An inteview with the culture minister Putting Yemen’s culture on the map [Archives:2002/44/Interview]

October 28 2002

The cultural scene in Yemen is experieincing a revival at local, regional and international levels. This includes a new cultural strategy, a comprehensive vision, as part of future goals of Yemen.
Yemen Times reporter Yasser al-Mayasi interviewed the Minister of Culture Dr. Abdulwahab al-Rowhani to find out more. Following is an edited copy of their discussion.
Q: What’s the cultural situation in Yemen?
A: The cultural situation in Yemen has been progressing by leaps. Serious efforts have been exerted to find out a basic cultural infrastructure in Yemen.
The new Yemeni culture strategy has been prepared by eminent experts. This strategy is the first of its kind and is geared to find all there is to know about the culture of Yemen’s talented people. It falls into three categories, short-range, medium range and long-range goals.
We at the culture ministry are preparing diverse cultural programs to restore our sense of culture. Implementing the cultural projects depends mainly on this strategy, prepared in collaboration with United Nation Development Fund, (UNDP).
In addition to this, a national cultural conference is to be held soon where a number of experts, media men, and eminent professors will participate at local, regional and international levels.
Preparations are in full gear to renew the Yemen Cultural Center. There is also the popular theatre, the child theatre, training hall, exhibition hall, and international exhibition hall, library, talent shows, and child library.
This is being done in time for 2004, when Sana’a celebrates itself as the Capital of Arab Culture.
Q: How are budding talents perceived by the culture ministry? Why are most Yemeni youth so frustrated?
A: The culture ministry does pay special attention to budding talent, and as a result of this strenuous efforts have been made to pay a full attention for these talented people.
A number of the Yemeni pioneers in the field of poetry, theatre, songs along have been honored. Also, their creative works are to be published.
We call on talented writers to participate in the cultural movement in Yemen with a view of assessing everything new, whether the positive or the negative ones.
We are in need for an objective standpoint to set a cultural track in Yemen.
Q: What is the role of the ministry regarding the smuggling of Yemeni antiquities?
A: We do our best to coordinate with the concerned bodies in the interior ministry, particularly in the borderlines, with a view of putting an end to smuggling of antiquities.
The security bodies are entrusted with performing this mission for investigating this. We thank God that the security officers are on high alert. A number of smuggling operations have been found.
ProtectingYemeni culture or heritage is the responsibility of the whole community.
Protecting antiquities from damage or smuggling is not restricted to the culture ministry, it also the responsibility of the interior ministry and the judicature control bodies.
The constitution says that 50 years is the period for any cultural outcome to be classified as a cultural heritage and that it is not allowed to be smuggled or damaged. We have started also to renew, polish, classify and protect manuscripts from decay.
The unauthorized use of the Yemeni heritage is a very serious problem. We adhere to the international laws that protect the intellectual property for individuals and nations.
We have at the culture ministry a special sector for protecting the intellectual property from robbery, and theft.
Q: What are the special preparations for having Sana’a as the Arab Culture Capital in 2004?
A: Undoubtedly, nominating Sana’a as the Arab Culture Capital is a historical event in the long history of Yemeni culture.
Sana’a in its originality and its civilized amalgamation of old and new is deserving to be named as the Arab Culture Capital for 2004. This recognition has deep meaning. We will shoulder the responsibility for reviving the historic culture and make Sana’a a distinguished culture capital.
In order to receive Sana’a as the capital of Arab Culture, compressive plans are in full swing in order to be presented to the Supreme National Council for review and discussion. The matter is no slogan to be raised. Actions speak louder than words.
Since time immemorial Sana’a has been a cultural and historical center. Even the architectural design of its buildings represents unique Arab culture.
We’ll make use of other previous Arab culture capitals, such as, Oman in 2002.
This event has gained the support of the political leadership chaired by the president of the republic, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The mission has been entrusted with the Prime Minister, Dr. Abdulqader Bajammal and some memberships of the concerned ministries to form a committee for further preparation.
Q: What is being done to protect historical Yemeni cities such as, Sana’a, Zabeed, and Hadhramout from damage?
A: The historical Yemeni cities represent the cornerstone of the Yemeni civilization. As a result, the cabinet has issued a decree regulating the random use of modern construction in the Old City of Sana’a, which may deface the original architecture of the ancient Yemeni cities. At the same time, a decree has been also issued banning new houses, as the Old City is one of ancient history that has to be preserved.
A special focus has been paid by the concerned bodies in the government such to also preserve the al-Ayn Park. In addition to this, a number of old building are being renewed, and a loan fund for the inhabitants in Shebam and Zabeed is being created.
Two new brick factories, one in Zabeed and the other in Seyaoon, has been established to support preservation of ancient Yemeni cities. Recently, a number of ancient Yemeni cities such as, Sana’a, Zabeed, Shebam and Hadhramout has been classified as cities in the list of the world heritage. There are several Yemeni cities, which are in need of preservation and rehabilitation.
Q: What do you think about the 19th International Book Fair held in Sana’a?
A: The 19th International Book Fair has been featured by participation of the huge number of publication houses. The number of publication houses has reached 350 from Arab and foreign countries.
In addition to this, tens of thousands of titles have been displayed to the public.
More than 740,950 visitors attended the 19th International Book Fair. It has been featured by the valuable books and references where 200 different educational institutions including, universities, societies participated to be acquainted with everything new.
On the side of the fair, two symposiums around the cultural situation in Yemen were held. It was attended by eminent professors and experts in the field of Arab history.
In addition, the 4th Meeting for the Scientific Committee was also held.
We can say that the 19th International Book Fair has been different from the previous book fairs. Holding such cultural activities will pave the way for people to be informed about the cultural situation in Yemen and its heritage.
Q: Do you have any plans to establish a well-handled theatre capable of producing something new for the country?
A: Preparations to establish a basic infrastructure of the Yemeni culture are in full swing including mapping out ideas, proposals and suggestions for this mission.
In addition to this, halls at the cultural center are to be renewed. The popular theatre along with other training theatre shows are to be implemented this year.
In addition to this, multi-dimensional theatre shows and book halls have been established in Aden. A publication house has been established, and a number of historical references and books have been published. Preparations are also are underway to renew the national museum in Sana’a and it is about to be finished.
We have a comprehensive plan to establish the basic infrastructure of the Yemeni culture capable of assimilating the cultural activities. We have to make use of everything positive in this era, the era of globalization. This can be done in accordance with to our principlesand notions.
Q: To what extent has cultural exchange reached with Arab and foreign countries?
A: As for the cultural exchange with the Arab countries, we have an annual plan for organizing cultural weeks and activities in the Arab and foreign countries and the last one was revolved on the queen of Sheba held in London and other European countries. The exhibition has comprised more than 380 rare antiquities that have been showed to the public.
This is a clear testimony that Yemen possesses a very rich history, suggesting the originality of its civilizations.