Silver LiningAl-Hamidi: The deflowered citizenship [Archives:2006/950/Opinion]

May 29 2006

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
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The murder of Mohammed al-Hamidi, a second-hand shop owner in Sana'a, last week by some tribesmen from Sanhan district raises many questions about equal citizenship and protection of the people rights in Yemen. The tribesmen said they were just superior because they belonged to Sanhan, the home village of the president Ali Abdullah Saleh. They badmouthed the man, beat him up in front of his children and then simply shot him dead and drove away. The guilt of Al-Hamidi is that he refused to humiliatingly accept the verbal insult and more importantly, he is labeled as an inferior citizen who can be easily killed without any notice or punishment.

This is, of course, not the first and sure won't be the last case in which the people who do not cherish tribalism are abused or killed by arrogant tribesmen who still look down upon such people belonging to Taiz, Ibb, Aden and others.

Being civilized people working hard to make ends meet and not warriors, carrying weapons is seen as a demerit and foolishness by some tribesmen who deal with these people on the basis of this perception. They think they are above the law because they know that they belong to a tribe that can protect them even if they are wrong. And because they have not experienced similar cases in which law breakers are held accountable and punished. They know that their influence can overpass law and order. We have heard that the ministry of interior had arrested some of the attackers after the media started talking about the case. This is fine. But, the killer al-Hamidi is still at large, being protected by one of the relatives of the president. To be from Sanhan or whatsoever should not be immunity and a license by which its people can violate the law or even kill the vulnerable people without any punishment.

To add insult into injury, we have also heard the family of al-Hamidi is now facing strong pressure and influence by the relatives of the president to accept tribal mores solution. This usually takes the form of blood money and an apology according to tribal traditions extended to the family of the killed person. A bull might be slaughtered and guns fired which the weakest party has to accept as if nothing happened. Okay, this might end the case but who will mend the broken hearts of the two children whose “lower social rank and dialect” was enough reason to kill their father. Will the blood money be able to put off the flaming hostility of these orphans towards the people of Sanhan and the society at large? Will this repair a deflowered citizenship?

As I said in my article last week, the political regime has failed to civilize these tribesmen and broaden their sense of belonging to Yemen at large rather than their tribes or even families. It has not had a project to build a state run by law and order instead of tribal customs. This is very clear in this case of al-Hamidi where big influential people have put the law aside and want to sort out or say bury the case without any concern to the feelings of his family. If those people really have any respect to law, they wouldn't have provided protection to criminal tribesmen. Such a practice shows the big guys and their cronies line up with chaos and tribalism at the expense of law and order; they side with influential tribal arrogance against ordinary people.

Some might even say the media is making a big fuss about the case because the killers belong to Sanhan. This is not true. Of course, we can not generalize and claim all people of Sanhan or Hashid or whatsoever behave in the same way. People can not be angry with Sanhan just because it is the village of the president. We are against the idea that some people use any sort of influence-tribal, political, economic or social- to abuse the law and rights of the people. I still remember the big hue and cry the media made some years ago when an influential Sheikh from Hodiedah tortured one of his village citizens.

However, when such a behavior is associated with sectarian reasons, it is very much dangerous. This culture of sectarian classifications has to be addressed very seriously. And I really feel happy about the role that media and some NGOS in the complete absence of the political parties are trying to comfort such afflicted citizens, voicing their ordeals.

The regime has been singing day and night that the people enjoy equal citizenship and that the Yemeni Revolution put an end to sectarian and ethnic distinctions. But, these sectarian distinctions remained. Then, the unification came and we thought it would melt all sorts of sectarian sentiments and that the multiparty system would help wipe away these passions of rating citizens. Unfortunately, these sentiments have been intentionally promoted and encouraged.

To drive the point home, such practices are very much dangerous to the unity of the society and its social fabric. They can flare up sectarianism nationwide and we realize the consequence is devastating. The president and his government are demanded to bring back the deflowered dignity and citizenship of al-Hamidi and many more alike in different parts of the country. This can be tested only through the trial of al-Hamidi's killers whereby they can prove to us we are all equal citizens. Will this happen? Let us wait and see!