Farouk Luqman to the Yemen Times: President Saleh is the best option for today’s Yemen [Archives:2006/966/Reportage]

July 24 2006

One of Yemen's pioneer journalists, he was editor of the first English newspaper, The Aden Chronicle, in the Democratic Republic of Yemen until 1968. Despite nationalization of his family business, he continued working in the media as a correspondent for a number of internationally renowned news outlets like The New York Times, Newsweek magazine and United Press International (UPI).

He has published books in Arabic and English, including the first book of facts about modern Yemen in 1970. Afterward, he emigrated to Saudi Arabia to co-establish that country's first English language daily, Arab News, in 1975 with Hisham and Mohammad Ali Hafiz.

After working 17 years at Arab News and writing for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper, he decided it was time to move on and created Malyalam News. He's also Editor-in-chief of Urdu Magazine and recently established a training center for new journalists.

After an absence of 11 years, Farouk Luqman visited Yemen last week. Yemen Times Editor-in-Chief Nadia Al-Sakkaf met Luqman and conducted the following interview.

What's the occasion of visiting Yemen now after so long?

You could say that I'm visiting home. It's been very long since I've come to visit Yemen and I missed this country. After all, it is my home. I have many friends and relatives here, to the extent that if I had lunch with one of them every day, it would take months to see everybody.

Then why did you leave Yemen in the first place?

At that time, our family business was ruined, as the Communists confiscated everything we owned and made it impossible for us to work in Yemen. After completing a Master of Science degree in journalism in the United States in 1962, I joined the family publishing firm as editor of the Arabic daily, Fatat al-Jazirah, and The Aden Chronicle. But after nationalization in 1968, it became impossible to continue that business.

Why did you establish media in Malyalam and Urdu instead of more known languages like English?

On the contrary, Malyalam is very popular in the Gulf. Did you know there are more than three million native Malyalam speakers in the Gulf countries alone? Urdu also is widespread, with more than 1.7 million Urdu speaking citizens in the Gulf. So, it was an opportunity because there was demand and no local competitors.

We have many branches in Kerala and other cities in southern India and we distribute to most of the Gulf countries, although we don't have that great a market in the United Arab Emirates because regulations there allow international newspapers to be printed, so competition is quite high. We distribute approximately 30,000 copies and we see ample of opportunity for more.

Are you working on any new projects now?

We are establishing a training center for journalists, which will be launched soon. I believe this center will provide very much needed training and services in the region.

Why didn't you return to Yemen after things changed?

You mean in 1990? Well, it was a great achievement for Yemen to unite its two parts and I, like every Yemeni, was proud. But transition takes time and just when Yemen began to adjust to the new phase, the 1994 war broke out. Unfortunately, it would've been a very risky decision to make and, as it is, we already were quite established in Saudi Arabia.

After an absence of 11 years, what are the most striking differences you see in Yemen?

Well, I can only talk about Sana'a and Taiz because I haven't been around the country yet, but I must say that I'm very impressed with the development the country has witnessed in the past decade. There's so much more construction going on and I've seen that more women are participating in public life. In fact, I made it a point to visit the president during my stay in Sana'a and was given this opportunity.

Why did you want to visit the president?

Why wouldn't I? He's my president and I wanted to meet with him and pay homage to him. I believe this is the right of any Yemeni citizen and I wanted to use that right. As a matter of fact, considering these upcoming elections, I feel that President Saleh is the best option for today's Yemen. Yes, there have been some difficulties and mistakes, but no one can deny the achievements and progress Yemen has enjoyed under his leadership.

Like what?

For example, security today is much better than it was in the past, and when I say better, I don't mean in absolute terms but in relation to the situation before. The judiciary system is better, education is better and investment is better, among the many other developments.

What do you think are the most important issues Yemen should focus on urgently?

There are so many issues to tackle. For one, the water problem is a major concern. One day, you'll find a gold or diamond mine or discover new oil in a Sana'a well, but what's the point if there's no water? We'd still need water to utilize all those and Sana'a especially is suffering a shortage of water. I'm happy that there have been a number of events targeting this problem lately, such as the conference on which the Yemen Times reported recently, but the issue needs real attention.

Also, I think information technology (IT) should be taught as a compulsory subject in all schools because it's the way to the future. Another issue is that Yemen needs more advanced media.

If there was one thing you'd change about Yemen, what would it be?

Steady development. I'm very impressed by India's experience. That country has made giant leaps in technology and development. It's been progressing slowly but steadily and it's one of the great countries today. Indian minds and manpower are the most sought after around the world, sometimes at any price.