Government has hurt itself [Archives:2004/711/Viewpoint]

February 12 2004

The government's actions last week in brutally and swiftly imprisoning merchants of cassettes that include criticism of government policies was in my opinion quite an unwise step, even for the sake of the government.
I, along with millions other Yemenis, actually didn't know about the tape until the government took action against sellers and producers. This triggered a feeling of curiosity to know just what this tape contains.
Later on, I had the opportunity to listen to it in one of the taxis of Sana'a. The tape did include some harsh criticism against the government and its way of dealing with the country's affairs. But it did not include false accusations or invalid information. All the poet did is simply convey feelings of millions of poor Yemenis, and reflect the realities of the country.
“What the government did makes us believe more in the content of this tape” the taxi driver told me. “It also made us listen twice and three times to the tape and made us think twice about what it talks about.” he added.
I am afraid that for the government, the idea of launching such a severe arrest campaign against even the simple vendors in the streets back-fired, as more people became interested later, either buying it directly or borrowing the tape and making illegal copies.
To my personal surprise, I even found some converted the tape to digital audio format for online listening. This cannot be stopped, unless the use of the Internet is forbidden.
How could the government stop it then?
What is more puzzling is how official sources claim that the reason for this crackdown was because the tape was not licensed. Many have made a mockery about this, as they know that some government officials have been turning a blind eye to other illegal cassettes, and have never before launched such a harsh campaign against earlier illegal audio tapes discovered in the market.
This also contradicts that the first thing asked by police concerning the tapes was “Was it made by Islah [the main opposition party]?” If it is a matter of being without a license, whey politicize the whole affair?
Just as we are trying to show the world and ourselves that we are democratic, and are seeking to enhance our democracy in every way through enabling freedom of the press and expression, we have exposed to the world through such action that it is not about.
In conclusion, the idea behind the tape may have been too daring, but the steps following it prove to be worse in harming the government's reputation.
The only ones that could be so happy for this would be the opposition and the poet himself, who is now, with the help of the government, among the most popular and beloved poets in the country.