Mesmerizing reports from Sa’ada [Archives:2005/838/Opinion]

May 2 2005

The situation in Sa'ada according to the official accounts is supposed to be calm and all can go to sleep, knowing that the Government has restored its full authority and the “dangerous” aged sage (the Scholar Badr Eddine Al-Houthi) will pose no more trouble for whoever it is that wants to annihilate him. As much as there is skepticism in all these official claims, there is also significant hair raising news that indicates that the events in Sa'ada were far more than a security matter against some bands of youth, who forgot that much of what is in the Constitution of the Republic of Yemen was not for them, but were written in invisible ink. Therefore, should only be read by foreigners, especially the donors. Notwithstanding the disagreeable death of many young men on the Government's side, who carried out their duty valiantly and faithfully, the observer is inclined to believe that the eyewitness reports depict gross manifestations of hate and barbarity. On top of the tendency to unleash mass punishment for the deeds of a few, with many homes and means of livelihood destroyed, not to mention the innocent civilians who lost their lives or limbs in a campaign they may have absolutely nothing to do with in the first place, there were atrocious and inexcusable excesses that call for serious pondering as to where have our values plummeted to. The eyewitness accounts that the Yemen Times was able to collect reveal that the city of Sa'ada may have become an arena for ingrained hatreds to be unleashed in the most savage ways. Accounts of burned and completely charred bodies found here and there in the city [according to one newspaper, even near the generous and humanitarian bastion that the Saudi Arabian Government kindly granted to Yemen (the Al-Salam Hospital)] reflect a heinous disregard for Islamic religious dictates and the high moral nurturing that the people of Sa'ada stubbornly still cling to. Even if we assume that the Government claim that these were “rebels” has some validity, the Yemeni Constitution and Yemeni moral customs and traditions forbid such atrocity and this is further reinforced by Yemen being party to an important international agreement that outlaws cruel and excessive punishment worldwide. There were also reports that some bodies were dragged around behind official vehicles after having been mutilated and shot to death. Again, it should be stressed that there are no official or semi-official verification of these reports, but some of the witnesses were ready to swear the authenticity of such observations and are well known for their credibility by their listeners.

On another note, people who have managed to enter the prisons of Sa'ada depict a grim picture of over crowdedness and poor facilities, not to mention the absence of legal proceedings or definitive allegations that warrant the arrest of so many people. No one knows the exact number of such prisoners and there is no official source who can give an exact figure. Sometimes, people are held on account of their “wanted” relatives being still not apprehended, and often this is after their homes have been destroyed intentionally and not as “collateral” damage. For more, please revert to the news report in this issue that gives some more details.

What is really at stake in Sa'ada remains foggy to most observers, although the intensive official and quasi official media has not hidden a latent inquisition being undertaken on behalf of some officials who may see some political gains in succumbing to Salafi factions and helping the latter do away with the Zeidi sect in Sa'ada, which has been able to pose an obstacle to the energetic propagation efforts of these real religious extremists. Whatever the case, it is most important to remember that the people of Sa'ada are Yemenis and are entitled to all the rights of citizenship and protection, even from the abusive power of Government through misguided officials, who are ready to serve their vested interests and arrange their political arithmetic at any cost and void of any sense of responsibility.

It is understandable that the Government may not be pleased at depicting such gross violations of human rights as we hear are occurring in Sa'ada, but it is not easy for the remote observer to discern fact from faction, when the Government imposes a strict ban on the presence of journalists in the “war zone”. Indeed the public is entitled to know all that can be learned about the situation in Sa'ada. Moreover, it is important to be sure that the Constitution of Yemen applies to all Yemenis, Zeidi, Shafe'i or Salafi and any misinterpretation thereto by any officials should be clearly addressed.

For those of our readers who may not have a clear understanding of the situation in Sa'ada, it might be worth mentioning that Sa'ada is where the first Zeidi Imam, Al-Hadi Yahya Bin Al-Hussein established the Hadawi Zeidi sect in Yemen and ruled, or tried to rule, as most of his period was beset with outbreaks of rebellion by tribal chiefs, who were not interested in the establishment of law and order and the institution of justice the Imam saw himself compelled to uphold. The Imam was well known for his piety and honesty and devotion to Islam, without getting absorbed in any excesses, extremisms or deviations to the original Islamic creed as taught and practiced by the Prophet Mohammed (PBAUH) and his disciples after him. Imam Al-Hadi was called upon to come to Yemen from his original home in Medina (Saudi Arabia) by several delegations of Yemeni dignitaries that were impressed by Al-Hadi's scholastic attainments and exemplary character. At the time (around the Fourth Century AH – !0th Century AD) Yemen was in a chaotic state and petty tribal warfare was prevalent and the Abbasid Caliphate (in Baghdad) could not establish order in the land. Thus, Al-Hadi came to Yemen and gave the Zeidi sect its first real home and official presence.

The people of Sa'ada continue to revere the Imam and his corpse lies in the Al-Hadi Mosque in the Old City of Sa'ada, which Al-Hadi built and has since gone through many extensions and renovations. It is a landmark site in Sa'ada.

The hope is that many of the atrocities heard are untrue, but the fact that they are being circulated unofficially on a wide scale (including through the opposition and independent press) compel the listener to ask, what is the Government going to do about upholding the rights of the people of Sa'ada to be regarded as dignified citizens to say the least?