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Fuad Abu-Bakr: The Imam put the ‘healthy fear’ of the people into T&T governments

“[…] As a result of Yasin Abu Bakr and 113 other brave men, governments had a little fear for the people after. Thus they at least threw crumbs for them. Also no government dared to go back to the IMF and bring austerity again—as this government is currently afraid to do. 

“[…] Abu Bakr was that healthy fear that helped to ensure some level of democracy…”

The following Letter to the Editor on the passing of the controversial Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, who tried to overthrow the Trinidad and Tobago Government at gunpoint on 27 July 1990, was submitted to Wired868 by his son, Fuad Abu Bakr:

Photo: Late Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr.
(via Jyoti Communication)

T&T barely has a democracy. Take a proper look at what was going on at the time. Mr ANR Robinson was, in my opinion, a dictator. Our constitution allows for a prime ministerial dictator as some are seeing even now with our PM’s ability to ‘interface’ or interfere with all offices and institutions of state. The separation of powers and independence of offices are but words.

There was a tremendous popular movement against the NAR as well in 1989. SOPO (Summit of People’s Organisations) and many others marched. Austerity and structural readjustment were very unpopular.

As my sociology teacher said, Yasin Abu Bakr belled the cat. He was the brave one to take military action against a government that was taking military action against him.

A government that refused to abide by the law in the illegal occupation of #1 Mucurapo Road by police and army. A government who thought they could rule after sidelining the entire ULF’s East Indian representatives. A government that killed a police woman and was allegedly involved in the narco trade. 

Photo: Former NAR National Security Minister and Toco/Manzanilla MP Joseph Toney reacts to the sound of gunshots in Parliament on 27 July 1990.

The Imam said the straw that broke the camel’s back was the decision to spend hundreds of thousands to erect a statue of Jean Miles while there was no medicine in the hospital and children were starving—literally starving. So let’s put better context to 1990.

Let me assist further.

It was never established whose bullets killed who in the coup. Nor do they tell us the truth: that most people were killed by the police and army while looting. No one died in TTT where the Imam was, only combatants were killed in the Red House (see editor’s note below) and one brave police officer in Police Headquarters. RIP. 

All injured, like Mr Robinson were allowed to go out for treatment.

As a result of Abu Bakr and 113 other brave men, governments had a little fear for the people after. Thus they at least threw crumbs for them. Also no government dared to go back to the IMF and bring austerity again—as this government is currently afraid to do. 

Photo: An impassioned Yasin Abu Bakr (right) speaks to fellow Jamaat-al-Muslimeen members shortly after their release from prison in 1992.
(Copyright AP)

To quote Thomas Jefferson: ‘Real democracy is when the government fears the people; when the people fear the government, that is tyranny.’

Abu Bakr was that healthy fear that helped to ensure some level of democracy. Good people had nothing to worry about with Abu Bakr, they came for his assistance at the mosque constantly.

A man that spoke out even in his last days. A man filled with love for people. A selfless man that risked his life.

Tireless service, he finally rests in peace.

Photo: Downtown Port-of-Spain in the aftermath of the 1990 attempted coup.

Editor’s Note: Twenty-four people died during the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen’s attempted coup, including Leo Des Vignes—who was not a ‘combatant’ but the Diego Martin Central MP. Then Prime Minister ANR Robinson was beaten and shot in his leg. There were also millions in losses in the form of damage to property.

Abu Bakr and his men were subsequently charged for treason. However, the Court of Appeal ruled that the amnesty given to the Muslimeen as a condition of their surrender was valid. The Privy Council later overturned that court ruling but said it would bean abuse of process to re-arrest the freed men. They were never re-arrested.

The disputed land on Mucurapo Road had allegedly been given by Government to the Islamic Missionaries Guild (IMG) in 1969. However, since the land belonged to the city and not the government, the transfer was declared invalid and in 1984 a court ordered the Muslimeen to vacate the premises.

To date, the Muslimeen continue to occupy the land.

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  1. Let me first give my condolences to you, the rest of the family and the community your father led and loved. It’s ok to glorify your father and attempt to rewrite history, but what the Yasin Abu Bakr did was reckless, dangerous, illogical, and illegal. It could not succeed and he was lucky to escape alive.
    And although you say that we’re barely a democracy, it’s our democracy which allowed your father, a man who as police officer Cpl Lennox Phillip, took an oath to uphold the Constitution of our country, to continue to walk free as Yasin Abu Bakr after his disastrous attempt at a coup.

  2. First of all, I wish to express my sincere condolences to Fuad and the other members of the family of the late Imam Yasin Abu Bakr.

    I would like Faud to tell the nation what other option the NAR government had than to go to the IMF?

    Far from being a heartless dictator, then Prime Minister ANR Robinson sought to keep everyone employed in the Public Service by reducing salaries and wages. The government had 2 options: retrench some of the staff, or reduce salaries and wages.

    The NAR government chose the more humane latter option. Of course, there was economic fallout, but the NAR had been handed a poisoned chalice. The Treasury was empty, and the price of oil had hit rock bottom.

    The Imam was, indeed, a charismatic figure with great appeal among certain elements of the poor and dispossessed in our nation. In this context, he has done a lot of good work in the rehabilitation of many young persons who were addicted to drugs. He had also done his best in the field of education. His school attests to that assertion. His financial and other support to the poor was admirable.

    That notwithstanding, the Imam was a misguided and angry man who did not fully appreciate the likely consequences of his actions, which led to the loss and destruction of lives and livelihoods, and created mayhem in the nation. Many (poor) small businesses folded up after the attempted coup as the losses were enormous. As a result, many poor persons were left without jobs. The attempted coup was, therefore, counter-productive, as those persons who were supposed to be its principal beneficiaries suffered the most.

    In the aftermath of the attempted coup, there have been some, perhaps, unintended consequences:-

    1)There is an emerging culture of intolerance, especially among some of our young men. Accordingly, there is a resort to the gun at the slightest provocation.There is no respect for law and order. Bullying and intimidation are the predominant tactics employed to resolve disputes. There is little or no room for alternative dispute resolution techniques such as mediation. In a word, thuggery prevails, which could lead to chaos and anarchy, if allowed to go unchecked;

    2) Expansion of the culture of victimhood and entitlement, as there is no room for the virtues of hard work and sacrifice in the lives of some young persons, especially young men. Instant gratification is the mantra; and,

    3) Hate and vilification of successful people in the nation, by some of the poor and dispossessed. There is the assumption that all such persons have attained their wealth/status at the expense of the poor.

    The attempted coup was an unmitigated disaster for T&T. That kind of democracy is not needed in T&T. Needless to say, in spite of his otherwise good deeds, this is what Imam Yasin Abu Bakr will be best remembered for. A very dark day in the history of TT.

    How sad!

    Louis W. Williams

  3. From 27 July 1990 to 21 October 2021, he was, for me, ‘a dead man walking’.
    Had he gotten his just deserts, we would have been spared the above diatribe.
    1990 set this country back big time, in all kinds of ways.

  4. The entire gang should have been shot.