Frontline Aden: Voice of reason in the land of feuds and daggers

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The Independent Online
ABDUL HAKIM Mahyub is sitting in the cluttered office of al-Ayyam newspaper in the Crater district of Yemen's capital, Aden. He draws his finger down the side of his left cheek where a long knife scar is half- concealed by his moustache and opens his mouth to show where the dagger sliced into his tongue.

Hisham Bashraheel, the editor of al-Ayyam, a confident looking, stocky man in his mid-fifties, listens impassively to his story. Mr Mahyub is a teacher. Several weeks ago he argued with a man laying pipes outside his school in Aden. In common with many Yemenis, the workman had a knife in his belt. He drew it and stabbed Mr Mah-yub in the face.

Mr Mahyub, who now has difficulty teaching because the wound impairs his speech, has come to al-Ayyam to protest that his assailant, a native of Marib in northern Yemen, has just been released from prison by a senior official from the same province.

Mr Bashraheel sighs that favouritism to northerners, who have effectively ruled Aden since the civil war in 1994, is becoming more common.

It is not an easy job editing al-Ayyam, which was refounded in 1990. Publication had been suspended for 23 years after a radical government replaced the departing British administration. For publishing Mr Mahyub's story, Mr Bashraheel and his younger brother Tammam, 47, with whom he runs the paper, may face accusations of "separatism", stirring up hostility between the recently reunited south and north of Yemen.

The paper was founded by the brothers' father, Mohammed Bashraheel. When it was closed in 1967 the family moved to the northern capital, Sanaa, and opened an office-supply business. They always intended to come back, and when Hisham and Tammam decided conditions were right they sold their business and used the money to refound al-Ayyam. It quickly established itself as the best newspaper in the country, its three editions a week selling 80,000 copies.

Publication is a continual battle with the government. On a second visit to the al-Ayyam office two soldiers were sitting there. They had just briefly detained a reporter covering the trial of the five Britons and an Algerian accused of planning a bombing campaign in Aden.

Al-Ayyam was the only paper in Yemen to publish a full transcript of the first day of the trial, when the accused said they had been tortured. When the trial resumed the judge banned publication of the proceedings. Hisham says this is an ominous precedent.

The government might reply that in most parts of the Middle East such a paper lwould not be published at all. Tammam says that in Yemen it has recently blacked out the readers' comment section on al-Ayyam's website. "Officials complained that people from outside the country were saying it is not unity but occupation," he says.

A print-out of readers' comments shows almost universal praise for the paper and unrelenting hostility to the government in Sanaa. One says: "We encourage you to expose the bad things in the the Kabili [tribal] military regime." Another points out that half the budget goes on the army and security. A third simply says: "It is time for all Yemenis to revolt."

Despite daily skirmishes with the government, Hisham and Tammam say they are planning to build new offices and expand the paper. By now the two soldiers have gone, but al-Ayyam's reporter has promised to report to Sanaa. "I suspect they will put him in jail," Hisham says wearily.