Taiz: The Dreaming City and The Plight of its Intellectuals [Archives:1999/45/Governance]

November 8 1999

Imad Al-Saqqaf
Farooq Al-Kamali
Yemen Times
Many intellectuals like to refer to it as the dreaming city. Some say so because of its beauty. Others do so because of its lack of the basic essential services. Anyhow, nowadays it is preparing to be the capital of culture, or as others like to call it, the ‘cultural city.’
Many aspects distinguish Taiz from other governorates. Its beauty, fresh air, marvelous tourist sites along with its considerate and generous inhabitants make it one of the most beautiful cities in Yemen. A tour of the narrow alleys makes us remember the glorious past of the neglected city. The Al-Mudaffar mosque, Al-Ashrafeyah mosque, the Al-Qahirah Citadel, the National Museum, the traditional markets (souks) and the traditional houses which beautifully mix tradition and modernity, leave unforgettable impressions on whoever visits them. In fact, one can talk about many things. However, we shall here try to shed light on only two aspects, which are; tourism and culture.
Taiz is considered to be the capital of Yemeni culture because it is fit enough to be so. It has been a source of qualified elite in various fields through history. If it is really targeted to be the cultural capital of Yemen, there should be more attention paid to its basic demands: water, electricity, modern streets, public libraries, parks, etc. In spite of ignoring and neglecting it, it is still the most deserving city to justify the title of the cultural city.
To know more about Taiz and its worries, as well as its ambitions, Imad Al-Saqqaf, met with three well-known figures from Taiz: Mr. Izzaddin Saeed Al-Asbahi, Mr. Faisal Saeed Farae and Mr. Mohammed Mohammed Al-Mojahid.
We first met with Mr. Mohammed Mohammed Al-Mojahid, General Manager of Tourism Office, Taiz, who answered our queries. He said, “Concerning the number of tourists coming to Taiz, more than 50,000 tourists come to Taiz every year. Of course, tourism in Taiz has been affected by the Abian event as well as other kidnapping incidents. The impact has been very clear, especially after some tourists canceled their reservations in the city’s hotels. These events, of course, have tarnished Yemen’s image. The government has been trying its best to restore Yemen’s beautiful image through a lot of activities during the last few years. For example, it hosted the Regional Conference for the Ministers of Tourism in 1997 and this year it hosted the conference of Arab Ministers of Tourism. Before these, it hosted the Emerging Democracies Conference. However, what is built over years can be destroyed in seconds.”About the future plans to improve and activate the tourist industry in the governorate, Mr. Al-Mojahid said, ” Taiz is a city of culture and tourist sites. Personally, I am one of its passionate lovers. As far as our plans for the future are concerned, they are mainly based on inviting private sectors to invest not only inside the city but even in places like Al-Mokha seashores, Djabal Sabir (Sabir mountain), Al-Barakani, Warazan and many other places.” 
On the subject of announcing Taiz as the cultural capital Al-Mujahid said: “Taiz has provided Yemen with a lot of thinkers, literary figures, politicians, etc., so it is the most suitable city in the Republic to be claimed a cultural city. I believe that this aim needs a strong will to be accomplished.”Izzaddin Saeed Ahmad, vice chairman of the Yemeni Authors Union, Taiz said, ” Taiz means a lot to me. She has inspired me to write my second collection of short stories, ‘For the Faces and the Places,’ and I am still unsatisfied. I feel that I need to adequately reflect about her. Taiz and I are a strange couple of lovers. I love her and I love her streets on which I scatter my days. I don’t like it to be called the dreaming city. I would rather love to call it the city of lovers. Gunmen fired and shot her and she showered them with nests of singing birds in return.
“Taiz has been a cultural city in the past. Its population is the highest in the Republic. It embraces the highest number of students and educated people who have been the first people to sow the seeds of development. Therefore, it has been always the most preferred city in the whole Republic to bear the title of the cultural capital of Yemen. Announcing Taiz a cultural capital has been a dream of many people. It was the slogan of the Third Taiz Cultural Festival which was organized by the Yemeni Authors and Literary figures Union. What we need to accomplish this aim is a strong infrastructure. We need libraries, stages, galleries, lecture halls in order to make this dream come true. It is true that in general Yemen does not have the means for an impressive cultural stride. Therefore, accomplishing this aim will very hard but it is not impossible.”
We also met with Mr. Faisal Saeed Farae, director of the Al-Saeed Foundation for Science and Culture and asked him about what the Al-Saeed Foundation can do for culture and innovators in Yemen in general and Taiz in particular. He said, “Let me while trying to answer your question stress on a very important fact. You have diagnosed the situation of the city in your important question in a very right way. It is really dreaming of what you have mentioned.
When we call any place a cultural place, certain factors must be made available. Otherwise, this nomenclature loses its credibility. In my opinion, no city, including Taiz, can hold this title especially if we take into consideration the wide meaning of the word ‘culture.’ In a city like Taiz, no organized supply of water is available nor sanitation or health services. The streets need more attention.
Rehabilitating some of these streets may need a history by itself.
Much worse is that what is available to these streets is prone to deteriorate. The random planning of this city of the unique natural geography gives an image of man’s ugly treatment of his surroundings, let alone the heaps of garbage and the lack of recreation places. And above all the crazy pursuit of estates made the city lose its identity and its characteristic features. In spite of what has been mentioned Taiz, and I sometimes wonder if it is worthy of being called a cultural city, is more qualified than other cities to hold such a title. This is because it embraces the largest number of thinkers and brilliant people who have always been the initiators throughout history.”Concerning the Foundation’s future plans, he said, “Although the institution hasn’t completed its third year yet, it has contributed much to culture and science in our country. The Al-Saeed Foundation was established under directives by the Hail Saeed An’am Group of Companies in memory of the late Hail Saeed An’am as a token of gratitude for the outstanding services he had rendered to his society in the economic field in general, and charity domain in particular. In that he was proceeding from his sense of patriotism and embodiment of his hopes for development of sciences and technology in Yemen. The institution’s objectives are to:
* Encourage and contribute to the Yemeni scientific researches.
* Support the national economy sectors in general and the agricultural sector in particular by providing them with researches, as well as scientific and practical experiments.
* Create a generation of Yemeni scientists and experts in the fields of natural, practical, technological sciences and the like.
* Organize competitions to encourage scientists to conduct scientific research and to carry out new experiments.
* Award the wining research and experiments.
From the very beginning of its career, the institution has chosen a scientific and objective path. It has also chosen many ways to accomplish its aims such as organizing symposia, seminars and lectures in Sanaa, Taiz, Aden, Al-Hodaidah and the other governorates. This will be more organized when the Saeed Public Library is opened. The library will start with more than a thousand titles and they are planning to reach more than 100,000 titles in the course of time. There will also be a lecture hall, an information bank and a center for children’s culture. In addition, the institution publishes the scientific research and studies that agree with its objectives.”
“Like the other Yemeni cities, Taiz needs more attention paid to its infrastructure to enable it to do what it should do. The present situation of the infrastructure is discouraging. Taiz is distinguished among the other governorates in many aspects in general and in the cultural aspect in particular. We do not claim that Taiz possesses features over the other governorates because it really does. With this regard, Taiz needs public libraries to quench the people thirst for knowledge. It also needs lecture halls and galleries. Its ancient monuments and places need more attention. We, in the Al-Saeed Institution do our best to cooperate with the authorities concerned, especially the governor, Mr. Ahmad Abdulla Al-Hajri to organize a program that will lead Taiz to be a capital for the Yemeni culture in 2001. This has been announced by the governor himself,” Mr. Faisal added.