Middle East Bureau Chief of TIME magazine to YT: “I hope to remove the negative impressions that have accumulated over the years of Americans towards Yemen and Yemenis.” [Archives:2001/28/Interview]

July 9 2001

Mr. Scott MacLeod is the Middle East Bureau Chief of the internationally renowned TIME magazine. He has worked for TIME for more than 16 years and is currently based in Cairo, traveling frequently to the Middle East to give interviews and carry out extensive coverage for TIME. He has been working as a journalist for 25 years, has visited every Arab state, and was made Middle East Bureau Chief for TIME in 1995. During his long career as a journalist, Mr. Macleod pioneered meetings with influential figures worldwide, and in fact was the first US citizen to meet Osama bin Laden as well as the first to interview King Abdullah II of Jordan and King Mohammed VI of Morocco, having also interviewed several other Arab and foreign heads of state. He has always wanted to visit Yemen, and so was given his first chance when he was sent there two weeks ago to update TIME readers about US-Yemen relations and recent developments in the USS Cole investigation.
During his latest visit to Yemen, the editor-in-chief of Yemen Times met up with him, giving the following interview at the Sheraton Hotel in Sanaa.
Q: Could you kindly brief us about the objective of your visit to Yemen?
A: This is my first visit to Yemen, its aim being to update our TIME readers about recent relations between Yemen and the USA, and of course to focus on the ongoing investigations of the USS Cole attack. The information I obtain from my visit will be integrated into a story set by TIME and will include various sources from both the USA and Yemen.
Q: How many officials have you met with during your stay, and can you tell us who they were?
A: I can’t say much about that because I was unable to meet many of the officials I intended to during my one-week visit, although I have tried to meet as many people as possible, many of whom are members of the government. I cannot tell you specifically whom I met, but nevertheless those meetings I did have were quite useful. Due to a lack of time and delayed prior notification, I was only able to meet a small selection of the intended personalities. Furthermore, I was unable to visit Aden itself, where the attack took place, but tried to ensure that I obtained all the necessary information from Sanaa.
Q: How do you assess the public’s demand for more information on the USS Cole incident and its consequences?
A: The American people are quite anxious to know who carried out the attack, why they did it, and who was ultimately behind it. Yemen is not next door to the USA, hence there is little flow of information from Yemen, which is precisely why my editor asked me to come here in person and follow up the results of the investigation so far in order to update our readers worldwide, and especially in the USA. It is quite natural for US citizens to be curious about recent developments and insist on obtaining all the facts.
Q: Were you disappointed or at least surprised that you could not meet those officials whom you had intended to, including the president?
A: I do not want to characterize the response of the officials negatively. I admit that I met some Yemeni officials who were very cooperative. However, you must remember that as a journalist you will probably sense some restraint on the part of officials to volunteer certain pieces of information, especially since that may be of a sensitive or confidential nature at the time when the investigation is still underway. One has to realize that there is a strong sense of mutual understanding between the Yemeni and US governments based on the principle of confidentiality, namely, withholding certain pieces of sensitive information from the general public. Apart from that, I didn’t notify the officials here about my visit 2 months in advanced, but only did so a few days before I actually arrived. I wanted to obtain information about the USS Cole trial that was unavailable elsewhere. I could have depended entirely on information obtained from Washington DC, but preferred to visit the country in person so as to investigate further and gather new facts which would complement those already available in the USA.
Q: You must be aware that the US embassy in Sanaa has closed its consular section due to an increase in terrorist threats made against it. What was the response you received from Yemenis regarding this development?
A: There seems to have been some kind of security threat to US citizens in living and working in Yemen, but I have absolutely no idea what exactly that threat was or whether it was directly related to the USS Cole incident. I cannot offer a specific answer to this question since I have not received any comments about it from either the Yemeni or the American side.
Q: When will the story be published in TIME?
A: The story will probably be published in one of the July editions.
Q: Do you expect to have to return to Yemen in order to carry out a more thorough report about the USS Cole incident, especially once the trial starts?
A: I don’t think I will need to return for this particular report. However, if anything happens which interests our readers, then I will be more than ready to come over and carry out more extensive coverage. I do believe, however, that Yemen is a very important country in the region, and is also a very interesting place for journalists because of the diversity of popular opinion you can tap into. Yemen is unlike many other developing countries, where dictators rule with an iron fist, restricting movement and prohibiting freedom of expression. Yemen is unique in the region both because it pioneered a free press and at the same time there are a number of dynamic events which take place here. I am eager to return again, probably because of my fascination with the country.
Q: As you already mentioned, the multi-party system in Yemen paved the way for diverse political opinions to flourish. Have you met with opposition figures during your visit?
A: My visit was primarily concerned with obtaining new information from the relevant authorities regarding the USS Cole incident. It was not necessary for me to meet any members of the political opposition as they were unlikely to know much about recent developments in the Cole case. The focus of my visit is to report on this particular issue. In future visits, perhaps I could indeed meet with such individuals.
Q: Being your first visit, how did you find Yemen?
A: Even though this is my first visit to Yemen, my wife was here a few years ago, and so she conveyed or portrayed an image of Yemen which made me interested in visiting the country. What impresses me most about the country is its natural beauty and ancient history. I have also been struck by the contrast between the tough exterior and tense stares of men in the street on the one hand, and their internal kindness and hospitality on the other. I never thought that both kindness and a tough exterior would be so obvious among largely heavily armed population. The visit taught me that superficial appearances do not necessarily reflect the internal warmth of Yemenis.
Q: Are there any final comments you would like to add?
A: On my next trip, I would like to make a comprehensive story about Yemen, which most US citizens unfortunately know very little about. I hope to dispel the negative impressions that have accumulated over the years of Americans towards Yemen and Yemenis. US citizens certainly do not know anything about the peace and kindness of Yemeni people. What is portrayed in the US media is usually a gross exaggeration. The recent USS Cole incident and the kidnapping of tourists have created a negative impression of Yemen and Yemenis, not only in the US but throughout world. I would seize any opportunity to clarify all these issues in a comprehensive story about Yemen which portrays your wonderful country in a truthful and unbiased way. I am very happy to have visited Yemen, and I am pleased to tell you that I have never experienced any problems here simply as a result of being an American citizen.