The illiteracy rate in Yemen is over 60%. Even more striking is that almost 99% of people in Yemen are ‘internet illiterate’. Still, tracking the one percent of Yemen’s internet users – a percentage that is sure to grow – can tell you much about general traditions and changes in Yemeni society. Also, the activity of this one percent shows that these users are on the internet for a wide variety of different purposes, many of them unexpected.
Some check the daily news online nowadays rather than wait for the news to appear on television. Newspapers care more about updating their websites than before, and those newspapers that have online editions are the most read newspapers in Yemen, prime examples being the Mareb Press and Al-Masder.
“The first thing I do when I arrive at my office is go to a website that collects news from all news websites. It lays out what was written on each news topic and makes the news policies of the different websites clear, and the editors’ political affiliation clear” said Ahmed Alam.
The new version of the “Cold War”
After the Yemeni revolution started in February, the nature of citizens’ usage changed, with more engaged with social media such as Facebook and Twitter due to such sites’ roles in the Arab Spring. As a result, students, activists and journalists are using social media to mobilize protests, while government supporters and intelligence services are using social media to promote their own views.
“They are launching a Cold War campaign against us [activists] that makes it difficult for the reader to differentiate who is telling the truth,” said activist Waleed Al-Qadasi from Change Square.
Some people are paid by the hour by different parties to promote political ideas online using Facebook groups or Twitter.
“Due to continuous power cuts, the state rents a hole in this hotel [Taj sheba hotel] for internet users” said a pro-government journalist. Some protesters believe that this service is for those who follow what activists post on social media websites.
One of the best ways to check Job vacancies is online, as most companies have their own websites to introduce and share their work. Using social media to advertise goods is a cost-efficient alternative.
“Instead of buying a newspaper every day, I go and check a vacancies website, as it offers the best jobs available,” said Alia’a Ahmed, a job seeker.
“My friends have a group on facebook to advertise their homemade goods. They sell it to each other or some users tell others about it. They business is doing well,” said Nuha Jamal.
Getting married online
Yemen is a conservative country, a place where traditions are very important. The majority of people get married in traditional ways. However, the internet offers an easy way for people to find their match.
“My Friend found her partner online. She used to spend a few hours every day participating in different online forums. A guy from Jordan was also on the same forum and became interested in her after following her posts. That’s how they got to know each other,” said Ahlam Al-Dhibani.
Many young ladies and men enroll in different marriage websites for the fun of it.
“Lots of my friends registered on marriage websites. It’s a good way to find your perfect match…but you don’t necessarily believe in doing it this way,” said Al-Dhibani.
Yemeni schools do not teach their students how to best benefit from the internet. While in other countries, students may submit their homework by e-mail, this is not the case in Yemen. Internet usage and access are perceived as something of a luxury and, except for a few private schools, the subject is not taught. If computer-related subjects are taught in schools, it well tend to be theory-based, about the introduction of the computer, or simple Microsoft software lessons.
“I failed twice in computer subjects at university, when in real life I use the internet all the time. I only failed back then because the subjects they taught us were boring and unnecessary,” said Nada Ali, a university student. At Sana’a University, there is a department called “Studying from a distance.” It is a new department, and since studies at the university were postponed due to recent political unrest, it too remains at a standstill.
In general, students use the internet for basic research. “I used to teach myself by googling whatever I wanted to learn about. When I see how my friends depend more on the school curriculum, I feel sorry for them. They’re studying using old books when they can simply update their knowledge online,” said Rasha Abdullah, a University student.
“I would love to study online, but the internet speed and continuous power cuts make it impossible for me to do so. I guess studying online in Yemen is not an option,” said Salman Ahmed, a business management student.
Yemenis usage of the internet is changing nowadays, different generations use it for the same reasons sometimes, more people are learning on how to benefit from it every day, which indicate that the mentality is also changing, anti-government students demands to stop blocking internet websites in order to have good access to the information, fathers are interested to learn on what is happening on social media networks.