By Nasser Arrabyee/22/11/2010
The Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh opened late Monday the regional football tournament, Gulf 20, in the southern city of Aden. The presidents of Eretria and Djibouti and a number of high profile officials from the Gulf countries attended the one-hour opening ceremony.
About one thousand men and women song and danced in the opening ceremony which was held in the Stadium of May 22 which is large enough for about 30,000 persons. About 8 % of the space of the Stadium was allocated for fans from Saudi Arabia who came to support their team.
Organizers estimated the number of fans who stayed outside after the stadium was filled at more than 25,000 persons. Security measures were extremely tightened in, around, and outside the city of Aden.
Earlier, the Yemeni government said Sunday that Al Qaeda and the southern separatist movement do their best to foil football tournament.
In a statement issued by the local authority in Aden, the local government said that “dark and terrorist elements from Al Qaeda separatists against unity and Yemen’s stability” were behind spreading rumors and fake allegations that Gulf 20 will be an occasion for drinking liquors and allowing men and women dancing together during the opening of the sporting event.
The statement said such allegations were untrue and baseless.
Earlier, a group of clerics issued a statement in which they expressed their concerns that the Gulf 20 would an occasion for dancing and drinking.
The Aden local government urged the clerics who issued the statement and all other elites, to do their best to make the Gulf 20 a success and not to listen to rumors of the enemies of Yemen from Al Qaeda and separatists.
Yemen and the six Gulf countries and Iraq will start Monday November 22, 2010 a football championship amid suspense and fear of any possible violent acts to foil the event.
The sporting event, the Gulf 20, would be held in Yemen for the first time since Yemen joined the GCC sports institutions in 2003.
Such a sporting event comes after a big controversy and arguments not only in Yemen and GCC but also in the world over holding or not holding it in a country which faces security challenges.
Participating teams from all the six GCC countries (Gulf Cooperation Council) and Iraq arrived in Aden on Saturday and Sunday after leaders of their countries agreed to hold the tournament in Yemen despite internal objections in almost the six Gulf countries.
The Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and majority of the State’s officials, including vice president and prime minister and defense and interior minister, have been in Aden doing their best around the clock during the Eid holiday for checking the final arrangements for such an event which became more political than sporting.
The Yemeni government spent about 560 million dollars on new sporting facilities like Stadiums and others in the two southern cities of Aden and Abyan where the event would held from November 22nd, to December 5th.
New five star-hotels were established by Yemeni and Arab investors for the same purpose.
Thousands of cheers from the GCC countries have already arrived to the beautiful coastal city of Aden to spend Eid Al Adha holiday and support their teams.
Yemen participated in Gulf 16, Gulf 17, Gulf 18, and Gulf 19, before it hosted the Gulf 20.
Yemen ranked the last in all the previous championships.
Now, people in Yemen do not care too much about their team winning, but they care much about their country’s ability to hold the championship without any violence.
In attempt to foil the sporting event, the separatist southern movement threatened to organize anti-unity demonstrations during the period of playing.
The Minister of sporting Hamoud Obad commented on their threats by saying “It’s fake threats, like fireworks, and they are less patriotic than the Mafya of South Africa who supported the world cup.”
The separatist movement, disgruntled groups calling for separating the south from the north which united in 1990, because they say they are politically marginalized, are trying to do their best to foil the championship.
A group outside the country led by the former President of the south Ali Salem Al Baidh, is supporting the internal separatist movement to foil the Gulf 20, which would show that Yemen is not as bad as portrayed by media, if successfully held.
Obviously, the Yemeni officials topped by President Saleh are not sparing any political or financial efforts to show the their neighbors (GCC) and the world that Yemen is not as bad as they think.
More than 30,000 soldiers were already deployed in and around the city of Aden and along the road from Aden to the stadium of Abyan. More than this number will be in civil clothes to help the secret police to control any attempt to disturb the event.
And because Al Qaeda is more active in the south, there is also some fears of any possible attacks by Al Qaeda operatives who always exploit the increasing tension between the government and the separatist movement.
The moderate Egyptian cleric Amr Khaled will be implementing an anti-Al Qaeda campaign in Aden and Sana’a during the Gulf 20 football championship.
The campaign, called the battle of minds and hearts against Al Qaeda, will be opened by President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Tuesday November 23, in Aden and on 25 in Sana’a.
The moderate preacher who has a lot of fans in Yemen, will target the young people in Yemen convincing them that Al Qaeda thoughts are not Islamic. The campaign is organized by the Right Start Foundation, chaired by Amer Khaled, in cooperation with the Yemeni government.