When the Public ‘Sees’ Differently! [Archives:1998/35/Viewpoint]

August 31 1998

These days, the political leadership of Yemen is in a fix. The problem lies in the clear divergence between the stand the authorities are taking concerning the recent US military strikes against the Sudan and Afghanistan, and what the Yemeni public wants. The politicians are trying to lie low, and at worst, give statements that can be construed to mean many things. The general public wants a clear position which denounces the American attacks.
The public mood is turning ugly. Ordinary people will tell you that the Americans are aggressors. Indignance could quickly give way to irresponsible actions of violence. People have been openly saying that if Americans take Muslim life indiscriminately, then any American living any where should be a legitimate target for violence. That kind of irresponsible talk, which one hears could lead to dangerous situations.
Words are already beginning to be transformed into action. Many threats have been received by the American embassy. Some people have published anti-American pamphlets and flyers. Journalists have written fiery articles in the media, in spite of an unheeded appeal by the Minister of Information to ‘please let it go’.
To further complicate the problem, it is clear that some of the ideas were not purely local. There are signs of coordination and exchange of ideas and plans extending from Malaysia, through Pakistan and Iran, all the way through Egypt to North Africa; and to parts of Black Africa.
The problem was further complicated by the lack of progress on the Middle East peace process. Indeed, even moderate Arabs are expressing frustration at the absence of fair play in Washington. Yet, Americans are baffled by the automatic association in people’s minds between the failure of Israel to comply with its peace commitments and the recent American attacks against Sudan and Afghanistan. That only shows the divergent mentalities on the two sides. For the Arabs and Muslims, their basic conflict with America is Israel. All other problems are off-shoots to that central problem.
The rulers of Yemen do not share the dangerous attitude of the general public. But they cannot come out openly against it, nor can they even try to pacify it. After all, the politicians do not want to be seen as opposing the people of Yemen stand for on this matter.
The politicians are trying to use the official media to play a role in helping shape public opinion, ‘in the right direction’. But that is a long-term process. At the present time, the official media itself cannot digress too much from the general mood. The mood is basically that American bullying has gone a bit too far, even though the people don’t actually support terrorism or the extremists. The local public also realizes that US officials are quite insensitive to Arab interests. American officials say what they think will fall well on the ears of the powerful Zionist lobby which shapes public opinion in the US. Besides, elections are in November.
In summary, Arab rulers are hoping that push will not come to shove. If it does, it is likely that the region will witness more cracks, thus ushering in a new period of instability.
Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher