04 May, 2015

News and Social Media Reporting on Yemen

In the last one month or so, there has been intense, extensive - and sometimes, frenzied - reporting on Yemen. Most of the news reporting, has been by foreigners; most of whom have very little knowledge or understanding of Yemen. Many, have never been to the country, and of those who have been to Yemen -- they have been to very few places. Many, if not most, of these reporters claim to be experts or to have knowledge of the country; but, from their reporting, for anyone who knows Yemen and understands its geography, history, complex culture, many varied and different regions and its thousands of tribes -- it's clear that most of these reporters do not know or understand the country. How can a foreigner who has been only to Sana'a (or/and a few other main cities), spent a few months or even years in these places, attended a few qat sessions -- claim to be an expert on Yemen? How can someone who does not know Arabic or very little of it, profess to be an authority or a pundit on the country? How can someone who does not know most of the twenty-one Yemeni provinces say "I am an expert on Yemen"? How many of these reporters have been to and have knowledge of: Dhalea, Raymah, Lahej, Hajja, Mahra, Mahweet, Al Jawf, Shabwa, Socotra or the many other Yemeni regions? How many know the historic towns of Tarim and Yarim? How many know that there are several towns/villages in the country, all with the same name: Al Hawta? How many know the differences between Wadi Hadhramaut, Wadi Do'an and Wadi Sa'ah? Even Arab news reporters, and so called 'analysts' and 'experts' -- non seems to have real, deep knowledge and understanding of Yemen: they didn't get it right in 2011 or after that; and they, too, seem lost today.

So, are there experts on Yemen? I doubt if there is any contemporary foreign person (or even Yemeni), today, who has gone through what Freya Stark did, who: schooled herself in Arabic, learned the history of Arabia, traveled unaccompanied by foot, car, donkey, and camel; through deserts, valleys and wilderness in Yemen (mainly in Hadhramaut) and many parts of the Middle East --- and stayed in many remote villages and Bedouin encampments; she did this, and yet she never claimed to be an expert on Yemen or Hadhramout or Arabia. True: there are many Yemenis who have deep knowledge and understanding of the country; there are a few foreigners, mainly Europeans (particularly Britons and the French), mainly archaeologists and petroleum geologists who, through their work in the field, in many parts of Yemen -- have very good knowledge of it. But - through what they report - I yet have to know of a reporter who has a proper understanding or wide knowledge of Yemen.

As for the social media, especially for non-Arabic, on Twitter and on Facebook (these are the main ones) -- most are confined to mainly affluent people living outside Yemen (mainly living in Western countries) or in Sana'a or around there; and some few tweets and posts from other few places like Aden and Taiz; most tweets and posts by them, are personal and focus on issues that are not much related to the present conflict like fuel shortages and electricity cuts (for the last few years, Yemen has been having periodic fuel shortages, and Sana'a and many parts of the country have had long and frequent electricity cuts -- these are not that much related with the present conflict to constantly tweet about or post on Facebook; except in Aden, where fuel and electricity shortages have been much more exacerbated). There are tens of thousands of Yemenis, right now, most of who have lost so much, who do not have the advanced smartphones that most Twitter users have, and may know very little about Facebook or most likely have never heard of Twitter -- and who have no time, at all for either, who are all busy trying to survive or earn a living and have the very basic necessities of life, like food and water; most of who are living in extreme fear, and have not had electricity or water or food, for days; many of who, are hungry most of the time.

In Yemen's present conflict, all areas are affected; the worst being Aden, Dhalea, Taiz, Lahej and areas around there. Over a thousand have died, thousands are injured or are very sick -- most of who cannot have proper treatment; hundreds of thousands are displaced and are not in their homes; many have taken great risks traveling through battlefields or through dangerous seas to seek safety -- but who knows their story, their misery or agony? How many have reported of the many in Aden or around there who must have regular kidney dialysis or chemotherapy but cannot, due to the ferocious fighting there? How many have reported of the poor, old man living about 20 kms. out of Sana'a, and due to the lack of fuel, had to ride a bicycle all the way to the city and ride/move around it in search of medicine for his old wife and return home, riding, though he had not been on a bicycle for years? How many have reported of the tens of thousands who, to save their lives have fled, to strange places, and left their homes and almost everything they possess not knowing when they will return or if they will still find their homes standing? How many have reported on the anguish faced by the many who have lost their loved ones, or seen their houses shelled or bombed, particularly in Aden and Dhalea?  How many have reported of the tens of thousands of children who do not go to school any more (and may not now do their end of year exams) due to the conflict?