Yemen TV: Bringing Back History
By: Jamal Jubran
Published Saturday, August 18, 2012
Sanaa, Yemen - Throughout his 33 years in power, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh waged a fierce attack on the collective memories of Yemenis, including images from their past. Saleh engaged in large-scale falsification of modern history, rewriting it with the help of a specialized team of academics and politicians. In this revisionist process, they advanced a narrative of events not consistent with the reality of their history in an attempt to portray Saleh as a key player in shaping events.
The former Yemeni president believed that he was the fulcrum of this history, everyone else being extras who mattered only inasmuch as they were close to – or distant from – “the leader.” The same applied to images. Saleh liked only his own picture, which always had to be at the forefront, so he attempted to destroy the pictures of former leaders, who were otherwise deeply engraved in the memories of the Yemeni people.
Accordingly, it was forbidden to display any images of those previous leaders. Anyone found displaying a picture of a former leader on their cars or inside their shops was subjected to frequent harassment. There could be pictures of no one but Ali Abdullah Saleh and his various personas, be this him in military uniform, or as a civilian donning a suit and a tie.
Ali Abdullah Saleh believed that he was many figures rolled into one. Yemenis became accustomed to this, and did not attempt to confront the then president’s systematic efforts to falsify their country’s history.
Then the revolution erupted. In time the youth revolution was aborted, and half-revolutions are the equivalent of open graves, so to speak. The regime was changed, albeit partially. Yet all this had an impact on Yemenis’ lives.
Yemenis became more aware of themselves. They feel that they are alive and they are doing something. As part of this action, a documentary has been produced for the state-owned Yemen TV, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Information – now in the hands of former opposition parties currently in power thanks to the Gulf initiative.
The documentary is entitled Leaders Who Shaped Yemen’s History, and has since become the talk of the town across the country. The program showcases Yemeni figures that made significant contributions to their country’s history, figures whose pictures, until shortly before the youth revolution, Yemenis were afraid to display.
The airing time of the documentary is something that many Yemenis now eagerly await. On Leaders Who Shaped Yemen’s History, the viewers have the chance to see shots of the personalities they were denied seeing for so long. The program was well received from the first episode, when Ibrahim al-Hamdi (1943-1977), the president of the Yemen Arab Republic from 1974 until 1977, was first shown.
This former president, who was loved by the people, was shown walking alone through the streets without bodyguards. As they watch the program, Yemenis perhaps recollect great moments from their recent history, when their president stood up to the House of Saud. This ultimately led to his murder, which the deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh was allegedly connected to.
In addition to Hamdi, the documentary features leaders such as Salmin, the President of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen). Salmin was also killed. He too used to walk among the people unguarded.
Many other figures are included as well, with the majority having mysteriously perished. These are the same personalities who competed with Ali Abdullah Saleh over who occupied the foreground of portraits, but who were then forcibly concealed.
Now their images are appearing once again on a state-owned television channel. Some remarks must, however, be made concerning the making of the program, including the poor research that went into its preparation, and also with its overemphasis of figures from North Yemen. This raises many problems, especially in this difficult time where the South is calling for secession from the North.
Nevertheless, these are issues that can be borne in future episodes of the program. What matters ultimately is that a first step has been made, and more importantly, that officials from Yemen TV have said that the program will not feature Ali Abdullah Saleh. In other words, Saleh is now the one being cast out of history.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.