I got another article published in the Yemen Observer.

For a little back story, the Yemeni government recently closed some online news agencies, claiming they were “jeopardizing the country’s national interest.” http://tinyurl.com/35c7db

I got all self-righteous and wrote an op-ed, which you can read below.


Closing the free press is closing democracy

As I learn of its fascinating history, I believe in Yemen’s ability to serve as an example to the world. Balancing the demands of reunification, an elected government, strong Islamic values, allegiances to tribal governance systems, as well as other challenges, has required a flexible and just political system responsive to the will of its diverse population. But as the actions of today become tomorrow’s history, I question the Yemeni government’s belief in itself.

The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology’s recent blocking of numerous online news agencies will only hurt Yemen. In addition to an open, multiparty parliamentary electorate, any viable democratic society necessitates a free and open press.

The closures represent a political maneuver by the powers that be to stifle criticism and dissent of the current regime’s policies, a hallmark of a government on the verge of sliding into autocratic rule. An uncriticized and unchecked government is one that can do as it pleases for its own benefit.

In theory, a democratic society derives its power and legitimacy from the consent of the governed. The social contract, in which citizens give up some liberties to trust the state to maintain relative social order, is fundamentally broken when those who govern unilaterally decide what information is worthy of being published. When a citizenry loses its voice, they by default rescind their consent, the elected representatives lose credibility, and social order could begin to crumble.

Restrictions on the freedom of press tarnish a nation’s reputation with the rest of the world. In deciding where to allocate capital, investors prefer open and competitive societies, and a government that controls its media is a government likely to control its economy. With a lack of homegrown national capital, a development-oriented Yemen cannot afford to govern its society like its wealthy Gulf state neighbors.

What to do, then, if individuals or agencies publish blatant lies? The answer is not to close the news. With freedom comes responsibility and liability. Fabricated information that serves to discredit organizations’ or others’ reputations should be dealt with in the court of law, and just punishments administered to deter libel in the future. Government-controlled press, however, implies lies on its own behalf.

Yemen has come very far in building its nation. The world is watching, and supporters hope anxiously for a progressive, successful Yemen to prove to the world that freedom and democracy are not incompatible with the Islamic Middle East, as many in the West claim to be the case. Maintaining an open press is critical for the success of Yemen’s future, and any government that fails to recognize this is a government working for themselves, not for their people.

*Student of Arabic, Editor Yemen Observer

 road to ma’rib

(click to make big – taken by me)