SILVER LININGFrom Madrid to Gaza & public agony disregard [Archives:2008/1126/Opinion]

February 4 2008

Dr. Mohammed Al-Qadhi
“President Ali Abdullah Saleh urged the Spanish government to release detained Al-Jazeera correspondent Taysir Alluni, convicted on charges of having links with Al-Qaeda operatives”.

This is how the state-run media reported it a few weeks ago. It even reported during Saleh's departure to Madrid that one of the main issues he would discuss with the Spanish government was the release of Alluni. This is fine.

But the question of the Spanish-Syrian journalist should not top the talks between the president and the Spanish government officials. There are many more important issues concerning us as Yemenis; how to make use of the developing relationship between Yemen and Spain for the welfare of Yemeni people, rather than trying to teach the Spanish how to respect press freedom.

Whenever the Yemeni-Spanish relationship is mentioned, the question of the Alluni jailing comes up. Even the Syrian government is not as concerned with Alluni as the Yemeni regime is. I am not able to find any explanation for this, other than hunting for heroism. The president is obsessed with people praising him and his “great achievements,” which include assisting Alluni's release.

It is paradoxical and ironic that the man who approves of intimidation, harassment of journalists and website-blocking in Yemen can go to Madrid and urge the Spanish government to overturne a court verdict and release Allwni as a gesture of respect to press freedom.

Another interesting issue is the mobilization of protesters against the Israeli acts in Gaza Strip. The ruling party, as well as some Governmental No-Governmental Organizations (GNGOs) like Kana'an for Palestine, did their best to push school kids and even government employees to go to the streets last week and carry posters for the president, “the Arab Knight,” who never lets down his people in Gaza.

Yet the regime is willing to kill scores of Yemeni citizens who had the guts to the streets and voice their concerns in the southern governorates during the last few months.

The regime encourages protesting in support of Palestinians or the Lebanese and makes donations to build schools and villages in Palestine and Lebanon while it begs for donor support to this or that project. The people in charge feel the agony of these other people but disregard their public suffering at home. When it comes to its own people's concerns, their voices are silenced and their protests are fiercely put down.

We still remember the July 2005 bloody confrontations between police and protestors, as well as the repression of the protests in the southern governorates and the tens of lives they claimed as a result.

To drive the point home, the regime tries to find anything outside of Yemen that might divert its people's attention from their real concerns and daily pains. Nevertheless, this fruitless tactic will not be able to achieve its objective, for the public agony is becoming intolerable and the consequences will be dire unless Yemeni issues are addressed immediately.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Qadhi ([email protected]) is a Yemeni journalist and columnist.