Dr. Al-Saqqaf: His Legacy Lives On! [Archives:1999/24/Focus]
This is an OPINION page.
Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue!
The news of the untimely and tragic death of the late Dr. Abdul-Aziz Al-Saqqaf hit me like a bombshell. I had just visited the good Doctor a day before his death. Many months had passed since we had a chance to keep our long friendship (20 years) vitalized. Without any illusions of any claim to the supernatural, I recall having told the good Doctor that day that the sudden and untimely death of my brother (52 years old) two weeks before leads one to wonder how little control we really have over our destiny.
The readers of the Yemen Times will no doubt have no difficulty in sharing the grief and sorrow felt by many of the relatives and close friends of the late Yemeni Professor and pioneering journalist at the unexpected fatality of a man whose meaningful words have been, uninterruptedly, necessary reading since the dawn of this decade, when the YT first hit the newsstands. For a man who took great pains to avoid all health and safety hazards that could cause an early death, it was a tragic irony that Dr. Al-Saqqaf’s life had to be cut short as a result careless driving. After all, this had been one of the challenges of Yemeni development that Dr. Al-Saqqaf was continuously outspoken against Ð especially as it originated from the intellectual sphere Dr. Al-Saqqaf felt proud of being an eminent part of. The death of the late Dr. Abdul-Aziz Al-Saqqaf can only be described as being tragic fate in its worst manifestations. The shock tends to still the writer’s search for words to record the feelings of amazement at the remarkable workings of God’s will through the unknown mystery of fate, especially when it goes against our wishes and puts our aspirations aside. But if it is God’s will, then the only expectation from us is to give unlimited praise and submission to His Wisdom, which leaves no room for any needless contemplation.
May God have mercy on his soul and assist the relatives and family of the deceased. He was a unique phenomenon in Yemeni culture, and Dr. Abdul-Aziz Al-Saqqaf made himself great by his work.
For twenty years, this observer had a chance to look at the political and social metamorphosis through which the good Doctor evolved. The most significant characteristic of Dr. Al-Saqqaf was his heartfelt attraction to intellect. This unique affection was not confined to pride and other superficial satisfactions of the ego. Nor did it imprison the Professor in an elitist syndrome, that Ð more often than not – drove its claimants into an endless roundabout, devoid of communal spirit and deprived of any hope of leaving a lasting mark even on the intellectual world in which they held sway. On the contrary, Dr. Abdul-Aziz Al-Saqqaf had his own brand of intellectualism, which insisted that intellect must be paralleled with success and achievement, for the satisfaction of the ego and for fulfilling the responsibilities that true intellect lays on its bearer towards the community and the country at large. In essence, he felt that intellect is only worthy if it left its mark, through some form of success and achievement in life, even if fate should cut short the full course of achievement that the intellectual pursues. This success entails involvement and concern – a sense of community spirit and national loyalty. Intellect, as such, becomes a national resource that should not be the sole possession of its holders, but of the society as well. Dr. Abdul-Aziz Al-Saqqaf had diligently and painstakingly worked hard to develop his intellect, and wanted to find practical applications for it in a world that was beset with so many conflicting paradoxes, because he believed that the use of the mind will find answers to all challenges, no matter how many obstacles and hurdles may stand in the way. In reflecting upon the life of Dr. Al-Saqqaf, one can only conclude that the success of Dr. Al-Saqqaf was his own working – his own masterpiece.
Dr. Al-Saqqaf’s early attempts at success were not always fruitful. He has seen many of his colleagues collapse into the quagmire of frustration and helplessness, while many more became immersed in facing the challenges of sustaining themselves, as the economy failed to adequate means of livelihood – the cushions – needed for free thought, innovation and creativity to flow in the intellectuals’ minds. Consequently, many Yemeni intellectuals became outcasts in the society – unable to deliver up to society’s expectations of them, to help guide the country from its clinging to social and economic retardation, and unable to satisfy their own egos by leaving any marks of tenable success. Dr. Al-Saqqaf was not to be easily overtaken by the complexity of the challenges that intellectuals were beset with (many of which, ironically, were built up by some of the narrow – minded intellectuals, whose intellect had become enmeshed within the complex power center quagmire that has held the strings that directed the affairs of state in Yemen). Dr. Al-Saqqaf, also, never believed that taking a back seat was the safe retreat. He continued to look for that break that would enable him to direct his intellect to where it can be most useful for his own well-being and for fulfilling his desires to serve his country and enhance his people’s welfare and their political empowerment.
When Yemen’s unification brought with it hopeful signs of a remarkable political transformation for the country, Dr. Al-Saqqaf cleverly saw that the right mix of factors that would unleash his intellect were in place. Democracy and political pluralism were too dear to ignore or leave for others. Whatever the marginal democracy that Yemen has enjoyed since, Dr. Al-Saqqaf was going to work to the maximum degree possible, in order to ensure its continuity and to maintain the role of the press as the unfailing guardian of the basic human rights that people must enjoy. After all, only if a society enjoyed these fundamental rights would it find that progress and prosperity could become feasible and sustainable, no matter what the available resources that such a society might possess. We only have to look at the experiences of other societies to erase any doubts about the significance of freedom in development.
Dr. Al-Saqqaf had a knack for keeping the Yemen Times from getting into head-on confrontation with a suspicious regime, that feared too much exposure of the shortcomings of the delicately bonded power center mix that managed the country’s affairs. Though not sentimentally attached to the regime, Dr. Al-Saqqaf nevertheless would not fail to recognize that a head on confrontation with the regime would be fruitless, especially as the regime itself might have concluded also that the Yemen Times was indispensable in portraying, to the international community, the country’s fling with marginal democracy and precarious conformity to the New World Order. It was sometimes more effectively than the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Tourism combined! At the same time, the Yemen Times can also help to guide the regime as to what progress was needed so that this image would be a more accurate portrayal of what can be actually found on the ground in Yemen. Dr. Al-Saqqaf shrewdly maneuvered the Yemen Times to satisfy its readers with a factual representation of the events occurring in the land, without getting bogged down in exaggerated sensationalism or political dogmatism – clean journalism to the greatest possible extent. Moreover, the Yemen Times was managed by a strongly conservative business acumen, which was very important for maintaining the paper’s independence and for providing the resources for serious involvement in civil society functions, where the paper, in fact, was the initiator or played a leading role in many of these functions.
For sure, Dr. Al-Saqqaf had stuck to his own recipe for success: hard work, maximum utilization of time, continuous improvement of assets to operate the business, a large network of contacts and close relations in potential areas of newsworthiness and political leverage and the maximum benefit of the vast intellect his early years of academic pursuits had nurtured in him.
Fate has cut the road short to the destiny that Dr. Abdul-Aziz Al-Saqqaf may have aspired towards, but the legacy that he has left behind is well engrained in the contributions he gave to the development of modern journalism in Yemen, exemplified in the Yemen Times. It is imprinted in the hearts of the countless people he has touched, directly or indirectly, by the opportunities for livelihood, which he provided them, or by the principles he valiantly stood for. Moreover, one could not fail to mention the characteristics of modesty, courtesy and compassion and infatuation with cleanliness that were the sources of admiration for all who came face to face with Dr. Al-Saqqaf, even those who could not come to agree with all that the good Doctor stood for.
Nevertheless, there is one point on which unanimous agreement can be found. In his relatively short but successful journey, Dr. Abdul-Aziz Al-Saqqaf has earmarked for himself an assured place in the erstwhile volatile history of his country – an honor he is well entitled to. With the commitment of his heirs to carry on the role of the Yemen Times, as a free forum for all the opinions on the state of affairs in the country, or elsewhere, and to uphold the causes and institutions Dr. Al-Saqqaf sponsored, supported or defended with the same patriotic spirit, vigor, sense of public responsibility and communal well-being, one could find some consolation in being confident that the legacy that Dr. Al-Saqqaf will still live on. May he rest in peace and may God have mercy on his soul.
While this article primarily delves into the journalistic and quasi-political role that Dr. Al-Saqqaf played, not citing his contributions in other fields, such as Yemeni Television, Sana’a University, the Prime Ministry, etc. was not intentional or oversight, but merely to show the area of his most focused attention, over the last 10 years of his life, through which Dr. Al-Saqqaf was heralded into national public prominence, and international recognition.