Silver LiningsThe Headache of Armed Escorts [Archives:2005/878/Opinion]

September 19 2005

By Mohammed Hatem al-Qadhi
[email protected]

Our colleague Hamoud Munasser, correspondent of al-Arabiya TV survived an attack by one of the armed escorts of a Parliamentarian. The guy attempted to kill the journalist who was covering the summoning session of the prime minister Abdulqader Bajamal. Although we do not know the motives behind the gunman but the incident will not be the last in a series of harsh attacks journalists are going through at the moment.

I will not discuss the incident in the light of the plight we journalists are facing. However, it should be discussed in the light of the chaotic situation of arms proliferation and the question of armed escorts which helps exacerbate the problem of firearms carrying and possession in the country at large. There is no exact figure of how many firearms the Yemeni citizens do possess. According to non-official estimates, there are almost 17 million pieces of weapons in the hands of the country's 19.7 million population of last March census. However, former minister of interior Yahia al-Mutawakil said in 1995 that the light and heavy weapons the people own range between 50-60 million pieces. But, others doubt the actuality of this figure and think it is an exaggeration. This is still debatable and is left just for estimations.

Any way, this is not my point now. What I want to say is that one of the factors that helps promote the culture of weapons carrying in the country is that phenomenon of heavily armed escorts that important social dignitaries, tribes leaders and government officials do care to have. According to media reports, there are over 75,000 armed men working as escorts, including 1500 armed men you can not fail to see them standing at the gate or venue of the parliament, waiting for the MPs. This situation has increased the weapons spread without control as the law No. 40 for 1992 has exempted presidents of the republic and their deputies, current and present ministers and MPs, officials appointed by republican decrees, police and military officers, judges, prosecutors and diplomats working in Yemen from having license to carry weapons. Hundreds of millions of Yemeni riyals are spent of those escorts who have no skills but that of carrying firearms.

What is this chaos? And how come that the political regime shrugs off its shoulders in pride that we are all gifted with a stable security situation. It is so ridiculous that our MPs are legislating laws for everything expect for firearms control. The tribal figures have proved they are stronger than the state which has been weak enough to face the tribal chiefs and force a law to control weapons. They succeeded in halting any attempt to pass the draft law which is collecting dust at the parliament for some years. What is more ironical is that fact that even those parliamentarians elected by the people need protection. Why should an elected person have a group of armed men protect them and from whom? I wonder why university rectors or deans should have armed escorts standing at the door of their offices or accompanying them while moving around in the campus. This is disgusting and awful and shows how even intellectuals care to show their importance through a group of armed men to protect them. We should be able now to get rid of such a culture that promotes and encourages firearms which many do still look at as a symbol of dignity and manhood.

To drive the point home, Yemen will never be stabilized or see the light of real investment and development at large as long as this disorder of firearms and the concept of escorts do still exist. If the people in charge are serious enough to push ahead the realm of development, they should start first with this headache of firearms and put an end to its carrying and possession. I know some people will say I am utopian and is heedless to the reality. But, that is not true guys. I do know it is a challenging task and demanding but not impossible. We just need a political decision and will. Great deeds always require hard work and sacrifice. Don't you think so?!