Will Hiding Its Head in the  Sand Help the Government [Archives:1999/15/Business & Economy]

April 12 1999

For hundreds of years, the roofs of the Great Mosque in Sanaa had been a safe place for thousands of manuscripts and antiquated scrolls of the Holy Quran. These manuscripts were rediscovered in recent times. Efforts to classify and catalogue them started in earnest. The German-financed effort resulted in the Manuscripts’ Library.
Recently, however, someone decided to break into the mosque and plunder the scrolls and manuscripts. As usual, the authorities first denied the action, then said that nothing was stolen though there was a forced break-in.
satellite television channels and radio stations stated that a great number of these singular manuscripts and scrolls had been lifted. An independent Yemen Times investigation led to a somber conclusion.
1. There is a disgusting level of carelessness in regard to the safety of these historical documents.
2. Over the last two years there were five attempts to break-into the mosque to steal the documents.
3. Three weeks back, there was a successful break-in.
4. The authorities are refusing to disclose what is missing.
It would only take simple and modern steps of registering, catalguing and computerizing of the manuscripts and scrolls to protect them. Researchers and other experts will have access to photocopies or electronic versions of the manuscripts. Photocopying the original papers, as is the case in most countries, is simple and inexpensive measure. But unfortunately none of this was done in the libraries of the Great Mosque.
Nor are the authorities able to apprehend the culprits. They keep talking big and give themselves the right to monopolize the information and the right of access. Nonetheless, the responsible persons are never held accountable.
These include the Ministry of Endowments which is in charge of the Great Mosque. Then there is the Ministry of Interior which is responsible for safety and security. Then there is the Sanaa Municipality. Then there are the people directly responsible for the mosque.
Most Yemenis find the attack on this sacred place offensive and barbaric. They also find the action of stealing these treasures for sale in foreign lands something very cheap.
To keep pretending that nothing has happened makes many people lose whatever credibility the authorities may still have had. To shout on television and to print in large letters that nothing had gone wrong is in itself a crime. The real menace may be that we have incapable officials who continue to shield themselves by talking big.
Accountability is an important component of any system. Unless that is applied, nobody will do his/her job as required by the law.
By: Ismail Al-Ghabiry,
Yemen Times