ReflectionsLooking for humour amidst Yemeni arms (1-2) [Archives:2004/736/Opinion]

May 10 2004

By Yahya Al-Olfi
[email protected]

During the past few weeks official, private and party media have been speaking about the spread of arms in Yemen and how such availability of weapons leads to tribal and family feuds culminating with sad homicides all over the country.
Within this context I would like to refer to some of the lamentable and at the same time inevitably humorous incidents. It is known that the culture of raiding is a deep-rooted tradition practiced in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula prior and following the advent of Islam (It was a regular practice prior oil discoveries in the Arabian peninsula but now is limited to some areas of Yemen).
Two ill-destined Egyptian teachers were victims of such public armament and revenge tradition, which is sanctioned by the state due to its impractical stance towards this issue by considering popular armament as an honor and an indispensable tribal tradition which ought to be maintained and now many weapon amateurs justify it by saying look at Iraq if Iraqis were armed the American mission would not have been that easy.
Anyhow, the two unlucky Egyptians had to work in the nomadic areas bordering both desert provinces of Yemen “Marib” and “Al-Jawf”. The Egyptian teacher working in Marib was raided by assailants from Al-Jawf who killed him in the process.
So when the news spread about what had happened to their teacher the tribes on the other side vowed to take revenge. People then thought that they would for sure kill one of the assailants but instead everybody was astounded to hear that they killed another Egyptian teacher working in the assailants' area (a tit for tat) so as to settle scores just as is the case with the ongoing revenge and counter revenge.
In reality, people in Yemen do carry arms because of the judiciaries' total corruption as well as the lax governmental attitudes towards the rights and the security of the general population. A soldier cannot be rewarded if he dares to solve a problem on his own initiative and the government cannot guarantee his safety even if he is doing his legitimate duty let alone his bias with the aggrieved against a wrongdoer.
I still remember when a soldier dared to stop a minister who violated the traffic rules. The minister called the policeman names, thinking that in his capacity as a minister the policeman shall be intimidated but because the policeman thought he was acting right and not knowing that the transgressor is a minister the traffic policeman roughed him up.
Later the minister was consoled by the then prime minister and his cabinet and the poor policeman received his dues for half a year in jail. Unfortunately, at present our police and army strength can only serve influential people and this is the reason why most Yemenis find it necessary to keep arms because they do not trust let alone respect the state and its organs. I shall give two examples just to prove how a soldier tends to shy away from taking sides with regard to any daily public security incidents.
Almost two years ago I was a witness to a horrible incident where a man was killed in front of the presidential office downtown Sana'a and the office guards hid themselves behind the gate (opposite Taj Sheba hotel). After the assailant fled the soldiers were asked by the bystanders why they did not interfere and they are many they answered simply because we do not want to get involved for if we are to interfere we shall have to bear the consequences.
We cannot act on our own authority out of fear that we shall inevitably subject ourselves to retaliation. Another time a soldier at Sana'a Airport prevented a Chieftain and his bodyguards from entering the departure lounge.
After some time the Chieftain came in with many of his armed men. He entered the lounge forcefully and wanted to get rid of the credulous soldier who thought he was defending law and order. Luckily the soldier's commander had already given him a leave for six months and made him leave immediately.
Another Chieftain repeated the same mischief but was faced this time by a resolute sergeant. This military man was slapped and humiliated by the Chieftain and his henchmen. Luckily, the humiliated soldier either hailed from the same area of the late Mohammed Abdullah Saleh (President's Brother) or was known to him.
When the late Mohammed Abdullah Saleh tried to teach that Chieftain a lesson he was discouraged due to many interventions by influential people who interfered with the president, who unfortunately later ordered the withdrawal of the soldiers who were besieging the wrongdoer's den-castle. This uncalled for weakness on the part of the government had later given the same Chieftain a license to kill. One day while he was prancing with his punch of ignorant convoy of bodyguards (illiterate tribesmen).
He ordered his bodyguards to gun down a cabdriver under the pretext that the said cabdriver was impeding the procession of his convoy and seemed to have bad intentions towards his highness.
The Chieftain later was frightened to know that the cabdriver came from a tribal area, so he hurried to reconcile that tribe and paid them blood money ( in Arabic Diyah) immediately as they wished as a price for the slain cabdriver after convincing them that it was not his fault and that the thing was a grave mistake while because the other victim i.e. the passenger hailed from Taiz province a Yemeni region where tribalism has faded away long ago and as the state is unconcerned to interfere on the side of any aggrieved simple Yemeni citizen as is the case in other civilized nations, god only knows whether that sheikh did pay an equal blood money or none at all.
There are many similar incidents committed by chieftains against prominent governmental figures and governors and have gone unpunished. Actually, if there is a genuine will to affirm the state's standing, it is so easy to do, but as the Egyptian joke says” The Director would like it to be this way”!?