Yemen and France…New Horizons…A Mutual Cultural Exchange [Archives:2001/32/Last Page]

August 6 2001

Adil Ahmad as-Salawi
Saba News Agency
Yemen and France have recently set out upon a highly ambitious cultural program aimed at enhancing the method of conducting mutual cultural exchanges between the two friendly states by exploring new horizons, pushing the limits of such exchanges to involve higher levels of cultural activity, and in general conducting fruitful dialogue so as to enhance mutual understanding of each others’ culture and civilization.
This issue of common understanding has resulted in a special visit made to Yemen by Dr Bassam Tahan (Professor of Political Geography in Modern Technology and of the Arabic Language at some of the most prestigious French institutes, as well as research specialist at the French National Research Institute). The principal result of his visit was the signing of a number of agreements and protocols on mutual cultural co-operation between Yemen and France.
Probably the most significant protocol was the special agreement (the first of its kind) signed this year between several Yemeni universities and cultural institutes and a number of comparable establishments in France, aimed at paving the way for Yemeni university lecturers to receive academic qualifications at French institutions. Its purpose is also to assist them in preparing for doctoral degrees, in exchange for their being used by France to teach the Arabic language at French secondary schools.
Similarly, the protocol will help establish a French national research institute, simultaneously with the arrival in Yemen of a delegation of French specialists given the task of adapting a program of intensive and comprehensive training for a select number of Yemeni cadres in what some describe as the science of “eloquence”, helping them break free from the habit of writing in the cumbersome, archaic and cryptic style of Arabic so common in many Arabic magazines and literary columns.
Dr Bassam also confirmed that there is a driving ambition on the part of both France and Yemen to translate this co-operation from the purely official framework into something which may also encompass specialist universities such as the Queen Arwa University. This is an unprecedented step, and is considered to be the first of its kind initiated by the French government in an Arab state.
Concerning his specific vision of cultural life in Yemen, gained through the visit here made by the principal of the French National Research Institute’s delegation, Dr Bassam clarified that there is, in his view, a special situation, that of a cultural window, which prevails over the Yemeni legislator. Consequently, he can seek inspiration, in a fairly straightforward way, from the steadily increasing attention by Yemeni citizens given to understanding the basic principles of foreign (specifically western) ideas and culture. (Needless to say, this implies a dynamic process whereby what initially involves external influences on the purely cultural level is ultimately transferred to the political system itself.) This is something which may not quite be succeeding in many other Arab states, in which materialism – rather than a penetrating understanding of the import of western ideas – prevails over other forms of ‘intellectual consumerism’.
Dr Bassam commended the significant role played by the Foundation Institute for Cultural Purity (which he describes as “exemplary”) in enriching cultural life in Yemen through a number of ‘arabicized’ cultural events and activities. This is to the great satisfaction of the institute’s principal, Mr Ahmad Jabir, who devoted it specifically for the benefit of the public. Similarly, members of the French mission have expressed satisfaction at the admirable role which educated Yemeni women play in ‘crystallizing’ the various features of cultural and political life in the country.
This is precisely what the activities of their colleagues in the membership of many legal and specialist institutions manifest, such as the Union for Yemeni Authors and Writers, as well as parliament and its elimination of ministerial portfolios in the most recent government lineup the country has witnessed. Incidentally, this is an unprecedented policy to which Yemen is opposed by several foreign states whose women still suffer under the pressures of social oppression, and live in an environment which restricts them from freely expressing their views or fulfilling their ambitions.
According to Dr Bassam, the main reason for Yemen’s progress in this respect may be due to its return to hallowed ancient traditions, where Yemen represents one of very few nations which has given to the rest of the world some of the very greatest and most powerful feminine icons. We only have to remember such important Yemeni historical figures as Queen Bilqis (proverbially known as the queen of Sheba, that is, of the great Sabaean empire which ruled much of southern Arabia and controlled the Frankincense trade in the regain before the Christian era) and Queen Arwa bint Ahmad Sulayhi al-Amr (the greatest of the Sulayhid rulers of medieval Islamic Yemen who transferred the capital of the small mountain kingdom to Jibla).
It is on this basis that Dr Bassam holds the firm conviction that Yemen is about to embark on a far reaching program of active co-operation by women in the social, cultural and political arenas of Yemeni society.
This program is most likely to proceed in a markedly ‘arabicized’ form, and will be based on the confidence of the younger generation in its own inherent abilities as well as its rich cultural heritage. Its most apparent manifestation is likely to be that of an ongoing social struggle between the forces of modernity and those of traditional conservatism. This is already evident in the activities of certain feminist literary circles and fiery student groups of a revolutionary and self-reflective stamp. Paradoxically, the need for social reform based on these principles is felt despite the fact that the various classical Islamic schools (the madhahibs), which in Yemen essentially means that of the Shafi’i in the south and the Zaydi in the north of the country, are relatively flexible where matters relating to women are concerned. In fact, many argue that the madhahibs rarely adopt an inflexible attitude towards women in their interpretation and application of Islamic law and popular consensus (ijma’).
Dr Bassam has also revealed that the French government and its subsidiaries involved in preserving the material vestiges of Yemen’s ancient cultural heritage represents one of the most outstanding characteristics of human nature. The French government has itself decided to undertake several restoration projects of a number of historical monuments and medieval era structures in Yemen, determined to see whatever project it begins right through to its final completion. It has therefore taken upon itself the burden of restoring most of the medieval mosques in a number of municipalities, and has also facilitated some French archaeologists with more creative mosque restoration projects in the country. In addition, the French government is resolved to establish a number of summer institutes for foreigners to study Arabic, after having witnessed the popularity of the French Institute in Yemen, where large numbers of French people flock to study the language.
From another perspective, the Institute for Arabic Learning in Paris has begun to show early inclinations to award one of the most outstanding symbols of Yemeni literature and culture, that is the writer Dr Abdul Aziz al-Maqalih, sometime in the middle of November, by holding a festival in his honor and bestowing awards on him for his literary and cultural achievements. Because this festival is intended to be quite lavish, invitations have been sent to numerous critics, as well as both Arabic and French personalities, in addition to a special invitation to the great Yemeni artist Ahmad Fathi, who will attend the award ceremonies and sing at the festival which is going to be held in a special location.