Student activities v.s security authorities [Archives:2007/1106/Reportage]

November 26 2007
Photo from archived article: photos/1106/report2_1
Photo from archived article: photos/1106/report2_1
Political activities at Sana'a University affect student performance. As a result, fighting has broken out among students many times, including reported shooting incidents. A report by Amel Al-Ariqi, Fatima Al-Ajel and Al-Miqdad Mojalli.

Political Security arrested Amin Al-Faqih in 2003 for conducting political activities at Sana'a University.

At that time, Al-Faqih was head of the General Union of Yemeni Students, known as GUYS, while being a level four student in the university's Faculty of Languages. He also belonged to Islah, Yemen's largest opposition political party.

Al-Faqih recounts his ordeal: “That particular day, a friend and I were not at the university. Two taxis and a private vehicle obstructed my car and surrounded us on Al-Qadsia street near the university. At first, I thought it was tribal revenge, so I told my friend to keep down in order to avoid any gunshots. Several men in civilian clothing then dragged me and my friend from my car, justifying their actions by saying that they were from Political Security.”

Al-Faqih says he was shocked at this behavior and protested that he and his friend had not been summoned for arrest by security authorities.

He continued, “They drove us to the Political Security detention, where we remained for almost a week. Neither our relatives nor our friends knew of our arrest. My friend was released, but I was moved to the Criminal Investigation Office in Sana'a, where I endured a new investigation. There, I was allowed to phone my family to find me a lawyer.”

Al-Faqih was accused of actively opposing the republican system, inciting a riot at Sana'a University and attacking university staff. Several lawyers stood with Al-Faqih, defending him voluntarily.

During their investigation at Political Security, Al-Faqih says he and his friend were blindfolded. “The investigators called us terrorists, continually telling us that we wouldn't get out of prison. They put us in a small room with other criminals and those accused of terrorism,” he adds.

“The accusations leveled against me were unclear and lacked evidence. Moreover, the way they seized and put me in the Political Security prison and then at the Criminal Investigation detention without giving me any legal explanation for such behavior motivated many lawyers to defend my case,” he notes.

Two weeks later, Al-Faqih was released and his case referred to court, which sentenced him to a year in prison and stayed his execution. Because he had to be at court for his trial, Al-Faqih couldn't sit for his final examinations that year.

“My studies were affected. I had been one of the prominent students in our faculty. I still haven't graduated yet due to the circumstances I endured,” he laments.

In his opinion, he was arrested for belonging to Islah and he denies conducting any type of political activities.

He goes on to say, “The students elected me head of GUYS. They didn't ask me about my political affiliation and my relations with them were good, regardless of their political affiliations.”

According to Yemeni law, GUYS must be independent. The union's aim is to provide university students different services, such as books, handouts, organizing graduation ceremonies, receiving and directing new students, launching cultural activities and trips, etc.

However, Al-Faqih notes that many students, including GUYS members, conduct political activities, adding that there's no law preventing university students from promoting their political affiliations.

The presence of Political Security at Sana'a University and students carrying guns is the result of practicing politics at the university, Al-Faqih says, wondering why Political Security remains at the university despite specialized guards to protect it.

No longer is a member of GUYS, Al-Faqih doesn't regret being a leader of the union, despite his difficulties and hardships. “As a member of GUYS, I learned leadership skills and expanded my knowledge. It gave me an opportunity to get to know many people and strengthened my relations with others. It also enhanced my confidence,” he notes.

A major struggle exists among Sana'a University students over the control of GUYS, which opposition parties have run for many years. For this reason, security authorities have maintained a strong presence at the university in order to thwart any attempts by opposition parties to win GUYS leadership. This has affected student performance and created a type of unfriendliness among them.

Majed Al-Homaidi, deputy head of the General People's Congress -students' sector- at Sana'a University's Faculty of Arts, explains that the members of GPC including students and teachers don't ask students to demonstrate in the streets; rather, they attempt to organize them and inform them about the National Covenant and what the GPC can offer them.

Al-Homaidi admits that partisan political activities can affect students' performance during their studies. “You can do many other activities while studying, but you have to bear in mind that your main task at university is to study,” he notes, adding that he graduated first in his class although he is deputy head of the GPC within the his faculty.

He notes that in order to attract students to a particular political affiliation, political party leaders must use suitable students who can represent them.

“Most politicians are university graduates. You'll find that most ministers have been and are professors at Yemeni universities because they are able to manage the country,” Al-Homaidi observes.

He goes on to say that the problems among Sana'a University students are not due to political or GUYS activities, but rather the narrow understanding of some students. “Some professors at Yemeni universities support those students with political affiliations similar to theirs. For example, professors affiliated with the GPC only support those students affiliated with the GPC, while professors affiliated with Islah support Islahi students,” he maintains.

Asma'a Al-Qubati, GUYS member and a student in the Faculty of Arts, affirms that political activities negatively affect students. “Political activities mustn't be allowed at the university because Muslims must be one party, not divided,” she says.

She believes professors play a large role in political activities at Sana'a University, saying, “Every professor has his own methods and political affiliation and he or she somehow tries to attract students to his affiliation.”

Saleh Al-Sanabani, who established GUYS in 1981, says the aim of forming such a union was to represent university students in numerous fields both inside and outside of Yemen, regardless of their political affiliations. He says the union essentially is a syndicated work. University students have this union to defend their rights and represent the expectations.

“However, multiple political activities have played a role in changing the union's principles. GUYS cares about defending students' rights and formulating a better future for them, as well as for Yemen,” he notes.

He continues, “If students understand the correct meaning of multiple political parties in Yemen, and at the university as well, they'll benefit from it; however, many students misunderstand how to use them.

“There's a lack of cultural and democratic awareness. Students require more concern by governmental and private university administrations. What's happening at the universities is simply the result of some university staff and GUYS leaders siding with their own political parties,” Al-Sanabani concludes.