Sunday, October 7, 2012

Updated: When in doubt - seek advice

 I wrote this post yesterday, and today I woke up and found an e-mail from Harvard University responding to my inquiry about the funding.  They informed me that the controversial funding will not be accepted, and that they will post a document explaining this on their website in two days.

Here is the joint statement from Steven C. Caton, Professor of Contemporary Arab Studies at Harvard University and the Yemen Working Group:
Clarification on funding of the Harvard Conference on Yemen

October 7, 2012

We wish to indicate that Steven Caton is organizing the Conference “Yemen in Transition: Challenges and Opportunities” in consultation with the Yemen Working Group, and it was he who raised the funding for the conference.

It must be understood that neither Professor Caton nor Harvard University nor the Yemen Working Group that consists of professionals and academics would ever accept funding with any conditions attached that might influence either the contents of the conference or its outcomes.

Harvard University and the Yemen Working Group are dedicated to free, unbiased and open scholarly inquiry. This principle guided the way the conference was organized and is reflected in its contents. The conference is open to the public and its proceedings will be videotaped and made available on the net to the general

It must also be understood that Huda Alsharifi, who was among the sponsors, never attempted to influence Professor Caton regarding the organization, contents or participation of speakers at the conference.

Various media have recently made accusations against Professor Caton, Harvard University and the Yemen Working Group that have led several participants from Yemen to withdraw from the conference unless the funding from Huda Alsharifi be returned.

In the interests of encouraging those Yemenis to reconsider their decision and after consultation with the Yemen Working Group, Professor Caton has asked Harvard University to return the funding to Huda Alsharifi and he and the YWG will seek funding from other sources.

The decision to return Alsharafi's funding is done to make it possible for the Yemeni participants to join the conference; it does not in any way give credence to the false accusations and allegations made against the conference organizers or its participants.

Steven C. Caton &
Yemen Working Group

Given this change, I have decided to participate in the conference, despite the negative media hype and the fact that many people are still upset. Thank you for all those who gave me invaluable advise. It is truly appreciated.

Atiaf :)

As everything goes in Yemen, confusion, rumors, criticisms and lots of emotions spearhead the debate on an upcoming Conference at Harvard University entitled: Yemen in Transition: Challenges and Opportunities.

The cause of these critics: a sizable donation from Huda Al-Sharafi, a businesswoman and Yahya Mohamed Saleh's business partner.  Yahya Saleh is head of the Central Security forces and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh's nephew.  His forces shot and killed peaceful protester.  

On the Harvard page, the sponsors are listed as follows: Sponsor(s): 
American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Ash Institute (Harvard Kennedy School of Government), Crown Center (Brandeis University), Dean of the Social Sciences (FAS, Harvard), Islamic Legal Studies Program (Harvard Law School), Middle East Initiative (Harvard Kennedy School of Government), MIT Middle East Program, Outreach Center (Harvard Center for Middle East Studies), and Women and Public Policy Program (Harvard Kennedy School of Government). We also would like to thank the generous support of Huda Alsharifi.

For many Yemenis this is a disappointing scandal.  Some have interpreted this to mean that Huda Al-Sharafi is just a front for Yahya Saleh to partially fund the conference.  Two days later, many local articles and facebook posts have spread rejecting this conference, and accusing the organizers and the speakers of being too close to Saleh.  Other criticism was based on logistical issues and political dynamic within the Yemeni-American diaspora.  In addition to concern that the Southern issue was not given the importance it deserves in the conference.

Now to explain why I'm writing this post.  I am one of the speakers.  My paper is entited: the War on Terror: between security and morality.  The focus will be on impact of air strikes on the forgotten civilians of Yemen.

So  I am torn between two thoughts:

On the one hand, i think to myself I should still go and here is why:
  •  I would like to fly with my own funds, but since I can't at this point, I could raise some funds through crowd funding for the cost of the ticket and the hotel.  
  • I believe that some Harvard University graduates will go on to become policy makers, and i hope to be able to make at least one person question the current counter terrorism policy in Yemen.
  • I believe that this is an academic conference that was well intentioned, and that the organizers worked hard on planning, but that one of the sponsors was not vetted appropriately.  but i also believe that Yahya Saleh will not, and can not control the papers presented, nor the outcomes of the conference. 
  • Finally, and most importantly, I have been to Abyan. I interviewed people  who had their homes destroyed, their children killed or wounded, and their hospitals attacked because of air strikes.  Yemeni government and activists have ignored them.   I dream about these kids, and I want to give them a voice.  Their parents have asked that their stories be told and so I want to share their struggles. If this means that my "reputation" might be tarnished by some people who like to generalize and would not like to think deeply, then maybe it's a risk I should take.
On the other hand, I am thinking:
  • This is a matter of principal, and even if it's a good opportunity, other opportunities will present themselves.
  • Even if i pay my own way there, I am giving credibility to a conference partially funded by Yahya Saleh's partner.
  • Even if i raise my own funds to go, at this point, no one will even listen to what i have to say, because the reputation of the conference is tarnished.
  • The media backlash against me will be high.  as exemplified by one facebook status of a Yemeni-American activist who has already said on facebook: "I expect speakers to cancel their participation within 24 hours" even though we are all still waiting for official responses from Harvard about this funding.
So, with all these questions, and four points saying I should go, four points saying I shouldn't go, I would like to get your opinion on what I should do? 


Tawfik said...

Great points you made Atiaf, I want to be a voice for those children as well...I envy you for having such an honor. Keep up the good work.
Best of luck,
Tawfik or "tofeek mohamed"

the other side of Me said...

you are who you are, never-mind what ppl have to say as long as you believe in what you do, media is never friendly unless they are paid in Yemen they don't deserve the thought of where they will stand from your participation, I can tell you are more up for it as you listed what you feel are justifications more that the reasons not to go. even if the Harvered people wont care of all the pain you are going to present on behalf of those who are suffering in abyan. you go do what you believe in, for the reasons you listed and more. we knocked every door for the people to join our fair cause we wont stop until they world listen, remember u r the support Yemen has at this point, so go and Support Yemen :)go and break some legs

WomanfromYemen said...

Thank you both, this is very helpful :)

peoplesrevolution said...

Atiaf I very much look forward to seeing you in Boston, I think there those who just live to criticize and yet have no solutions or don't seek to do anything in place of what they criticize. We must press on.

adeeb said...

Tough decision Atiaf! I personally wouldn't be able to make a decision at this stage, and I would ignore the 24hr ultimatum. However, the concerns you put forward are real, so I would first seek more info from Harvard regarding the funding. I don't know much about Huda Alsharafi, so I would try to verify information mentioned about her and her connection with Yahya. I would definitely work on a group decision, the conference has a good list of respectable yemeni speakers who i trust their judgment (you, ibrahim, walid, hilal), so first I would seek to get more info on the rest of the speakers, second I would try to get those trusted to make unified position, it would have a bigger impact and more likely to lead to a better and controlled outcome.

best of luck,

YmNBoY said...

Salam Atiaf,

I think you should go. like You said, this is your chance to be the voice of Yemeni women and children who have no voiced. you never know if you will have another opportunity. You know how things go and just because Huda is funding the conference does not mean she can control the agenda and papers and out comes. I think you have a moral obligation to go and speak about this important issue and give voice to the voiceless. Also dont reject them sponsoring you, we know this will not influence your paper or what will you say. don't listen to the critics and let them intimidate you. they might have other agenda's. I hope to hear that you participated and look forward to to learning about the outcome. Hani

Anonymity is Weak said...

I very much hope that you will attend, Atiaf, especially now that the donor funds have been returned. I can't imagine the weekend without your perspective, especially re Abyan. I very much hope that I can look forward to meeting you there.

And you are absolutely right that even if the money hadn't been returned, donor funds don't "buy" the message of presenters' papers at an event like this.

WomanfromYemen said...

many many thanks for your help :) really appreciate it

جيفارا العريقي said...


Unknown said...
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Abdulqadir Al-Emad said...


My advice is not to go and take place n this conf unless the generous support by Huda Alsharafi is not there. I think the above-mentioned supporting bodies r enough 4 such a conference. No Yemeni side should patronize it.

Best of Luck

Dralemrani said...

This conf already biased from begning.
No need to be threre!

Mohammed Alhmdani said...

Based on famous Idol (Sample is the Best)..
if you don't go,How will lose?
if you fill that you lose some thing Important to you so Go with out debut ,But if will not lose anything Important you can stay where you are Without the slightest feeling of torturing conscience!
Mohammed Alhmdani

Tawfik said...

Important: Atiaf, if you deiced to go I think it would be a good idea to take with you pictures for some of the destruction and human suffering you witnessed in Abyan. A picture is worth a thousand words! You can even set them up near the conference room throughout the conference days for people to say what's like to be living in Abyan.

gamil elzofri said...

you should go and speak ur mind,, just make sure that u make it very clear to them that Salah was a dictator and the revolution will continue till we accomplish everything we set out to accomplish including putting salah on trail