SELECTED STUDIES



Section Editor: Prof. Talaat I. Farag





Alternative Media in Yemen

Information War with the Government

By Munir Mawari

 

 

 


This paper focuses on the increasing influence of the alternative media in the Yemeni politics; introduces different forms of the Yemeni alternative media outlets; and explains how the emergence of alternative media pushed the Yemeni government to react with anger and launches counter-attacks, which led to a war of information, between the government’s controlled media and the alternative media outlets. Although the mainstream media are still strong, the government seems to be losing the war and paying political price for losing its longtime control of information flow. This paper also provides the readers with general overview of the main media outlets in Yemen and discusses the government struggle in preventing the Yemeni dissidents’ messages from reaching a wide audience inside the country.

Introduction

The alternative media in and about Yemen has increased in the past three years, in prominence and influence, producing at this point of time a certain amount of paranoia in the Yemeni regime.
With one article in 2007, for example, an independent Yemeni-born journalist in Washington DC tumbled 20 percent of the Yemeni President’s cabinet; by reporting on a single scandal. He had done an investigative report, which was published in a non-governmental Yemeni news website, breaking a story of $15 billion corrupt deal between the Yemeni government and an American company. As it is explained in the section of “Major Achievement of the Alternative Media in Yemen”,  Mareb Press, an independent website, forced the Yemeni government to announce cancellation of the country’s “big-time fraud deal[1]” of building five nuclear reactors. The cancellation came amid campaign by alternative media outlets reproducing the report that describes the deal as a money-laundering public fraud[2]. This brought about a significant change – within a few months, the minister of electricity was among ministers who lost their jobs[3].

This paper focuses on the increasing influence of the alternative media in the Yemeni politics; introduces different forms of the Yemeni alternative media outlets; and explains how the emergence of alternative media pushed the Yemeni government to react with anger to the uncontrolled messages. The controlled government’s media launches counter-attacks, which led to a war of information with the alternative outlets. Although the mainstream media are still strong, the government seems to be losing the war and paying political price for losing its longtime control of information flow. This paper also provides the readers with general overview of the main media outlets in Yemen and discusses the government struggle in preventing the Yemeni dissidents’ messages from reaching a wide audience inside the country. The government had enjoyed information’s control until the emergence of the alternative media as competitive sources of information that cannot be ignored.

Background

Between 1962, when the Republic of Yemen was established, and 1990, when South Yemen became part of the Republic[4], the government of Yemen enjoyed total control of the media, print and broadcast. The Yemeni citizens had some cultural ways of communicating which were not very technologically advanced and will be explained later in “Most Common Vehicles of the Alternative Media in Yemen.” The other alternative sources of information during those years for the Yemeni citizens to hear some stories other than that put out by their government was to listen to the Arabic BBC, Voice of America, and Arab Voice from Cairo, or other such sources on short-wave radio. Reception was not always readily available because of technical difficulties, and ordinarily these sources would not discuss issues important to the Yemeni people unless there was some extraordinary event in the news. During this period, also, there were some few exceptions related to the print media with the existence of few privately owned newspapers, but they were still under the ultimate control of the government so they were not free to report news in their own judgment without oversight. 

In 1990, the two separate Yemeni countries, the Yemen Arab Republic (north) and the Democratic Republic of Yemen (south) were united, and many print media outlets emerged with unprecedented freedom discussing very sensitive issues. This freedom in the print media reflected the balance of power that was in effect at that time, representing two parties in conflict, with neither in total control. In 1994, a civil war broke out between the south and the north. The north won and took over the whole country
[5], seizing the southern media outlets and putting an end to that short era of media freedom. The government decided to control the broadcast media completely and absolutely, realizing that these sources could reach most of the population, whereas print media (only reaching the literate) still enjoyed small pockets of relative ability to print[6].


Although satellite TV channels were available in the Arab World since 1990, most of the Yemeni people only realized this and began to avail themselves of this during 1994 civil war, when the Saudi MBC TV channel covered the war
[7]. They aired two different points of view. The station had two correspondents, one reporting from the south and the other from the north. After the war, the pan-Arab satellite TV stations stopped paying enough attention to Yemen until Aljazeera was launched in 1996. Aljazeera was the only outside media source with the most contact and interest in Yemen, having an office within the country and reporting regularly from Yemen[8]. The government realized that Aljazeera sometimes presented Yemeni dissidents’ points of view side by side with the government’s opinion. The Yemeni government managed to make sure that the Aljazeera Yemeni correspondent was a pro-regime individual and a loyal member of the ruling party. Aljazeera accepted this in order to operate in Yemen[9].


Before and after Aljazeera started to operate in Yemen, several other Arabic media outlets (print and broadcast) had assigned correspondents to report from Yemen, giving the Yemeni issues some coverage with some balance between the governmental and non-governmental positions. For this reason, the government of Yemen looks at the foreign media as alternative sources of information and deals with these outlets as if Yemeni dissidents own them[10]. On the other hand, the Yemeni dissidents have considered the Arab and foreign media outlets as mainstream media that depend on governmental sources, ignore discussing real Yemeni issues, and avoid hosting Yemeni dissidents. Starting in 1998 with the expansion and popularization of internet news, the alternative media in and about Yemen has increased gradually in prominence and influence, producing at this point of time a certain amount of anxiety in the Yemeni regime.


Most Common Vehicles of the Alternative Media in Yemen


Although the alternative media may appear to have sprung up at the beginning of the Internet Era, dissident groups in Yemen developed creative vehicles for the dissemination of their information before that time. Even during the 1960s and70s, dissident groups would routinely visit villages during late night hours and leaflet the communities with their anti-government information surprising people in the morning[11].

During the 1980s, Yemeni dissidents living outside the country would often fax their information into their agents within Yemen, who would in turn photocopy these faxes and hand them out. Some other tools used within the Yemeni communities, which reflect the oral history culture of the country. Commonly, short poems with highly charged political content began to circulate and caught on with great speed and effect. Yemenis would often gather during “chewing qat parties” (a communal relaxation activity involving the chewing of a mild stimulant drug, much like chewing tobacco) and the latest political jingles would make the rounds and stimulate discussion. This kind of activity would never rise to the level of government censor radar and thus could never be controlled or monitored. In addition, the small Yemeni Jewish community contributed another vehicle for the dissemination of such information, in that jingles and songs traveled from the Yemeni Jews to their Israeli relatives and then could appear in larger media circles internationally. 

Popular festivities that draw large groups of people together, such as weddings and even funerals, also filled a function as forums for the dissemination of news and for publicity for opinions that would not otherwise reach large numbers of people. In addition, there is a social mechanism in Yemen for verbal news reporting that dates back to earliest tribal times. Each village would have a person, called “dawshan,” whose job was to be essentially a town crier. He is considered a “low class” individual because he is never called upon to fight; his function is to inform. He does enjoy certain immunities that are universally respected, for instance, during tribal warfare, no one may harm him. He is liberally protected and used as a messenger during all kinds of conditions
[12]. Therefore, the graduation of the dawshan information technology provided, during the second half of the 20th century, a ready-made alternative media establishment within the villages and countryside of Yemen. (An additional method of tribal and inter-village communication was the use of smoke signals from fires that were built specifically to transmit information in the mountain areas. This method of notifying surrounding areas of news lasted well into the 1970s and may be in use even today by groups of people not connected by more technologically advanced means. It may be that this is in use by people such as terrorists who need to evade detection and who therefore would avoid traceable electronic devices.) 

Another tool used for alternative information transfer is the distribution of books that are banned within Yemen but brought in from outside sources. The Muslim Brotherhood commonly uses this mean to spread ideas, in the form of books, cassette tapes, recordings of lectures, etc. 

Since all these methods were in use for years before the Internet became a major factor, this paper will not focus on the aforementioned sources of alternative media, but will concentrate on the more modern and current methods, specifically those that have their origins in the Internet and electronic sources as follow:

1-     Independent News Websites

In recent years, the Internet has changed the terrain of the Yemeni media, because anyone can establish a website, from any corner of the world, and put information up that people can access inside the country. Today, there are approximately 200 Yemeni news websites accessible inside the country. Some are the websites corresponding to actual print media sources. Among those, some are the government-controlled websites that publish only the officially approved news. There are also genuinely independent news websites among these, most of them launched by individuals and not corresponding to or controlled by newspapers or broadcast stations. These websites constitute one of the main sources of alternative news in Yemen. Among them, the most noteworthy are:
 

§         The Change[13]; owned by Arafat Mudabish, a Yemeni journalist who is also the Sana’a correspondent for Washington’s Radio SAWA. He came up with the name of his website in 2003, before Barak Obama began to use that “trade name.”

§         Mareb Press[14]; founded in 2006 by Yemeni dissidents in Mareb city, (Ahmed Ayed, Mohammed al-Salhi, and others). This website allows all kinds of opinions; it became prominent after publishing the investigative report on $15 billion fraud deal[15].

§         News Yemen[16]; owned by Nabil al-Soufi, a Yemeni journalist who was once very independent but recently seems to have undergone a change himself, aligning him with the government position.

§         Yemen Now [17]; owned by Mohammed al-Lawzi, a Republican Guard officer who plays independent. One person runs the website; it is not being updated on a regular basis.

§         Al-Hadath[18]; owned by two independent journalists known to have affiliation with the Islah, Islamic party, Nabeelah Hakimi and Yaser Arami. The website is being updated with Yemeni news and views that serve their anti-government cause.

§         Yemeni American [19]; based in Dearborn Michigan and run by Yemeni immigrants who have some affiliation with the Yemeni ruling party.

§         The Alternative (Albadeel)[20]; run by Omar al-Dahbiani, a Yemeni immigrant in the US and some other individuals who lack skills of journalism. They cover some Arab issues as well as the Yemeni affairs with focus on Nassirisim (Nassir’s ideology).

§         Yemenat [21]; owned by Ahmed Saif Hashed, a Yemeni Parliament member and Human Right activist.

§         Al-Taif [22]; based in Alabama, USA and run by Fahmi Shuaibi, It focuses mostly on South Yemen’s Issues.

§         Bilakoyood [23]; owned by Tawakul Karman, a Yemeni female journalist based in Sana’a.

§         The Nation[24] ;  owned and run by Abdulnassir Mujali, a Yemeni writer who is independent but who, for some reason, supports the Regime at this time, although several years back he was more of a dissident. There has been a lot of variability in his publishing.

§         Yemen Portal[25]; This is an independent website founded by Walid Saqaf, the surviving son of Abdulazisziz al Saqaf, who was killed in a mysterious car accident in 1999. He is a clever computer-literate Yemeni journalist living in Sweden who designed a web portal for all Yemeni media sources that automatically publishes whatever has been published in the internet, including those that are banned, thus providing a forum for all news even from sources that are electronically blocked in Yemen. When the Yemeni government blocked this portal, the founder was able to create proxy web addresses and to distribute them widely enough so that the information still comes through.

2-     Secessionist Websites

The secessionist movement in South Yemen has grown rapidly in the last two years causing serious headache to the regime. This movement consists of multiple factions that depend mainly on the internet in expressing their views. The secessionist groups have launched many websites that provide Yemenis with news and views in a way that can be used as an alternative not only to the government media but also to the northern opposition and independent media. The Secessionist websites [26] however, lack credibility and are not run by professional journalists. Even the layout of these websites reflects their poor fundamental bases. Most of these websites are operated from outside the country and run by Yemeni dissidents in exile. The contents of these sites politically support the secessionist movement in the South. These websites [27]appear to be more politically active and motivated, as well as more aggressive, than other opposition media outlets aligned with movements in the North of the country.

As an example, Aden Press[28] is a website established in 2006 by Lufti Shatara, a Yemeni secessionist journalist living in London, to represent a large constituency of southern secessionist Yemenis living abroad. His website, banned in Yemen for vulgar language and content, is very aggressive, actively radical and anti-northern in tone and position. He has lost credibility as a result of publishing many obviously inaccurate and extremist stories that even anti-government sources recognized to be exaggerated. 

3-     Opposition Websites


Each political party from the opposition in Yemen runs both a newspaper and a news website that publishes news stories and opinionated articles reflecting their particular parties’ platforms and provides information that considered alternative to what the government sources offer. The main news websites of the opposition parties in Yemen are:

§         Al-Sahwa, [29]run by journalists from the Islah Party (Islamist)

§         Al-Eshteraki [30], run by journalists from the Yemeni Socialist Party (Socialist)

§         Al-Wahdawi [31],  run by journalists from the Nasserite Yemeni Party (Nationalist)

§         The Ummah [32], run by journalists from the Haq Party, (Shia Islamist)

§         Ray News[33], run by journalists from the Rapita Party, (Sofi Muslims)

§         Al-Menbar[34] is the main news website for the Houthi movement.

4-     Internet Forums


In Yemen, there are free “Internet Forums” used by unknown individuals and organizations to post information and initiate discussions with all others who are interested. These discussions of political and social issues present a challenge to the government, because they can post events contemporaneously. Almajles al-Yamani[35] is the main Yemeni Internet forum, but there are several more almost in each province[36].

5-     Blogs


Interestingly, the most prominent blog devoted to Yemeni issues is neither run by a Yemeni, nor published in Yemen. It is run by a 46-year-old housewife from the US who ““has been getting a lot of attention for her blog-- Armies of Liberation-- about the political strife in the Arab nation of Yemen. Jane Novak, a mother in New Jersey, who never been in Yemen was recently featured in the New York Times and has been attracting attention from papers as far away as Portugal.[37]” More people in Yemen know Novak than here in the US. She was hosted by al-Jazeera as an expert on the Yemeni Issues on Hafiz Mirazi show “From Washington.[38]” Yemeni Government officials have denounced her[39]. She gets letters of support from Yemeni dissidents[40]. They saw an excellent opportunity in her website to promote their cause.


Other Bloggers in and about Yemen are still in the starting point. They have not shown any real effects on the Yemeni politics as Novak did. They usually reproduce what are already been published in the other alternative media, with weak comments. Readers in Yemen do not take the messages of the Yemeni bloggers seriously, maybe because of the lack of credibility. Most Yemeni Bloggers use Maktoob.com as a forum for their blogs[41]. Non of these bloggers are professional journalists.

6-     Tapes, CDs and DVDs


In view of the difficulties of reaching the population through the official media, several alternative sources have developed creative solutions to the restrictions posed by government radio and TV stations. For instance, Fahd al-Qarni, well-known and highly popular comedian who is supported by social movements have been recorded frequently delivering satirical and humorously critical material, which is then converted to inexpensive tapes, CDs and DVDs which are widely distributed and appreciated throughout the country. The recording artists have faced harassment from the government, but continued to enjoy wide support and therefore the author of this report mistakenly thought that al-Qarni would not be vulnerable to direct tyrannical punitive actions. Qarni, however was arrested and prosecuted of making fun of the president of Yemen.

7-     YouTube Messages

The use of “You-Tube” blossomed recently in Yemen, becoming very popular for the following reason:  Any person can produce and promulgate a You-Tube video with anonymity. Thus, a clip can be lifted from any source, including government-promulgated news, and a video can be produced from it, using subtitles and captions to give it new meaning. These features lead to enormous creativity and flexibility. The opposition media in Yemen has established a whole website[42]devoted to You-Tube broadcasts that expose, criticize and attack the President himself.  Not only do the Yemeni dissidents use You-Tube to disseminate information, but also terrorist groups and al-Qaeda in particular use it to disseminate their information, including interviews [43]with their various operatives and leaders. Interestingly, the level of credibility of certain messages found on these websites is often higher than that of the Yemeni Government in one main respect. Factual matters that cannot be independently verified are more often accurate when presented by the terrorist groups than by the government, because the terrorists have a stake in presenting some information that is true. For instance, if a terrorist organization posts the fact that it is taking responsibility for a certain terrorist attack, that is more likely to be true than if the government blamed that particular attack on that particular group.   

8-     Cell-Phone Messages

Dissemination of YouTube clips is enhanced in an incalculable way by the fact that You-Tube videos can be copied onto cell phones and sent from person to person as individual messages. Everyone in Yemen has a cell phone. News dissemination by cell phones is enhanced by the fact that the dominant cell phone company in Yemen (SABA Phone) is owned by a tribal leader, a businessman named Hameed al-Ahmar, who is an opposition leader. When anything happens that he would like to report, he sends a cell-phone text message out and it spreads like wildfire. 

9-     E-mail Messages

Group e-mail messages have been a successful tool to disseminate information from sources other than the government, especially in the last three years. Multiple e-mails coming from numerous Yemeni dissidents were often directed to foreign news outlets, journalists living abroad, and opinion leaders. These were often messages containing alternative news information that could not have achieved publication within the country.  

10-            Chat rooms and Social Websites:

The use of chat rooms and group internet conference technology has given the alternative media a flexibility to not only place information but also to analyze information with virtual meetings, instant response capacity, and a flexible commentary and feedback function. The author of this paper has participated in multiple chat rooms to discuss Yemeni issues and some of these have provided a forum for debate and coordination among various dissident groups. This naturally might tend to strengthen the opposition, but once again, there can be “decoys” taking part in such chat room activities specifically to weaken or antagonize one or another of the opposition spokespersons. The social websites, such as Facebook and MySpace are being used by Yemeni dissidents as well, to disseminate information without incurring the liability of chat room conflict. Particularly in Facebook, they have specific groups devoted to certain causes that invite users to participate in them and get regular news updates. They can become “Fans” of that certain group and then communicate with all the other “Fans” on a public blog called a “Wall” on Facebook. Pro and Anti-government of Yemen are using this to convey their message effectively.   

11-            Print Media

Most of the newspapers are actually printed in government run facilities on government presses. This actually gives the government a significant amount of control, in that they can shut down the production operation when they deem it necessary, although they have rarely exercised this degree of control. The print media in Yemen falls into four main categories:

a-      The government newspapers: These do not represent any alternative positions or sources of information. Newspapers owned by the government include Al-Thawra [44], Aljumhuria[45], 26 September [46], 14 October [47], al-Wahda [48], and more.

b-     The ruling party newspapers: General People Congress (GPC) has its own newspapers and websites. They are simply propaganda tools of the regime. They include al-Moutamar [49], al-Mithaq[50], 22 May[51] and other more.

c-      Opposition Parties newspapers: Every political party in Yemen has its own newspaper as its official organ. These do include some information and news items from the alternative sources, but they do not presume to be “fair and balanced” outlets, since they are frankly the products of their own parties and therefore their criticism of other parties and governmental actions are never considered independent of their parties’ particular goals.

d-     Independently owned newspapers: There are independent newspapers owned by businesspersons and individuals. These newspapers can be classified into three categories:

Ø      Genuinely independent newspapers;

There are few independent newspapers in Yemen run by professional journalists who try to present news that fairly and accurately presents all positions. The main ones are: 

-         Yemen Times[52], an English language newspaper founded by Abdul Aziz Saqaf who was killed in 1999 in a car accident of mysterious origin. Saqaf’s daughter Nadia kept the newspaper going, but not as well or as professionally as her father had.

Before 2006, the main two Arabic language independent newspapers in Yemen were al-Ayyam, in the southern provinces and al-Nass, in the north.

-         Al-Ayyam[53], an independent newspaper with a long history (since 1950s) of continuous publication in Yemen. This paper is run in the South and focuses on the issues important to that area. The publisher of al-Ayyam, Hisham Basharaheel, was personally targeted earlier this year to produce vulnerability in his life. Attackers came to his house armed and he and his son defended themselves, resulting in the death of one of the attackers. His son has been accused of the killing and this produces a legal and personal problem for the father and his enterprise. Right now, this unresolved difficulty is a factor in whether the newspaper can maintain its independence. 

-          Al-Nass[54], founded by Hameed Shahrah, who also was killed in a mysterious car accident soon after the presidential election in 2006. Shahrah was known for his strong support to the opposition candidate who ran against President Saleh in that election. Before that, he had been one of the few Yemeni journalists who actually interviewed President Saleh, and the Regime presumed that he would naturally lend his support to Saleh as a result of that event, only to be disappointed at the outcome. After his death, the newspaper continued to publish although there have been difficulties. Two of Shahara’s assistants have since established other independent newspapers with other names (Al-Masdar --the “Source,” and al-Ahali --the “People”), which use the same approach.

-         Al-Masdar[55], founded by Samir Jubran, an independent journalist who is now facing three lawsuits brought by the government for his publication. Two of these three lawsuits resulted from articles written by Washington DC journalist Munir Mawari[56].

-         Al-Ahali[57]: It was founded by Ali Al-Jarari, the former managing editor of Al-Naas newspaper. He left Al-Naas after the death of Hameed Shahra to establish Al-Ahali to keep Hameed Shahra’s message alive. His new paper was successful in gaining readership because of the sensitive matter being published.  


In the last three years, many Arabic language independent newspapers were established in Yemen, which gave their readers alternative news content that differed greatly from the official government-controlled press and from the opposition parties’ publications as well. These include:

-         Al-Nida[58] is a genuinely independent newspaper that was able to obtain interviews of several opposition figures in exile, such as Haidar Al-Attas, former Prime Minister and Ali-Nassar Mohammad, former President of South Yemen. This paper is now facing financial difficulties as a result of the well understood reticence of advertisers to place their names in the paper showing support of a dangerously anti-government media source. There are other similar papers such as Al-Wasat[59]  , Al-Sharei[60] , and Yemeni Elaph[61], all of which are completely independent and considered alternative sources of information.   

Ø      Decoy Independent Outlets


Independent newspapers and websites that are actually sponsored clandestinely by the government itself or certain government officials, to provide forums for attacks upon the content of the truly independent papers, or to print negative information to counteract the independent press and the opposition press. Some newspapers claiming to be independent are now operating in Yemen as decoys for the government media. These papers specialize in “yellow journalism” that targets opposition leaders and journalists, and that prints scandals that have been attributed to or drummed up against various individuals who have come under government censure. Recently President Saleh was interviewed by a Kuwaiti journalist who mentioned that some alternative press sources had criticized him. His response was to quote the well-known Arabic saying: “If you offend me I will double your offense in my revenge[62].” This duty has fallen to the decoy “independent” newspapers. They are owned by individuals who have connections within the Regime and who publish ostensibly independent news items that are planted by the government. These include, the daily Akhbar Al-Yaom, the weekly Al-Shimoua, (both are supported by the military strong man Ali Muhssin) and Al-Distore (funded by the president himself to do the dirty talk on his behalf) in addition to:

-         Naba News[63], is run by an Iraqi journalist residing in Yemen but known widely to be funded by the President’s nephew who is the chief of  the Central Security Forces. This outlet has become a forum for frank advertising for this nephew, harshly attacking other individuals inside and outside Yemen for any anti-president news, they provide. 


There are also some semi-independent newspapers that are secretly supported by opposition leaders in order to host attacks upon government officials and policies without clear attribution or assigned responsibility. Whereas these papers are not under total control of the opposition leaders, they are heavily influenced by them. Some newspapers have been established by individuals who are party leaders of various political parties, as sources of information they cannot print in their own party organs but wish to promulgate as if they were “independent.”

12-            Yemeni TV Stations Abroad

Several Yemeni business persons attempted to obtain licenses to open radio and television stations in Yemen, but they have always been prevented from doing so. In 2007, the Yemeni TV station Al-Saeeda was launched from Cairo, after being unable to get licensed within Yemen. Reaching Yemeni viewers by satellite, it has operated successfully since that time. This is being received as a semi-alternative broadcast station, although it is very cautious and avoids broadcasting any material that would be opposed outright by the Yemeni government[64]. The reason, of course, is that the Egyptian government could act in sympathy with any stimulus that might come out of Yemen, should there be openly oppositional content to the broadcasts. The names of the owners are not disclosed so there are some assumptions that government officials are involved in the project. The explanation for this is to use it as a primitive attack against possible opposition plan to launch a TV station[65].

13-            Terrorists’ Media Outlet

Al-Qaeda has a magazine published in Yemen from four to six times per year, Sada al-Malahim[66], “the Echo of Battles.” This is used as a specifically Yemeni news outlet, as opposed to the international Jihadist forums available on the web. Al-Qaeda cannot openly distribute the actual paper magazine within Yemen but they post links and advertise it on other websites so that those who click on the links can download the magazine[67].This magazine is frankly anti-Regime and thus qualifies as an alternative media outlet. It is so strongly critical of the President, for instance, that it routinely refers to Saleh as “the Black Ansi,” who is the personification of the evil liar in Muslim history. Yemeni terrorists also use YouTube and Internet forums as outlets to send their messages[68].  

14- Multiple Vehicles at once

There is a certain rich redundancy to some messages in the alternative media, in that they can appear in most or all of the alternative media sources almost at once, amplifying the effect. For example, a Yemeni comedian, Fahd al-Qarni, can be interviewed by a TV station outside Yemen, Al-Saeeda TV. During the interview, he could sing a song mocking President Saleh. This song can be posted almost immediately on YouTube and begin to make the rounds inside Yemen by cell phones, whereupon it could quickly be picked up and sent by e-mail to multiple recipients. The next day print articles appear containing transcripts of the interview while news websites and internet forums offer links to the You-Tube clip. Even al-Qaeda Magazine can pick it up and use it as proof of the extent of the knowledge of President Saleh’s misconduct.  This example often takes place using different forms of media.

Major Achievements by the Alternative Media in Yemen


·        Uncovering the Biggest Corruption Scandal in Yemen’s History:

With one article in 2007, an independent Yemeni-born journalist in Washington DC was able to stop a big corruption deal forcing the government to take actions against its own members for the first time in Yemen’s history; by reporting on a single scandal on he had done an investigative report. Receiving word that the Yemeni government was about to close a deal for $15 billion, to build five nuclear power reactors to produce electricity, the journalist did a quick investigation of the Texas contractor, “Powered Corporation,” to see how stable the deal would be. It turned out that the Texas Corporation was a small (under $50,000 capitalization) corporation owned by a Yemeni immigrant who had ties to the Minister of Electricity of Yemen, and the deal looked transparently like a money-laundering public fraud. When the journalist reported this in a Yemeni independent website based in the city of Mareb (run by political dissidents), the deal was exposed[69]. The Prime Minister gathered the cabinet ministers together and was forced to cancel the deal, whereupon major shifts began to occur in the cabinet itself, as the minister involved in this fraudulent plan was forced out. This brought about a significant change – within a few months -- in the cabinet, which was made to look like it was not a direct result of the exposure of this scandal.

·        Removing Immunity from the Untouched President’s Image

Similar to what had happened in Egypt, when al-Mahalla workers brought down a huge posture of President Hussni Mubark during a protest in[date], the Yemeni alternative Media took away the Immunity of the untouched president Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen by covering events of his pictures being torn into pieces and slogans of unprecedented words against him. This kind of hate towards him will never be seen in the government media.

As an Example, On December 21, 2008, the building housing the dominant party’s offices in Abiyan Province in the South of Yemen was stormed by Opposition forces and the offices were dismantled and destroyed.  Government news did not report it; news services did not report it; immediately, however, the Yemeni internet forum posted photos of the destruction of the office, of the opposition individuals (not showing their faces) trampling on posters of the President’s face, and of the total lack of government forces in the rubble[70]. The message was, “complete victory in the destruction of the local party office accomplished.” The picture was worth a thousand words, and a million hits.

·        Making Balance in Election Seasons

The alternative media in Yemen played a major role during the 2006 presidential election for the benefit of the opposition candidate. Most independent newspapers, opposition media outlets, websites, e-mail activities, and YouTube broadcasts supported the opposition candidate in various ways. The Regime, however, exerted total control over the broadcast media reaching all of Yemen, and thus it maintained media superiority. But the Regime’s victory did not really reflect the penetration of the media messages so much as the result of government-controlled voting mechanisms. Since 2006, the alternative media has become a very significant tool for reform. If this activity continues, which it surely must, there will have to be change in Yemen.

·        Revealing the Unheard Secrets of Wars in Yemen

During the five wars between the government and Al-Houthi rebellion in Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh was not only able to tell his side of the story through all kind of media messages but also prevented Yemeni journalists from covering the war from the battlefield. On the other hand, Al-Houthi used only one form of alternative media, which was e-mail messaging that was enough to enable him to tell his side of the story to the foreign media. At a later time he started using internet Forums and then established his own website known as “Al-Menbar[71]”. Before the establishment of this website in 2008, most of the news published internally about the conflicts between the al-Houthi and the government, was presented by the government-controlled media, and failed to tell the story from the al-Houthi point of view. Once this website was operating, a different situation prevailed and the fifth conflict was marked by contrasting stories appearing on a daily basis, some published by the al-Houthi and producing widespread anti-government reactions, especially when government-sponsored atrocities were disclosed and pictures of destroyed homes and murdered children caught public attention. The absence of such images from the government-run media sources then became a commentary on the veracity of the Regime’s position.

Government Counter-Attacks

The emergence of new media that cannot be controlled by the Yemeni government has produced an information war between the government and the various vehicles of the alternative media. This will necessarily continue and be exacerbated in the near future. As the government feels more threatened by the alternative media and the dissident voices’ effectiveness, it is not only responding by publishing its own version of the news and information for the public[72], but it is also using weapons against individual newspapers, media outlets, and individuals, not only enlarging the war but lending credibility to all the charges made against it. As will be explained in the following categories, the government is losing the ground as it opposes its opposition.

·        Blocking the Internet Websites


In the face of this uncontrollable source of information, the Yemeni government has reacted at times by blocking websites inside Yemen and manipulating access to some servers, only to loosen such controls from time to time when pressure is brought to bear upon them. 

·        Banning Outside Stations from Operating in Yemen

The Yemeni government now considers foreign media outlets as “alternative media” and it deals with them as such,
considering them a threat because they cannot control the content of their messages about Yemen or anything else they may report. In 2003, both the BBC and the American station Radio SAWA
[73] sought entrees into the Yemeni broadcast world. President Ali Abdul Saleh adamantly refused, fearing that the influx of outside information about his regime would stimulate a large enough portion of the population to depose him. Refusing to allow the establishment of FM radio stations from the BBC and SAWA, he reportedly responded to the BBC with the exclamation that he would suffer outright occupation more willingly than permission to the foreign broadcast media[74].

·        Influencing Foreign Correspondents

The Yemeni regime understands that there are three major world news agencies with which they must contend:  Associated Press, Reuters, and AFB (French Press Agency). Therefore the government has put in place certain strategic devices, such as controlling who works for these agencies within the country. For example, the Yemeni correspondent for Reuters and for the Arabic BBC is also the English personal translator for the President. He is with the President all the time and travels with him, domestically and overseas, so he is sure to avoid giving information to Reuters that would displease the President. The correspondent for AFB is a close friend of an officer of the Yemeni Intelligence Agency, born and raised in the same Village, who is well known for spending a lot of his time with this particular officer, “chewing qat” and trading information with this powerful member of the regime. The correspondent for Associated Press is an independent journalist but faces a lot of difficulties from the Yemeni government, thus making it difficult for him to work freely. The correspondents for both the Al Jaya Pan Arabic newspaper and the Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper are loyal members of the ruling party. Correspondents of other media outlets vary, some loyal to the government, others afraid of the government. 

As a result, from 2004 to the present time, five serious civil conflicts in Yemen received only limited coverage in the mainstream media, and all of it from the point of view of the ruling party. In the alternative media both outside and within the country, there was some ability to cover and accurately report what was really going on, showing a much different picture.

·        Using the “Stick” of Punitive Lawsuits

The current government uses the judiciary system as a tool to control the media, by arranging that individual publishers and journalists can be sued. However, they concentrate these actions against the print media in Sana’a, not only because the law of the media in Yemen provides for ease of such lawsuits, but also because Internet media access is predominantly found in the city. Newspapers can be distributed more readily outside that geographical area. The most recent lawsuits are against al-Masdar, Independent newspaper, and Washington DC journalist Munir Mawari[75], who disclosed several government scandals. He is now facing multiple lawsuits for ‘insulting the president[76]. The situation leading to this proliferation of lawsuits against Mawari was transparent. He published aggressive articles on websites that operated outside the control of the Yemeni government, incurring the Regime’s wrath. When he wrote articles that were thereafter published by al-Masdar, the lawsuits could not mention the real source of the Regime’s vendetta against him, but drummed up other ostensible complaints upon which to base the lawsuits. Naturally, their control of the judiciary system in Yemen will guarantee a good result for them from these contrived lawsuits. 

·        Ad Hominem Attacks against the Alternative Media

Individual journalists who have written articles unwelcomed by the government can be targeted as infidels, traitors, Israeli or other foreign spies, CIA agents, covert enemy operatives, or some kind of immoral or criminal. These charges do not have to make sense or have evidentiary bases. Even al-Qaeda in Yemen was labeled by President Saleh in one of his speeches as agents of Israel coordinating with Ehud Olmert’s office to attack western interests in Yemen.  This accusation came in response to an al-Qaeda-published message calling Saleh’s government an “agent of Western interests.” In an attempt to sully the reputation and destroy the credibility of alternative media leaders, the government takes positions that are inconsistent with its own previously published information.    

·        Kidnapping Yemeni Dissidents from Arab Countries

Not content with trying to destroy the reputation of dissidents and opposition opinion leaders, the Yemeni government has actually promoted neighboring countries’ clandestine acts in kidnapping certain Yemeni activists living outside the country, especially in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. For example, in 2004, President Saleh made a sub rosa “deal” with Mubarak of Egypt. The mentor of Ayman Zawahari had been living in Yemen for years and Saleh had repeatedly denied Mubarak’s requests to turn him over to Egyptian justice. Suddenly, he and some other Islamists wanted by the Egyptian authorities were handed over at exactly the time that a Yemeni former Information Minister from the South, Ahmad Salem, who had been living in Egypt since 1994, disappeared from a street in Cairo[77]. Three months later, he turned up in Yemen, where he obviously did not go of his own free will. Some of his family members informed the author of this paper that he had been flown to Yemen by military aircraft. Some other journalists from the south of Yemen who had been living in Saudi Arabia were also turned over to Yemeni authorities and now face an unknown fate. Abdullah Salam Al-Hakeemi, a politician and writer, complained many times that the Yemeni government is harassing him in Cairo and putting pressure on the Egyptian Authorities to silence his voice[78]. They also took away his passport so he cannot travel.  

·        Assassinating Journalists

Between 1994 and 2008, nine Yemeni journalists were killed in mysterious car accidents or other questionable accidental deaths. The common wisdom is that these accidents were arranged by some forces in the Regime to rid the government of effective alternative opinion leaders. Certain other journalists, while not killed outright, had a variety of suspicious misadventures such as being attacked by armed invaders in their homes, being seized and beaten by unknown assailants from the streets, and similar harmful experiences. One common factor in all these events has been that the journalists are not writing for government-approved media sources; they are writing for one or another of the alternative media outlets. It would appear that the government has reached a point of reacting with such anxiety to the growth of the alternative media that frank criminal activity is not outside its common options.

·        Hurting the credibility of the dissidents

Taking advantage of the commentary feature of internet articles the Yemeni government employs people just to post comments that hurt the credibility of some writers and to participate in internet forums defending the government’s position. Some dissidents say that they found confidential information posted about them that could only be obtained by the Government or the Intelligence Agencies. This draws the conclusion that the government is using confidential information to hurt the writer’s credibility.  They also published lies and personal insults just to force the writers to stop writing in those forums.

·        Pressuring foreign media outlets


The Yemeni government is pressuring foreign media outlets to ban Yemeni dissidents from appearing on satellite TV channels such as Al-Arabia, Al-Jazeera, and Al-Hurra. One of the tools the government uses is to complain to the Saudi or Qatari government implying a threat that Yemen can host dissidents from these countries and provide them with forums against their own government. Another tool the government uses is to invite the decision maker from some foreign media outlets to Yemen and shower them with gifts and riches to influence their decisions.

Conclusion


Lacks of funding and government suppression are the two dominant factors impeding the progress of the alternative media in Yemen. In spite of these significant obstacles, the alternative media have been contributing greatly to the groundswell of reform that can now be counted upon to enhance the country’s ability to emerge from this period of stagnation.

The majority of the population in Yemen derives most of their public information from government broadcast news (radio and television), because 33.3 percent of males and 66.7 percent of females are illiterate according to official government sources[79].

The population is scattered over the entire geographical area in about 36,000 small villages. Print media only serve the cities. The government of Yemen has no control over foreign TV and radio stations that reach the population, but for the most part, such stations do not focus on internal Yemeni affairs.  The Yemeni government owns and controls the domestic broadcast media.  The only real opportunity for alternative news sources, therefore, is presented by the print media, either on-line or paper. Among literate Yemeni, the intelligentsia number about 25,000 to 30,000 people. Most of them can already be counted as adversaries of the present government of Yemen, so allowing them to have freer access to information does not substantially alter or threaten the power of the government. With this in mind, there is somewhat less suppression of alternative media in print. This is in response to outside pressure from world powers and economic donors to Yemen. With the knowledge that there is not much to be lost, if such a small portion of the population has access to alternative information; they are largely without power and are not viewed as an effective threat to the regime. Therefore, the government has allowed the print media more latitude than it would otherwise have permitted.


Works Cited

1. YouTube. Adan War 1994. Youtube. [Online] May 23, 2007. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDYIDJ0PQJM.

2. Aden War 1994. Youtube. [Online] May 23, 2007. http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=aden+war+1994&search_type=.

3. Yemen’s Big-time Nuclear Fraud. Yemen Times. [Online] October 4, 2007. http://www.yementimes.com/article.shtml?i=1091&p=business&a=1.

4. YouTube. An Example of Aljazeera coverage of Yemeni issues. Youtube. [Online] Nov 14, 2008. Yemeni security forces battling 'terror'. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ad4TwZg9e5I.

5. Belaquood.net. Nuclear Reactors Scandal. Belaquood. [Online] September 30, 2007. http://belaquood.net/det.php?sid=1035.

6. Menassat. A New Jersey soccer mom's Yemeni crusade. Menassat. [Online] May 29, 2008. http://www.menassat.com/?q=en/news-articles/3828-new-jersey-soccer-moms-yemeni-crusade.

7. Blog of the Day: Armies of Liberation. Jersey Blogs. [Online] June 6, 2008. http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:blog.nj.com/jerseyblogs/2008/06/blog_of_the_day_armies_of_libe.html.

8. Elaph. [Online] Nov 16, 2005. http://www.elaph.com/ElaphWeb/Politics/2005/11/106100.htm.

9. From Washington. Aljazeera. [Online] Nov 14, 2005. http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/944E4441-87BF-4E99-B555-8315B09C0F96.

10. Maktoobblog. [Online] Dec 2008. http://www.maktoobblog.com/search_results.htm.

11. Guide of Southernern Websites. Voice of the South. [Online] http://www.soutalgnoub.com/home/modules.php?name=Web_Links&l_op=viewlink&cid=66&min=0&orderby=titleA&show=10.

12. Three Lawsuits. Elaph. [Online] Dec 28, 2008. http://www.elaph.com/Web/Politics/2008/12/394922.htm.

13. Yemeni-U.S. nuclear deal shrouded in suspicion . Yemen Observer. [Online] October 2007. http://www.yobserver.com/local-news/10013038.html.

 Appendix

Cover Page of Sada al-Malahim

 

 

 Figure ARABIC 2--The US National Archives contain reports dating back to this time period
detailing the arrest of individuals caught handing out such leaflets in the capital city of Sana’a

 

[1] Yemen’s Big-time Nuclear Fraud, Yemen Times, October 4, 2007. http://www.yementimes.com/article.shtml?i=1091&p=business&a=1.

[2] Nuclear Reactors Scandal, Belaquood, [Online] September 30, 2007. http://belaquood.net/det.php?sid=1035

[3] According to the ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT, “The departure of Mustafa Bahran, the outgoing electricity minister, had been widely anticipated after the corruption investigation concluded last year that there had been serious conflicts of interest in the award of a contract to a US-based firm for the development of nuclear power stations in Yemen.”

[4] In 1962, a revolution headed by pro-Egyptian army officers deposed the imam of North Yemen and established a republican regime.  The southern land of the country was under the British occupation and became an independent state in 1967, with support of the Soviet Union.  On May 22, 1990, the two Yemenis were officially united. North Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh has become, since then, the absolute ruler of the Republic. By 1994, however, a civil war between northern and southern army units erupted and lasted for nine weeks. Northern forces decisively won the war in July 7 1994.

[5] Aden War 1994. YouTube, May 23, 2007. http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=aden+war+1994&search_type=.

[6]  When South and North regimes were in conflict during the 1980s the South for some period established a radio station run by the northern opposition group. This was somewhat powerful because even the illiterate Yemeni people could listen to it. The president, therefore, realizing the danger presented, offered the opposition group – mostly communist – to give them a print media in the Capital, Sana’a, if they would close down the broadcast station. Therefore, they accepted the offer as part of a negotiated settlement, and they established “al-Amal” (The Hope) newspaper in the capital. The print media, of course, reach the educated people, most of whom are not considered danger to the regime because they are not militarist; the radio would have reached the tribal areas and the more volatile population. 

[7]  Adan War 1994. YouTube. May 23, 2007. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDYIDJ0PQJM.

[8]  Example of Aljazeera coverage of Yemeni issues, YouTube, [Online] Nov 14, 2008. Yemeni security forces battling 'terror'. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ad4TwZg9e5I.

[9] The author of this paper was working for Aljazeera from 2000 to 2003, when he asked the management why they accept to have a pro-government correspondent in Yemen, the answerer was: “this is the only way that allow us to operate an office in Yemen.”

[10] Please read the section of Counter-Attacks to see how the Yemeni government manages to face the danger of foreign media.

[11]  For instance, the US National Archives contain reports dating back to this time period detailing the arrest of individuals caught handing out such leaflets in the capital city of Sana’a. Please see Appendix.

[12] This information is known to the author of this paper because of his personal history of being born and raised in the Yemeni village of Mawar.

[13] http://www.al-tagheer.com/

[14] http://marebpress.net/

[15] http://marebpress.net/news_details.php?lng=arabic&sid=8134

[16] http://www.newsyemen.net/

[17] http://yemennow.net/

[18] http://alhadath-yemen.com/

[19] http://www.yemeniamerican.com/index.php?lang=arabic

[20] http://albadell.net/

[21] http://yemenat.net/default.asp

[22] http://www.al-teef.net/

[23] http://www.bilakoyood.net/

[24] http://www.thenationpress.net/

[25] http://yemenportal.net/

[26] http://www.soutalgnoub.com

[27] http://www.soutalgnoub.com  

[28] http://www.adenpress.com

[29] http://www.alsahwa-yemen.net/ 

[30] http://www.aleshteraki.net/

[31] http://www.alwahdawi.net/

[32] http://www.newomma.net/index.php

[33] http://www.raynews.net/

[34] http://www.almenpar.net/index.php

[35] http://www.ye22.com/vb/forumdisplay.php?f=4

[36] For more information about the success of these forums as alternative media outlets, please see the section of “Major Achievements by the Alternative Media in Yemen.”

[37] http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:blog.nj.com/jerseyblogs/2008/06/blog_of_the_day_armies_of_libe.html

[38] http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/944E4441-87BF-4E99-B555-8315B09C0F96

[39] http://www.elaph.com/ElaphWeb/Politics/2005/11/106100.htm

[40] http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:blog.nj.com/jerseyblogs/2008/06/blog_of_the_day_armies_of_libe.html

[41] http://www.maktoobblog.com/search_results.htm

[42] http://www.youtube.com/alsahwanet

[43] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dq6myWjgqs4

[44] http://www.althawranews.net/

[45] http://www.algomhoriah.net/

[46] http://www.26september.info/home/

[47] http://www.14oct.net/view/1.aspx

[48] http://www.alwahdah.net/

[49] http://www.almotamar.net/news/

[50] http://www.almethaq.net/

[51] http://www.mayonews.net/ad/index.php

[52] http://yementimes.com/index.shtml

[53] http://www.al-ayyam.info/

[54] http://www.nasspress.com/

[55] http://www.al-masdar.com/

[56] http://www.elaph.com/Web/Politics/2008/12/394922.htm

[57] http://www.alahale.net/

[58] http://www.alnedaa.net/

[59] http://www.alwasat-ye.net/

[60] http://www.alsharea.net/

[61] http://www.elaphye.com/

[62] http://www.president-saleh.info/print/845.aspx

[63] http://www.nabanews.net/

[64] http://marebpress.net/articles.php?print=2546

[65] When Hameed Al-Ahmar announced his plan to establish a TV station in London, by the name “SABAA”, the Yemeni government in response to it established a TV station by the same name in order to confuse the public. Al-Ahmar decided not to pursue his project. Alternative media in Yemen still lacks TV broadcasting media.

[66] http://malahem.maktoobblog.com

[67] Please see, in the Appendix, a downloaded copy of the cover page of one such issue.

[68] As discussed earlier in the Youtube Section of most common vehicles of alternative media in Yemen.

[69] http://www.yobserver.com/local-news/10013038.html

[70] Photos of the Yemeni President being trampled under the feet of people were displayed and distributed on internet forums and secessionist websites. See:  http://216.177.132.153/blocked/browse.php?b=20&u=%3A%2F%2Fsmcentrer.com%2Fvb%2Fshowthread.php%3Ft%3D9877

[71] http://www.almenpar.net/index.php

[72] http://www.26sep.net/news_details.php?sid=49153

[73]  Radio SAWA is the replacement for the Arabic service of Voice of America, which was shut down in 2001. The author was the mediator who brought the offer from Radio SAWA to the Yemeni officials.

[74]  Phone interview with the former BBC correspondent in Sana, Mr. Anwar Ansi, in March 2008.

 [75] http://www.elaph.com/Web/Politics/2008/12/394922.htm

[76] http://shabwahpress.net/news/body.php?cat=news&page=nbody&idcat=&id=1436

[77] http://www.al-yemen.org/vb/showthread.php?t=56183

[78] http://belaquood.net/det.php?sid=733

[79] http://www.sabanews.net/en/news138077.htm


Munir Mawari,  a Yemeni-American journalist, former Washington correspondent of al-Sharq al-Awsat, Pan-Arab newspaper. currently works as freelancer based in Washington DC. He received his degree in journalism and mass communication from Yarmouk University in Jordan in 1989. He can be reached at his email almaweri@hotmail.com.

 

 



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