Has Fight Against Dogmatic Schools in Yemen Begun? [Archives:2001/20/Law & Diplomacy]

May 14 2001

Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi
Yemen Times
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The question of merging the religious institutes raised recently by the new government has created a big row between the GPC and Islah which runs such institutes. This issue has considerably embittered the relationship between the two parties. If we go back a little, last February local elections marked a deterioration in the relationship between the two parties. They accused each other of being corrupt, fanatic, and terrorists. Not only this, the two parties were embroiled in the violence and confrontations which claimed lives of many civilians supporting Islah and security men who were accused of being manipulated by the ruling party.
However, the battle of today seems rather more fierce and severe as it targets one of the strategic policies and interests of Islah. The government of Mr. Abdulqader Bajamal seems to be determined to settle scores with the opponents on this serious issue. This has so infuriated Islah that it started assaulting the ruling party, accusing it of secularism for targeting these religious institutes.
The GPC now believes that there is no need for having such institutes run independently by Islah which can influence its students into serving its own political interests. It also believes that the purpose for which these institutes were set up is now non-existent. They were meant mainly to resist the communist move in the northern parts of the country in pre-unified Yemen. These institutes are , in fact, an expansion of the Religious Guidance Authority established in 1975. They were formally announced in 1978 and were supported by Presidents Ibrahim Al-Hamdi, Ahmad Al-Ghashmi, and Ali Abdullah Saleh. During the tenure of al-Hamdi controversy there was a whether they can grant certificates or not. The then Education Minister Dr. Abdulkareem al-Iryani said it was necessary for such institutes to include in the curriculum other subjects in the field of science and the English language to be entitled to grant certificates. This lead to restructuring the curricula of such institutes. Their number eventually soared. They are now over 1400 with an enrolled strength of about half a million students, 25% of them are female. There are also about 38,000 teachers working in them (according to statistics of 1998). Around 30, 0000 students are likely to finish their secondary schooling soon.
We have to point out the reasons behind the expansion of such institutes particularly during the rule of President Saleh. The heart of the northern part of Yemen as well as Sharaab witnessed violence triggered by the Yemeni Socialist Party(YSP) and the political regime. Therefore, President Saleh took the help of then Ikhwan Muslmoon(now known as Islah party) in resisting these socialists. In return, the Ikhwan were granted some privileges from the president. One of these was the expansion of these institutes meant to educate people about religion and alert them against the anti-religion stance of the socialists. They were even supported by the political regime. The Ikhwan were clever enough to manipulate the students of these institutes to get their political affiliation. The expansion of the institutes helped the Ikhwan to get more and more people to support their ideology.
After unification in 1990, integration of education was one of the main strategies of the YSP. The YSP tried to get the support of all parties, mainly the Nasserite Union, Baath and other Islamic parties at odds with Ikhwan (known as Islah now) to get the Education Law passed. It was passed in 1993 after a heated debate between the GPC and Islah on the one hand and the YSP on the other. The parliament discussed it and recommended it for the presidents approval. However, he made some changes and returned to it the parliament which voted against it and sent it back to the president. But since he did has not given his approval. It was not put into practice. But, it has become automatically valid because the Constitution provides that if a law does not get the president’s approval in 60 days since passing by the parliament, it becomes valid. The law was not enacted because of the strategic coalition between the GPC and Islah against the YSP which left power after the civil war of 1994. The coalition between the two parties was broken after that. The liberal wing in the GPC started pressuring and asking for the integration of the educational system. That is to say, the will of the YSP has become a priority for the GPC now.
After the formation of the new government, the GPC has become very serious about this question which is why the new government has prioritized it. The chairman of the GPC caucus, Sultan al-Barakani stressed that such measure aim to protect Yemen’s future generation against terrorism. He further said that it is irrational to keep it as now is a time Yemen is planning to have an integrated curriculum with some countries in the region, like Saudi Arabia. He said in the past it was justifiable as there were conflicts of ideologies, but now there are not any doctrinal differences.
This development made some big wigs in the GPC accuse Islah of misusing the students of these institutes in the local elections. This really means that the GPC is now very much aware of the role these institutes can play in any election which might adversely hit the GPC in the future. Al-Barakani also said there was a prevalence of corruption in these institutes and that Islah spent the budget earmarked for them on other activities of the party. Such a statement invited the anger of Islah leaders who demanded investigation into the accusations of the GPC concerning the alleged corruption. They also said such investigation should be conducted in the Ministry of Education. They further claimed that the hysteria of the GPC against Islah under this pretext failed to get the public opinion in their favor and rather harmed the president himself by proving him as a man who is not aware of things happening in the country. This would include the robbery of the tax payers money and the detriment caused to the Yemeni students over the past 22 years.
Mr. Hamoud al-Tharehi, former deputy of the General Authority of these institutes stressed that it was not an easy task to abolish the institutes in the light of the sharp reaction to the statements of the Islah Secretary General, Mohammed Al-Yadomi who confirmed the end of the strategic coalition between the two parties after the local elections. Or it might be a reaction to the election results in which the GPC believes the students of these institutes played a role. He further accused foreign agencies of working from behind the curtains to sabotage these institutes because of their Islamic commitments. He said pro-normalization of relations with Israel might be behind it, indicating that the aim of these institutes was to produce scholars, preachers and teachers of holy Quran. He stressed that the government should start closing down all bars and nightclubs, which act as a spring board for moral degeneration.
The official media criticized Al-Sahwah and Islah leaders’ statements ruthlessly, accusing them of defending corruption in these institutions. It said the Islamic and Arabic course of the institutes will be included in the curriculum of the schools and that the main concern was to enact the Education Law.
Shiekh Abdullan bin Hussein al-Ahmer, Speaker of Parliament, refused to attend the debate session of the government agenda because of this problem, although, he later confirmed his support for the government in carrying out its agenda. Islah members in Parliament withdrew from the voting session and other members staged a demonstration in Sanaa in protest against this issue. However, a decree passed last Tuesday envisages that the schools and institutes will be merged financially, administratively and technically next June. The budget of these institutes is put at YR 13 billion. The government decision was described as courageous and was a surprise to the dogmatic wing in the Islah. However, the liberal wing in the party does not bother about this issue and make a big fuss about it. These people believe this was a welcome step for education in Yemen. However, they believe it should not be political-motivated. Rather it should aim at salvaging education in Yemen and safeguard its future generation against any dogmatic conflicts in the future. They even believe that these institutes have failed to attain their goals and therefore have become a part of the overall fragile and perverted educational system that needs to be addressed soon. These institutes worked as a base for other Islamic groups to have their own schools to teach their own religious dogmas in different areas in Yemen. In fact, there are many schools that teach different doctrines like Shiite, Salafiah, Sofiah and others. These institutions are very dangerous and might embroil Yemen into the turmoil of dogmatic conflicts. They should all be abolished and the government should undertake running Islamic teachings. The government has taken a laudable step but it should not stop at this point.
People now are whispering about the fate of Al-Iman University run by Abdulmajeed al-Zindani, Head of Islah Shura Council. The university is teaching Islamic religion to students from different Islamic countries. It is believed to be the next target of the GPC government. There is now a question mark regarding the fate of this university that is suspected by the GPC and other international agencies concerned with countering terrorism. We can not afford to forget the campaign the official media launched against the university accusing it of nourishing terrorism. That happened last year as the Al-Thaqafia Weekly rereleased a novel which was viewed as anti-Islamic.
It is true that the GPC has gained a political victory against Islah in merging these religious institutes against Islah’s interests. However, the problem has opened the file of other dogmatic schools the government should address promptly.