Salah Haddash Talks to the [Archives:1997/41/Culture]

October 13 1997

Old & New Directors at FIYS More Research at FIYS
Mr. Frank Mermier, the outgoing director of the French Institute for Yemeni Studies (FIYS) in Sana’a, has done a lot of research on old Yemeni traditions. He has a Ph.D. in anthropology. His thesis is on the organization of “souks” or markets and the urban society in Sana’a. It has been published in a book. Le Cheikh de la Nuit (Sindbad, 1997, 235 pages) is an informative book on the traditional rules and regulations that govern the Sana’a markets and the changes that have taken place since the 1962 revolution.
Q: What were the main activities and achievements of the FIYS during your tenure? A: This institute was established in 1982 as a hostel for French researchers. It is under the Directorate of Social and Human Sciences and Archeology at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There are 31 branches all over the world. In 1991, the FIYS started to have other functions. Its major tasks now are to create research programs, to publish important Yemeni books on heritage, and to organize conferences and seminars such as the conference on Yemeni music organized in coordination with the Yemeni Ministry of Culture in July of 1997. Some of these conferences are organized in cooperation with other foreign institutions like the Hamburg workshop last September which was done in cooperation with the Dutch Orient Institute in order to publish a collection of articles in a book about contemporary Yemen. Yemeni and European researchers and scholars took part in that conference. Two books on the history of Zabeed and Tihama will appear at the end of this month. Other books are also scheduled to be published later this year. The FIYS also coordinates its efforts with the Yemeni Archeological Authority to help 6 or 7 French archeological teams every year to excavate in Yemen. The FIYS facilitates the work of French researchers to conduct higher education research on Yemeni issues. One of our major achievement is the renovation of the Abbas mosque in Khowlan.
Q: Is the academic atmosphere in Yemen conducive for researchers to do their studies? A: Book prices in Yemen make researching beyond the means of many researchers. Government publishing bodies do not publish the books of Yemeni researchers so they are obliged to print their books in Syria or Egypt. I’d to appeal to the Yemeni authorities to support research activity and to publish the works of Yemeni researchers. In Yemen, a country of 16 million people, 20 to 30 books are annually published. This is indeed a low intellectual output.
Q: Are you happy with your association with Yemen, as a scholar? A: Yes, I am happy because I achieved a lot of original work. I am sad to leave my many friends in Yemen. But, my connection with Yemen will not cease. I hope that I’ll come back.
Mr. Franios Burget, the new FIYS director, has a State Ph.D. in public law from the University of Grenoble. He worked as assistant lecturer from 1973 to 1980 in the University of Cosantina in Algeria. From 1989 to 1994, Burget worked as a researcher in Egypt where he wrote his book about the Islamic movement. He also worked in the National Center for Scientific Research in France. One of the books authored by Burget include the Islamic Movement in Northern Africa and Political Islam: The Voice of the South which was translated into Arabic.
Q: What will be your main interests as director of FIYS? A: First, I’d like to continue with the work of my predecessor. My interests will expand here beyond Islamic issues. I hope to write a general book on the Yemeni politics. I’ll work on creating and coordinating new research projects with Yemeni and French researchers. I can already see that my job as FIYS director will not allow me enough time to write and conduct my own research.
Q: Is Yemen a fertile ground for research? A: Yes, Yemen has not been studied enough. As a specialist in law, I can say that Yemen is an archetypal case of the different sources of law. The variations among Islamic Sharia, customary law, and the dynamism for modernity represent an interesting field of research.
Q: What are your first impressions of Yemen? A: I visited Yemen once before in 1990, just before unification. At that time, I met the minister of unity affairs in the north who told my that I could travel to Aden without a permit or without being watched. I am happy to be in Sana’a because I came from the mountainous area of Savoy in France. I am optimistic about the potential and prospects of my work in Yemen. I shall encourage many French people to come to Yemen to study Arabic, instead of Tunisia, Damascus or Cairo.