Want to change your name? Not in Yemen

Country's justice ministry introduces ban in an attempt to block al-Qaida terrorists and other nefarious groups from concealing their identities.

Sana Yemen 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sana Yemen 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Bored with that drab name your parents gave you and want to change it? Tough luck if you live in Yemen, which has just barred name changes to prevent al-Qaida terrorists from hiding.
“I’m not sure banning name changes makes a difference,” said Stephen J. Steinbeiser, Resident Director of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, based in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital.
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“As it is, the government seems to keep tabs as it is on individuals associated with nefarious groups,” he told The Media Line. 
Yemen’s Justice Ministry reportedly introduced the ban recently in a move it said would help the government keep track of its citizens.
“With a new name people could escape their responsibilities,” Khalid Al-Dubais, a Yemini media relations officer, was quoted as saying in the Yemen Times. “If there is an urgent justified need for changing the name, the court will look into it.”
The name change ban follows other recent steps by the Yemeni government to fight against an assortment of Islamist insurgents, separatists, and al-Qaida. Just last month, Yemini authorities banned motorcycles in a province where al-Qaida had a growing presence, maintaining that militants use them to transport weapons. 
The latest order was issued September 19, after a number of Yemeni judges wrote to the Justice Ministry about an increasing number of people filing name-change requests, the Yemen Times reported. 
In addition, the country’s Civil and Personal Status Authority had received a number of applications for name-changes on personal ID cards. In a country that honors lineage as sacred, some were requesting to alter how their father’s and grandfather’s names appeared on their identity cards.
“It’s meant to give some kind of order to a system of multiple passports and IDs,” Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Development at the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis, a Dubai-based think tank, told The Media Line. 
“This is an attempt by the government to crack down on a number of different groups operating in Yemen,” Karasik said.  “The main targets are al-Qaida, factions of the southern secessionist movement, and anyone involved with the Houthis.”
The Houthis are a faction of the Zaydi Shi'ites in northern Yemen who have been fighting the government on and off since 2004.
Steinbeiser said the move could make it harder for individuals on terrorist watch lists to enter and leave the country, but it doesn’t tackle the root causes of Yemen’s terror and instability. 
“It’s a complicated question, but I would say that disillusionment, ideological fanaticism, and desperation” are the root causes of Yemen’s instability, Steinbeiser said. “It needs to be addresses at the root, not piecemeal through these types of efforts.”
The director of HOOD, a Yemeni human rights organization criticized the move as a step back for civil rights. 
“This is an arbitrary step by the government that impinges on people’s civil rights,” said the director, Muhammad Allaw, who is also a former judge and former member of the Yemeni Parliament.   
Allaw said that the move highlights the country lack of a population registry.
“In a court, for example, you have to bring two witnesses who will testify you’re the person you say you are,” Allaw said.  “It’s unreasonable that in the 21st century a country doesn’t have a central population registry.”
Yemen’s instability has come into increasing focus in the western world since last year’s failed plot by Yemen-based members of al-Qaida to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas. The United States has launched a number of strikes this year against al-Qaida militants in the country, one of the poorest in the Middle East, and home to almost 24 million people.
But the government has a cloudy relationship with al-Qaida and has reportedly cooperated with radical Islamist groups in the past, notably in the country's civil war in the 1990s, when radical Islamists fought separatists in the country’s south.