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Société civile, associations et pouvoir local au Yémen

 | 
Sarah Ben Nefissa
, 
Maggy Grabundzija
, 
Jean Lambert

Chapitre 4 : Presse et syndicat des journalistes

The Journalists’ Syndicate (1990–2001)

Monica Perini

Entrées d'index

Texte intégral

  • 1 I am also grateful to Iris Glosemeyer for her advises and critique concerning this publication draf (...)

1First of all, I would like to thank the organizers of this round table for their invitation, the people working for them and the other researchers; in particular, I do thank Helen Lackner1.

2This paper deals with the Yemeni press and the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate (YJS), both seen as a part of the Yemeni civil society. The period taken into consideration covers the first 10 years of the Republic of Yemen. It arrives to the beginning of the year 2001.

3History of political thought tells us that civil society can have different meanings and can be considered from different points of view.

  • 2 This thesis belongs to Antonio Gramsci (Gramsci, 1983).

4One of these points of view says that civil society is the space used by the State to create consensus, to legitimate the dominant group who holds the political power. Cultural institutions, mass media included, being part of civil society are employed by such a State to convey those values or choices which are able to keep its ruling leadership at power2.

  • 3 Gramsci, 1983.

5The Anglo-Saxon political approach does not establish its concept of civil society as a mean of keeping the élite at power, but according to it, civil society consists of a spontaneous, debating space made by relationships among individuals, groups and classes. Within this space, these forces contest each other’s economic, ideological, social and religious projects, opinion, tendency, interest. All these debates are posed as questions to the State institutions by civil society forms; they organize, associate, mobilize themselves and tend to conquer the political power in order to realize their aims3.

6We may take both these approaches to consider the Yemeni civil society through its press, in particular, through the relationships between the government and the press and through its association of journalists: the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate (YJS).

7With the first approach, we can notice a propensity of the leadership in power to control civil society organizations, especially those dealing with mass media. In March 1999, Muhammad Bin Sallam of Yemen Times, wrote an article about “Tafreekh”, meaning:

  • 4 Bin Sallam, 1999.

8“The artificial reproduction of political parties, NGO’s, newspapers, guilds planned, financed and executed by the authorities […] Thus, the Arabic word tafreekh (meaning giving birth in rapid succession) […] is the source of “an eternal in-fighting” among aspiring members […] who find in the rulers' drive to control the organizations an opportunity to promote their own ambitions. The result is a distorted evolution in Yemen's civil society movement. […] This policy has been successfully applied to political parties, newspapers, non-governmental organizations, sports clubs, etc.4

  • 5 Bin Sallam, 1999.

9Among the civil society organizations that were or have been under “tafreekh strivings”, the article mentions: the Teachers' Syndicate, the Lawyers' Bar Association, the Guild of Engineers and the Federation of Yemeni Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Moreover, “the Journalists' Syndicate [which] is paralysed because of visible and continued interference by the politicians5.”

  • 6 The two former Yemeni States were named Yemen Arab Republic and People’s Democratic Republic of Yem (...)
  • 7 Abdul Bari Taher chaired the YJS until its Second Congress. Today he is the executive director of (...)

10State control of the journalists’ syndicate was an old problem in Yemen; it was part of the two former Yemeni regimes heritage6. Before the unification and the adoption of press freedom within the democratic system, the two journalists syndicates (the northern one and the southern one) were under total state control. Only since 1990, the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate, born from the merger of the two old ones, acquired some autonomy. But still it had been under the ruling politicians’ efforts to control it, even before the Civil War (1994) as ‘Abdul Bari Taher declared in an interview, in 1999, when he was the YJS chairman7. Also during the well-known political liberalization period of the Republic of Yemen, from 1990 to 1994, the journalists’ syndicate did not enjoy the so called “atmosphere of freedom” that much.

  • 8 Bin Sallam, 1999.

11However, while describing tafreekh, Bin Sallam's article refers not only to “authority”, but also to “politicians” and to “members’ aspirations”8. Here, with the help of the second approach, we can notice civil society as an area where forces, even individuals, try to realize their own different, opposing goals and policies, therefore giving the way to debate. This is what it could be noticed in the YJS during its first 10 years: not only political affiliations, but also individual aims and personal relationships influenced debates, alliances, choices and the general performance of the YJS.

12The debate resulted from all of it was not the main reason of its weakness, rather that one side in syndicate was much stronger than all the others as it got more human and financial resources to mobilize in its favour. Therefore, in that period the opposing side responded by resisting any potential change that could lead to the complete and lasting control by the first one. As a result, “paralysis” is what happened to the YJS; as it was called by journalists themselves at that time.

  • 9 Yemen Times, 1999.
  • 10 Al‑tanzīm al‑dākhilī liniqābat al‑sahāfiyyīn al‑yamaniyyīn, (The Internal Statute of the Yemeni Jou (...)
  • 11 Yemen Times, 1999.

13While parties kept on placing their men into it, the fight over the syndicate’s control resulted in a long delay of the Syndicate Second Congress9. Its leadership elections (concerning the syndicate council and the chairman) were not held in 1995 every four years as its statute postulates10 but in 1999. During the same year, the Congress was three times postponed. The main division persisted between pro-government journalists, on one side, and opposition and independent press journalists on the other11.

  • 12 Al‑Janāhī, Ahmed Sa‘īd, “Huriyyat al‑sahāfa wa-damān huqūq al‑sahāfiyyīn fi al‑Yaman” (Press Freedo (...)
  • 13 Some sources said that it lacked of resources.

14Still, the 1999 Congress was contested since its beginning by its own chairman ‘Abd al‑Bari Taher. He resigned and refused to vote as a protest against holding the elections before having screened the memberships. Besides him, pointing out the congress as “non-democratic”, around 60 YJS Sanaa members split from the Syndicate and formed the Committee for the Defence of Journalists “as a more independent and effective alternative for the defence of journalists from government’s attacks”12. This committee or starting point for a new syndicate remained frozen since its beginning and it was formally closed in 200113.

  • 14 Al‑qanūn raqm 25, 1999, bi-shān al‑sahāfa wa-l-matbū‘āt wa-lā’ihat al‑tanfīdhiyya, Wizārat al‑I‘lām (...)
  • 15 Al‑Janāhī, Ahmed Sa‘īd, 1999, Op. cit.
  • 16 Giroud, 1992. Rawfa Hassan is one of the most well-known political and human rights activist in Yem (...)

15Finally, the Congress adopted a new statute, which tried to place a more precise definition of the category of “professional journalist” than the one included in the Press and Information Law, No. 25/9014. This terminology reform was aimed at keeping away from the Syndicate the so-called “non-journalists”, who had succeeded in joining it and created an imbalance of forces in the syndicate. Here again, the problem of “non-professional journalists” had its origin in the merger of the two old syndicates. No control over the membership requirements was made as the country was badly lacking professional journalists15. This was also the reason why Rawfa Hassan was called by the University of Sanaa: to preside over the establishment of the Department of Journalism16.

  • 17 Al‑Ghabri, 1999. Cf. also Yemen Times, 1991a.

16Whereas by using the term “non-professional journalists” in those days, the Ministry of Information indicated all those journalists who broke the Constitution and the Press Law, those who were not responsible towards their own profession and their own nation. Therefore, it was the Ministry of Information’s job to check that nobody could violate the Press and Publication Law and make citizens, especially journalists accountable so as democracy and freedom require. They had to learn their limits. So, according to the Ministry, for the sake of press freedom, democracy, the country17, it was necessary to exercise authority in a paternalistic manner, the authority made decisions on behalf of others considered “as a minor” – as someone who cannot behave himself.

  • 18 During the round table al‑Nidā Chief-Editor, Sami Ghalib, specified that a Yemeni version of the pr (...)

17This kind of control could affect pluralism, vital for civil society, and gave the way to authoritarian power. Also, it could prevent “the minor” from becoming an adult. And in the “press case”, it prevented journalists from taking their own responsibility towards their profession. As a matter of fact, Yemeni journalists have worked without a self-regulating code; they had not defined themselves a voluntary code of conduct or code of ethics. The Ministry of Information and the courts decided who the professional was and who was not18.

18In order to define this role of the executive authority (the Ministry of Information) and the judicial authority towards the press, it is now necessary to look at the legal framework.

  • 19 The Constitution of the Republic of Yemen, art. 41.
  • 20 Yemen Times, 1991b. Cf. also: Jamāl al‑Dīn al‑Adīmī, Faysal Sultān al‑Sūfī, “Hurriyat al‑sahāfa wa- (...)

19According to the Constitution of the Republic of Yemen, citizens can be active in various aspects of public life and, at the same time, the Constitution states that the State guarantees their freedom of “thought, expression, and opinion”, “within the limit of the law”19. It was exactly this mechanism, that means, freedom guaranteed by the Constitution, but within limits set by the law that allowed restrictions to the same freedom, as the Arab Organization for Human Rights had already noted in 1991. The Organization called the Press Law: “The Law of Forbidden” because it allowed limitations on the journalistic profession through the calls of other so-called by-laws, decrees or “rules” decided by the Ministry of Information (as the executive law No. 49/93). Through “technicisms”, as the Organization observed, chains were put on the press, for instance, by establishing the annual license to publish a newspaper20.

  • 21 See for example: art. 3 (“freedom of knowledge, thought, press, personal expression...”), art. 13 ( (...)
  • 22 The Press and Information Public Prosecutor was established in 1993, but the idea of establishing w (...)

20On the other hand, these calls were deemed necessary because the Press Law was too vague. This vagueness concerned freedoms and rights guaranteed to the press and to the Yemeni citizens in general, as well as limits21. And gave the Press and Information Public Prosecutor22 discretionary power when deciding whether to suit a journalist or a newspaper or not. The Press Prosecutor jurisdiction was often incited, openly or not, by the Ministry of Information.

  • 23 Amnesty International Yemen (2003), The Rule of Law Sidelined in the Name of Security, 24 September
  • 24 Jamāl al‑Dīn al‑Adīmī, Faysal Sultān al‑Sūfī, (Op. cit.).

21The effect of this legal and administrative system made freedom of press depending upon the sensitivity of the political period, as Amnesty International reported23. In 1999, the peak of the increasing recourse to courts was reached. That year was liable to press constrictions because of the climate of general widespread violence, an increase of internal and international terrorism, the first presidential elections and, of course, because of the YJS Congress24.

  • 25 According to Rawfa Hassan voices and opinions were not so many, as people used to claimed, even dur (...)

22In conclusion, “tafreekh” illustrated a case related to the first political meaning, which concentrates on the political power disposition towards the use of Yemeni civil society as a consensus maker. Moreover, the analysis of the legislative and administrative systems explained how the press freedom margin depended on the political atmosphere; through the basic mechanism of “constitutional freedom according to the law and by-laws” and thanks to the law vagueness. The year 1999 exhibited this link between press freedom and political sensitivity quite well. And, in general, the whole period, from 1994 to 2001, showed that the Yemeni press lost a variety of voices and opinions compared to the press during the first four year of the Republic. The cessation of the two counterbalancing political parties at power, in the civil war of 1994, made the press freedom margin shrink25.

  • 26 The electoral campaign had to last, according to the law, two weeks before the voting day which was (...)
  • 27 A comparison study of the press during the two-week-electoral campaign was made using the following (...)
  • 28 Taqrīr awwalī ‘an natā’ij barnāmaj al‑raqāba ‘alā al‑i‘lām al‑intikhābī bi-shān intikhābāt al‑majli (...)

23Even so, the Yemeni press managed to remain a public space to political debate. There, it was possible to find pluralism, which is the antidote to power concentration and the constitutive element of a heterogeneous and dialectical civil society. For example, during the 2001 referendum campaign26, newspapers supporting the government constitutional reform could be read as well as the ones rejecting and criticizing that proposal27. Such a discussion was not possible in the electronic media28.

24As regards the YJS, this organization could be considered as a case study of that grey zone of civil society. In so far, some forces operated into it to make the syndicate legitimize the political élite. However, collective and individual forces were also driven by political ambitions (some from within the regime and others from outside), professional interests and personal aims, representing alternative visions and a dialogue part with the State.

25Finally, the Yemeni press in particular, and the Yemeni civil society in general, could appear fragile and open to political interference and personal gains. Nevertheless, during its first 10 years of life it proved to be able to resist from becoming a mere state consensus apparatus and also able to interact with the State’s institutions. Basic to this process was the alliance with the international organizations and governments which, in this case, supported press freedom.

Bibliographie

BIN SALLAM, Muhammad
1999: « The Policy of TAFREEKH Prevails in Yemen: Civil Society’s Struggle against Domination by Politician »,
Yemen Times, 1 March 1999, Issue No. 09, Vol. IX.

FORUM FOR CIVIL SOCIETY
2001: Press release, Pre-final report on the results of electoral media monitoring program regarding local council elections and the referendum on constitution amendments, Sanaa, February.

AL‑GHABRI, Ismail
1999: « The law is the final arbiter in our relations with the media »,
Yemen Times, 1 February 1999, Issue No. 05, Vol. II.

GIROUD, Emmanuel
1992: « Liberté de la presse : former l’élite des futurs journalistes… », Yemen Times, 29 July 1992, Issue No. 31, Vol. II.

GRAMSCI, Antonio
1983: « Societa’ civile », in B
OBBIO, Norberto & al., Dizionario di Politica, II Edizione, Torino, UTET, p. 1084-1088.

PERINI, Monica
2004-2005: (AA 2004-2005)
La liberalizzazione politica in Yemen tra riunificazione e identità nazionale attraverso la sua ‘libertà di stampa’, (The political liberalization in Yemen between re-unification and national identity through its ‘press freedom’), Facoltà di Scienze Politiche, Università degli Studi di Bologna, thesis.

YEMEN TIMES
1991a: « It is a learning process for all of us », Yemen Times, 20 November 1991, Issue No. 38, Vol. I.
1991b: « Human Rights Organization Gives Yemen Thumbs Up »,
Yemen Times, 17 July 1991, Issue No. 20, Vol. I.
1999: « Journalists Try to Find a Way Out! »,
Yemen Times, 22 February 1999, Issue No. 08, Vol. IX.

Notes

1 I am also grateful to Iris Glosemeyer for her advises and critique concerning this publication drafting.

2 This thesis belongs to Antonio Gramsci (Gramsci, 1983).

3 Gramsci, 1983.

4 Bin Sallam, 1999.

5 Bin Sallam, 1999.

6 The two former Yemeni States were named Yemen Arab Republic and People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen.

7 Abdul Bari Taher chaired the YJS until its Second Congress. Today he is the executive director of the al‑Afif Cultural Foundation and a popular journalist.

8 Bin Sallam, 1999.

9 Yemen Times, 1999.

10 Al‑tanzīm al‑dākhilī liniqābat al‑sahāfiyyīn al‑yamaniyyīn, (The Internal Statute of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate), al‑mu’tamar al‑‘amm, San‘ā, Niqābat al‑sahāfiyyīn al‑yamaniyyīn , 15–18 mars 1999.

11 Yemen Times, 1999.

12 Al‑Janāhī, Ahmed Sa‘īd, “Huriyyat al‑sahāfa wa-damān huqūq al‑sahāfiyyīn fi al‑Yaman” (Press Freedom and Journalists Rights Protection in Yemen), al‑Qistās, San‘ā, November 1999, 18, 21-24.

13 Some sources said that it lacked of resources.

14 Al‑qanūn raqm 25, 1999, bi-shān al‑sahāfa wa-l-matbū‘āt wa-lā’ihat al‑tanfīdhiyya, Wizārat al‑I‘lām, San‘ā, al‑Jumhūriyya al‑yamaniyya (Law N° 25, 1990 for Press & Publications and its Application Decree, Sanaa, Ministry of Information, Republic of Yemen).

15 Al‑Janāhī, Ahmed Sa‘īd, 1999, Op. cit.

16 Giroud, 1992. Rawfa Hassan is one of the most well-known political and human rights activist in Yemen, as well as a journalist. After establishing the Department of Journalism, chaired the Women’s Studies and Applied Researches Centre at the Sanaa University.

17 Al‑Ghabri, 1999. Cf. also Yemen Times, 1991a.

18 During the round table al‑Nidā Chief-Editor, Sami Ghalib, specified that a Yemeni version of the press code of conduct has existed in the country since 1990, but it has never been put into practice. Ghalib, Sami, round table, “Civil Society, Citizenship and Local Government in Yemen”, 1st-3rd July 2006, Sanaa.

19 The Constitution of the Republic of Yemen, art. 41.

20 Yemen Times, 1991b. Cf. also: Jamāl al‑Dīn al‑Adīmī, Faysal Sultān al‑Sūfī, “Hurriyat al‑sahāfa wa-l-ta‘bīr fī al‑tashrī‘āt al‑yamaniyya”, al‑Qistās, San‘ā (Freedom of Opinion and Expression in Yemen, Arabic-English translation: Nada al‑Shamiri).

21 See for example: art. 3 (“freedom of knowledge, thought, press, personal expression...”), art. 13 (the right of the journalist not to be prosecuted for his opinions), art.16 (the journalist right to official information access), art. 14 (the right preserving the sources confidentiality) and art. 103 (concerning the limits on publications, some of them are: “the Islamic faith” and all the other religions and creeds, the “supreme interests of the country” and “its security and defense secrets”, the principles of the Yemeni Revolution, “the national unity”, “the image of the Yemeni, Arab and Islamic heritage”, “public moral”, “the dignity of individuals”), Law No. (25) of 1990 for Press & Publications, Sanaa, Ministry of Information, Republic of Yemen (Op. cit.).

22 The Press and Information Public Prosecutor was established in 1993, but the idea of establishing was already publicly declared in the year 1991 (Yemen Times, 1991a).

23 Amnesty International Yemen (2003), The Rule of Law Sidelined in the Name of Security, 24 September.

24 Jamāl al‑Dīn al‑Adīmī, Faysal Sultān al‑Sūfī, (Op. cit.).

25 According to Rawfa Hassan voices and opinions were not so many, as people used to claimed, even during the political liberalization period (GIROUD, 1992).

26 The electoral campaign had to last, according to the law, two weeks before the voting day which was on the 20th of February 2001.

27 A comparison study of the press during the two-week-electoral campaign was made using the following newspapers: al‑Thawra, al‑Thawri, al‑Ayyam, Yemen Times, al‑Sahwa. Perini, 2004–2005.

28 Taqrīr awwalī ‘an natā’ij barnāmaj al‑raqāba ‘alā al‑i‘lām al‑intikhābī bi-shān intikhābāt al‑majlis wa al‑istiftā’ ‘alā al‑dustūr, Sanaa, Febrāyir 2001, Multaqā al‑mujtama‘ al‑madanī al‑yamanī (Forum for Civil Society in Yemen). As for “electronic media”, only television and radio have been taken into account because the use of internet was not so spread.

Auteur

PhD Student, Bologna University, Faculty of Political Science

© Centre français d’archéologie et de sciences sociales, 2008

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