By Tamjid al-Kohali
Yesterday it was a dream, and today it became a reality. On the first day of Eid al-Adha, President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi announced during his visit to Socotra Island that a presidential resolution will soon be issued to turn the Yemeni island into its own province. The implementation of this decision was a dream for the island’s residents, for it will bring about new waves of development for the island territory.
Fortunately, the dream has come true. As a result of this resolution, local sources revealed that there will be surprising directives following the presidential decision, like adopting Socotra as the tourist capital of Yemen. Socotra is already characterized by its strong appeal to tourists, and the future of investment in this sector is promising.
The title may be contested, however. Residents of Ibb have long considered their province the tourist capital of Yemen for its beauty, green lands and mountain landscapes, fertile soil, and warm and fantastic weather. All of these factors have contributed to Ibb’s nickname of “The Green City.”
Ahmed al-Beel, manager of programs and activities in the Ministry of Tourism, said that tourism in Yemen is one of the most important sectors in raising the country’s economic standing. Recently it was suggested that Ibb should be designated as Yemen’s official tourism capital for the beauty of its natural environment, but the decision was never formally implemented.
Ibb, which is a Yemeni governorate as well as a city, has a lengthy history and traces of ancient civilization. The governorate is located in the central part of the Republic of Yemen, separated from Sana’a by 193 kilometers. The province’s 5,552 square kilometer area is divided into 20 directorates, including a province called “Green Brigade” for its luxuriant foliage. Ibb is home to approximately 10.8% of Yemen’s population, and agriculture serves as its main industry.
While Ibb holds little political importance today, Ibb has been home to some of the most significant historical events in Yemen. Many of its states and kingdoms stretched back far into antiquity, and ancient forts can be found on many of its mountain peaks.
Abdo Hussein al-Theili, age 55, has worked as a Yemeni tourist guide for twenty years. Al-Theili said that he visited Ibb many times during his trips with tourists, and each time he found it more beautiful than the last. “Ibb is a stronghold of charming nature and magnificent monuments. Everything in the province embodies beauty, from the mountains to the highlands to the villages. It is the most diverse governorate tourists can see; its historic forts are suitable for flying and climbing,” al-Theili describes.
Al-Beel, in his comments about Ibb’s residents, said that the people of Ibb are hospitable, friendly, simple and well-educated. For these reasons he does not expect a negative reaction from them should Socotra or some other governorate be named Yemen’s tourism capital, so long as the decision is made transparently and credibly.
In fact, Socotra Island is no less beautiful than the Ibb governorate. It is considered the jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea. The wonders of the island, says al-Theili, are endless.
Socotra is a Yemeni archipelago consisting of four islands. The archipelago sits in the Indian Ocean off the coast of the Horn of Africa, 350 km south of the Arabian Peninsula. The long isolation of the Island from Africa and the Arabian Peninsula has granted the island an incredibly unique level of biological settlement on the island, and has similarly shaped a unique social structure of the island’s human population.
In 2008, Socotra was classified as a World Heritage Site. It was named one of the strangest places in the world because of its unique bio-diversity. The island used to have political importance as well; it served as the capital of the Mehrah Sultanate until 1967, when it fell to members of the National Front coming from the Yemeni mainland. It joined South Yemen in 1967, and became a part of united Yemen with the 1990 unification.
Socotra Island is characterized by a wide cover of vegetation; the island enjoys over 750 distinct plant species. Some of these plants are used in folk medicine and in the treatment of many diseases. Socotra’s birds are also highly distinct, and they serve as one of the hallmarks of the island’s diversity.
Socotra’s topographic features also impress its visitors. There are mountainous caves scattered across the island, many of which are used by island residents as habitation. Outside the caves, Socotra’s beaches are considered one of its beautiful secrets. The beaches are blessed with pure white sands, which appear to visitors like piles of cotton shaded by palm trees. The water around the island is free of pollution, which means that visitors can watch fish swim through the crystal clear waters. All of Socotra’s beaches are suitable for recreation and diving, thanks to infrastructure services on the island.
Recently, Rusian geography professor Andre Akashov from Moscow State University revealed that an archaeological study carried out by the Russian Mission of international historians and archaeologists in the Socotra archipelago discovered a number of stone tablets written as far back as the stone age, a discovery that would obviously be a great treasure for the archipelago.
In a statement to al-Thawra newspaper, Professor Akashov added that they had detected hand tools suggesting that humans had inhabited the island as far back and two and a half million years.
Al-Beel calls Socotra a charming island, and says that Socotra could be chosen as Yemen’s tourism capital for its beauty. However, this decision would increase the proportion of tourism flowing to the island, and large numbers of tourists to the island would likely have a negative impact on its pristine landscapes and incredible biodiversity. According to the UN Development Project, visitors to the island must be kept at a number less than 500 per day in order to preserve the island’s protected areas and rare plant species. Al-Beel emphasized that before the decision is made to make Socotra a tourism capital, proper policies must be implemented and enforced to protect the island’s incredible resources.