against the terrorists.
There are three problems with this logic.
1. Wrong Assumption:
The politicians, by their very suggestion, imply that the media support the terrorists and kidnappers. They reach this conclusion because the independent and opposition newspapers report the demands and positions of the terrorists/kidnappers as they square off with the authorities.
I can say that neither the Yemen Times nor any other local newspaper that I know of supports the kidnappers/terrorists. We simply report their demands and positions because it is part of our job. We try to present readers with the two or more sides to any conflict.
2. Misuse of Patriotism:
There is no reason for officials to paint independent and opposition journalists as less patriotic or less concerned about Yemen. They are as patriotic as anybody else, and they serve the country in their own way. Therefore, it does not become the authorities when they label individuals who do not take orders from them as spies or agents of international espionage or intelligence circles. Such accusations only show how intolerant our officials are.
3. National Interest:
Some officials present themselves as an embodiment of the nation and national interests. They remind me of Louis XVI who said, “L’etat, c’est moi.” So, if you disagree with the politicians, they say you oppose the national interests of Yemen. How ridiculous.
If anything at all, these same politicians are actually harming Yemen and the national interest because of their selfish behavior, greed, nepotism, and corruption.
All sides – local and international – must join hands in the fight against terrorism and kidnapping. But there are rules to this. In order for the people of Yemen and the world community to join hands with the Yemeni state in this fight, it must first shape up. Shaping up calls for changes, especially the need to clean up the prevalent corruption, replacement of inefficient officials, more just distribution of the nation’s resources to all regions and citizens, etc. Of course, a firm hand is needed to fight terrorism. But force alone won’t do the job. The authorities have to regain their legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of the people of Yemen.
Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf,
Chief Editor – Yemen Times.