Sonntag, 28. August 2011

Reasons for a media blackout on Yemen

A lady blogger from Yemen has reacted to the current debate on a "media blackout on Yemen", which I too have addressed im my last entry. I will repost her arguments for why there is hardly any good reporting on Yemen below, but would like to add two further points as she seems to be mainly talking about a media blackout on Yemen in the United States. From a German perspective, I think, one further point has to be taken into account (apart from the fact that there are even fewer German speaking experts on Yemen than there are English-speaking ones):

We don't get much coverage on what is going on in Yemen because YEMEN IS SO FAR AWAY. Germans, and I believe other Europeans, too, are more interested in what is happening on their borders that what is happening in some remote Arab country, whose revolution will neither impact upon our security (except if your world is made up of thinking about al-Qaidah and terrorism), or social welfare system (no Yemeni refugees likely to end up in Germany), or our economy. If the Yemeni revolution would be willing and able to produce some pirates endangering the transport of goods necessary for upholding our lifestyle and the economy as such in Bab al-Mandab, I am sure we would be likely to pay more attention. 

Further reasons are listed below by "Woman from Yemen". Read the original blog post here.

Some thoughts on the media blackout

There is an ongoing discussion on why Western mainstream media is not writing or broadcasting enough material about the Yemeni revolution.

I was back in the US this summer, and many people I spoke to there, did not know that the peaceful protesters are still camped at the squares. They thought that the peaceful protests were over because the media had stopped giving them a voice.

In this post I will list some of the theories that people have regarding the media blackout. I don't necessarily agree with all these points, but I would like to list them all here in order to have a discussion about it.

Theories on media blackout:

1) People just don't care about "Yemen", after all they just recently found out this country exists. Same people knew about"crazy" Qadhafi for years, and Syria was also known especially for it's link to "scary" Iran. But,'s still brand new for media. (of course Yemen is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world)

2) Journalists find it hard to understand Yemen due to its complicated history and various players on the ground. To them, the pro-democracy movement seems scattered and it is therefore very difficult to know who to talk to. Who is the spokesperson? Who can speak on behalf of the revolution? Etc

3) More analysis pieces need to be written to help everyone including the journalists with understanding Yemen, and yet editors are not necessarily eager to publish these analysis pieces. They are more interested in how many people died, where, and when. No depth, just fast facts. Why? Because everyone is obsessed about sending the story first, not enough people care about the quality of the story.

4) There are few western journalists in Yemen. However, there are many English speaking journalists in Yemen covering stories in all governorates. In addition, there are a lot more Western journalists in Yemen than there are in Syria, yet information from Syria is covered on a daily basis and not from Yemen. Why is that?

6) Mainstream western media is serving a specific agenda, that does not include promoting real change in Yemen. Without realizing it, western journalists repeat, like parrots, the standard government lines void of any analysis. How many times have you read the same exact information in different articles on the same day?!

7) We often hear about AQAP as the largest threat to the world, without proper investigation or analysis. Have we heard much about former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair's analysis that the drone attacks are “not strategically effective. If the drones stopped flying tomorrow, Blair told the audience at the Aspen Security Forum, “it’s not going to lower the threat to the U.S.” This is not the story the west wants its audience to hear.

Of course each one of these points needs further explanation, and I will try to elaborate on that soon in another post. No matter what the reasons are, the reality is, information on Yemen is scarce. Of course other countries in the region, like Bahrain, are suffering from the same blackout.

More importantly than why, is how can we circumvent this blackout and push Yemen and other countries in the media? We need to really push independent media to disseminate information that's missing from mainstream media.

We can't constantly blame journalists for all of this, they are trying hard to do their job, but it's our job as citizens to push them to always do their best. So with that, my advise to the journalists in Yemen is the following: if editors are refusing to publish deeper stories on Saudi's role in Yemen, the humanitarian situation of the IDPs, or the impact of drones on ordinary citizens for example, journalists should still write the story. Don't wait until you find an editor who agrees, write the story and then find an independent source to publish it if needed.

Finally, if your goal is to serve a community through writing about the truth, it won't matter if your name appears on the best selling newspaper or an independent online one.

Freitag, 26. August 2011

Western media: Cover the Yemeni revolution now!

This is a strong and very timely appeal to the Western media to cover the courageous perserverance of the Yemeni pro-democracy supporters. I don't agree with everything this man says, but certainly with the general tenor of his message:

You can also watch this video on YouTube here.

Donnerstag, 25. August 2011

A revolution in Yemen?

The following blog entry by a Yemeni living abroad is one of the most powerful statements I have read on the Yemeni revolution so far. It is sad and disheartening, but also - unfortunately - very true. We have all let the Yemeni youth and the independent revolutionaries down.

Is it time to call a taxi for the Yemeni revolution?
Click here for source.

Is there ever a time when it becomes not only right, but patriotic, to admit that reforms have failed? That a once in a lifetime oppurtunity has been lost? That we have let down not just people who gave their lives or had it taken from them, but also condemned the lives of the next generation of Yemenis in order to maintain a status quo that can be judged by any amateur by its record of delivery over the last three decades?  Dory Eryani took the brave step of saying what I am sure is in everybody’s mind and I want to add my voice to hers.

Removing all the ‘distractions’ and ‘complexities’, what is happening in the Middle East? We have seen revolutions rising to remove regimes that have mismanaged them.  The template is almost identical: First move against the symbol, then after that the establishment that supported it and that is how it should be. It’s only logical. After all, its perfectly clear that these establishments are incapable or have no intention to self reform and if they are not going to self-reform, then they have lost the mandate to rule. None of the three countries that have toppled their regimes can claim success, but all three are on the right track there. They have toppled the symbol, and now are engaging with the bigger, harder step of dismantling the establishments. Whether they will  succeed or not is anyone’s guess but all three countries revolutionaries have a clear understanding that an establishment that was part of the problem can not be part of the solution.

Watching the people of Libya in their moment of glory makes it even more painful to question what has happened to the Yemeni Revolution. Of all the Arab countries, and I say this not only because I am a Yemeni, it is the one that deserved it the most. If Yemen was a person it would be the most disadvantaged, side-lined, over-looked, marginalised, poverty stricken person ever. You can say what you like about Hosni, or Ben Ali, or even Gaddafi, but the fact of the matter is that all these countries standards surpass Yemen’s astronomically. I hate the family of Al Saoud with a passion for their betrayal of Yemen recently and for decades of foreign policy that have led Yemen to where it is today:The road sweeper of the Gulf, but haven’t they done well for their people? Look at Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Qatar, and yes, even Bahrain.. yes they are dictators but haven’t they done well for their people? You will say they have the money to be able to buy their people’s silence. The equation in the Gulf States is very simple trade-off: you put up with us, and we will give you a standard of living other nations of the earth can only dream of. Free housing, free health care, free education.. a good life. I’m sure the average Gulf Arab, with the exception of certain Bahrainis, understands and approves this.  In their perspective, They have what they need, the house, the food on the table, disposable income, education for their kids etc. Do I blame them? or think they are making a mistake? Of course not, because they are satisfied enough and ultimately that is what it’s about.  What is most important to the voter in the most advanced democracy on Earth? Isn’t it economics? jobs? more disposable income? less tax?

Cynical about democracy? I will be honest. At this point after 8 months of watching, I am almost at the point of just wanting food on the table for Yemen, never mind democracy. Find even a benevolent tinpot dictator for Yemen who will help himself to even a little bit less and put some effing food on the table for Yemen, but even that is not an option. There is nothing benevolent in sight.  The only chance we had was this revolution which started with the Youth.. These youth who took the chance, feeling their way blindly, with no experience, guided by their understanding that this was a golden opportunity that doesn’t come very often. They were not copying the neither the Egyptians, nor the Tunisians, or the Lybians. They saw a chance and took it. 

Speaking for myself, I was entirely swept up with the euphoria that something big was happening in Yemen. I was one of the fools who saw Ali Muhsin’s defection as the sign of someone who is cutting his losses and switching to the winning side. I was also one of the fools who thought the failed assassination attempt ,which has all the marks of an inter-establishment coup, was a further sign that Saleh was on his own. Even when rumours will swirling that Tawakol Karaman is nothing but the public face of Islah I still didn’t click, after all, what does it matter what party she belongs to, in the end she captured the national mood and articulated the case of the Yemeni Revolution very well. The first shadow I glimpsed was when Ali Muhsin made his first move against protestors intent on escalation. He arrested them and beat them. He was sending out a clear message. No escalation will be allowed. Of course the explanation given was that the protest had to stay within the the limits of Change Square in order to be able to protect the protesters from the snipers and regime. In effect, and im sure in intent, he succeeded in containing the Sana’a protest movement. Before Ali Muhsin’s move, It was easy to say who the revolutionaries were, and who the establishment were. After that move it was sensed by many that the lines were all of a sudden blurred. And regardless of what anyone said or tweeted, or wrote, that action went UNCHALLENGED. yes hindsight is a fine thing. I wonder now if  that singular action succeeded in planting seeds of self-doubt..

The establishment that I grew up in the Yemen and left can be summarised in a famous Saleh pearl of wisdom, and it really is a pearl of wisdom: Let them do what they want to do, and we will do what we want to do.. This isn’t arrogance, It is confidence. The confidence that comes not from any super-human abilities, but from the smug knowledge that comes from creating a rigged democracy from scratch and taking 30 years to perfect it. Everything about the first democracy in the Arabian Gulf (as Saleh is fond of reminding you and me) has a mysterious way of working comfortably on his behalf for his interests. Saleh’s democracy works something like this: he was liberal enough within his establishment including the alleged opposition to let them help themselves to the cake. In fact, it was encouraged. It was never a hard life to be an opposition member of parliament, it was harder to be an independent.  Help yourself and allow French TOTAL to grab yemeni gas at stupid prices, help yourself and allow other Arab/Non ARab countries to fish in Yemeni waters with dynamite and ships so huge while the average tihami yemeni takes his life in his hands on a rickety boat for left overs. Help yourself to dig any numbers of well.. Help yourself to other people’s lands and real estate. If you were a potential threat he allowed you to thrive. Wasn’t that the arrangement with certain business and tribal families? In the end everybody becomes so corrupted that no one has the moral high ground to say anything or do anything meaningful because he would have something against you. This culture is now everywhere in Yemen.  You cant do anything without paying someone  for a job they are supposed to do anyway. Bribery and corruption. Even to mention it is a cliche in its own right. 

By the time the opposition took advantage of the power vacuum and Saleh went for his cosmetic procedure in Saudi, it was clear that ppl were starting to worry. What wasn’t clear was everything that came after that, but whatever it is, it ceased to be the Youth’s Revolution after that. Besides Ali Muhsin’s defect, there was the Ahmar’s, the tribes that came to defend him, The ‘surprise’ appearance of AQAP, and the smooth and ease with which the opposition took over as caretakers of the revolution. What people call the opposition, is really the third layer of yemen’s ruling establishment who are not so much moving against Saleh, but seizing the opportunity to move up a notch in the food chain. It is not an opposition it is an extension of the regime itself.  Above the opposition is Saleh, and above Saleh is Saudi Arabia. 

Most Saleh supporters are supporters of the lesser of two evils. Now I don’t know much about Islah or Zindani. In fact, I only know one thing about Zindani and its all I ever need to know: That he has (allegedly) invented the cure to HIV and is keeping it a secret from the world because of patent rights. This is not what I heard, this came from his own mouth. Presumably his Islamic sensibilities prevent him from sharing it with the rest of the world until he gets the patent sorted? Or maybe he is just a liar? It can’t be a publicity stunt surely. In any other country this would have discredited anybody, but not in Yemen. There are no other options out there. No one who isn’t in one way or another tainted by association. 

It is also painfully clear now that there is no national narrative in Yemen. There is no all embracing Yemen like the Egypt the mother, that rallied all Egyptians. Everyone sees Yemen from their own bubble. Yes it maybe true that some would say that Libya is the same but the transitional council in Libya made a point of reaching out to all and including all groups like the Amazigh and uniting them against Gaddafi.. The national council barely made the effort to even look like it was being representative. Why? simple, they know that they will get away with it.. whos they? the careerist politicians, the opportunistic parties, the cultural Islamists the list goes on.. what no one is doing is taking a pause and say: Stop, can we afford this? Can we afford to let Yemen go on the path it is going on for even 10 more years? with all the inflation, the water and food shortages, the sky-rocketing population, the shrinking oil and gas reserves, the rising unemployment, the culture of corruption, the illiteracy, the poverty… It doesn’t matter what people say with their lips, the answer is in their actions. If the action of the National Council is anything to go by, then it is hardly a wonder that our revolution is all but over. we have gone full circle only to end up in the arms of the establishment again.. IF you’re not chewing Qat by now, you certainly will be by the time this revolution is through… We almost got rid of a dictator, only to hand the power back into the hands of his creation… 

Samstag, 13. August 2011

On the complex situation in Zanjubar

This is an interesting article by the Jamestown Foundation on the situation in Zanjubar (or Zinjibar).

The battle for Zinjibar: The tribes of Yemen's Abyan governorate join the fight against Islamist militancy
by Andrew McGregor

As if Yemen did not already face enough political, social and economic challenges in the midst of a multi-sided civil war, there are significant and not unreasonable fears in the Yemeni opposition that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has manufactured a new conflict between the state and al-Qaeda in Abyan governorate designed to ensure Western support for his continued rule. Many Yemeni political and military leaders insist the bitter and ongoing battle for the coastal city of Zinjibar (capital of Abyan governorate) is merely the culmination of a decade long policy of manipulating the al-Qaeda threat. 

Yemen’s military is badly divided at the moment; some units and commanders have crossed over to the opposition, some units are engaged with Huthist rebels in northern Yemen, some (such as the Republican Guard) are devoted to crushing protestors, and still others, such as the leadership of the embattled 25th Brigade in Zinjibar, say they are neither pro- nor anti-regime, but will fight to the death to prevent an al-Qaeda takeover.  

Saleh’s regime has attempted to capitalize on the seizure of Zinjibar as a warning of what can result from the instability sweeping Yemen as a result of anti-regime protests, describing the militants as “members of al-Qaeda [who] benefit from any instability to establish their Islamic state (Yemen Times, June 2).

The Islamist Takeover of Zinjibar: Betrayal at the Top? 

According to official reports, Zinjibar was taken by about 300 Islamist militants (which the government identified as al-Qaeda) in late May after two days of fighting with government forces (AFP, May 29). Residents of Zinjibar reached by Western media provided a different version of events, describing a city abandoned to militants who went on a looting spree (BBC, May 29). Only the 25th Brigade refused to evacuate the city and was soon surrounded by militant forces. It seems that the original 300 militants received substantial reinforcements before tribal forces recently began cutting the roads into Zinjibar. 

Not long after the occupation, reports began to appear in the jihadist forums of the proclamation of an “Islamic Emirate of Abyan,” as declared by AQAP (, March 28; al-Bawaba, March 31). The forces in Zinjibar, however, are gathered under the banner of the newly formed Ansar al-Shari’a (al-Watan [Sana’a], August 4). The exact identity of the Islamist forces in Zinjibar remains uncertain. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has not issued any statements regarding the fighting there, though government statements routinely refer to the forces occupying the city as “al-Qaeda.”

Yemen’s foreign minister, Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi, strongly denied suggestions that the government was using al-Qaeda in Zinjibar to further its own interests and collect Western funding intended for anti-terrorism activities: “It cannot be said that the state that spares no effort in fighting [al-Qaeda], is the one that planted it there” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 29). 

Read the rest of the article here.

Freitag, 12. August 2011

Walter Dostal passes away

This weekend, the social anthropology of Yemen has lost one of its greatest scholars: Prof. em. Walter Dostal has passed away at the age of 83. The Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna, where Walter Dostal worked until his retirement, published the following obituary. A list of his publications as well as a full CV can be accessed through here.

WALTER DOSTAL (1928-2011)

With Walter Dostal's passing away in Vienna on August 6th/7th 2011, the anthropological communities in Austria, Central Europe and the German-speaking countries lose one of their best-known representatives shaping the field throughout the latter quarter of the 20th century. Dostal was best known for his ethnographic studies of Arabian and Middle Eastern societies, but he also contributed substantially to anthropological theory - with particular emphasis on the interplay between environment, society, and history. As a leading expert for the Arab peninsula at this Academy, Dostal continued a remarkable research record into the early 21st century which at the Academy of Sciences goes back to the late 19th century.

Dostal had belonged to the first generation of anthropology students trained after the second world war, and his scholarly work was committed to build a new and internationally oriented foundation for the discipline once called "Voelkerkunde" in the German-speaking countries after 1945. Born on May 15th 1928 in Grulich near Brno (today:Czech Republic), Dostal and his family moved at the end of the war to Vienna where he began his studies in anthropology. His critical engagement with the so-called "Culture Circles" theory led him to reject any speculative historical models, and to appreciate the empirical archaeological and textual evidence. Formative influences during those early years of his career were Robert Heine-Geldern (a corresponding member of the AAS)and Joseph Henninger. After his dissertation on Semitic-speaking peoples he began a first sequence of ethnographic fieldwork in the Arab peninsula,which he combined with international research sojourns in Frankfurt and Rome, and his first position as Curator for the Middle Eastern section at Vienna's Ethnology Museum.

With his early field work in Kuwait (in the late 1950's) and in southern Yemen (during the early 1960's) Dostal in fact became the world's first trained socio-cultural anthropologist who carried out ethnographic fieldwork in the Arab peninsula. His book-volume habilitation on the Bedouins in Southern Arabia established his international reputation and included a theory on camel riding techniques, and their significance for the evolution of camel raising in Arabia. In the very last academic lecture Dostal gave in October 2010 at the ISA-hosted international workshop "Camels in Asia and North Africa: Their significance in past and present", Dostal returned again to this topic and to a critical re-assessment.

In the mid-1960's, Dostal was invited to become the first chair at the newly-founded seminar for ethnology in Switzerland's capital Berne, which he helped to build up, and that he led for a decade. During those years, he continued his ethnographic field work with several intense campaigns in northern Yemen, which resulted in his book on the market of San'a and in several articles on tribal organization. Simultaneoulsy, Dostal also produced a dense ouevre of ethnographic documentary films on Southern Arabia. At the same time, Dostal began to elaborate his theoretical insights on the impact of ecological factors upon the socio-cultural organization of humans. As Dean at Berne University, Dostal also engaged anthropology with new issues such as indigenous rights among native ethnic groups in the Americas, and he was among the first male scholars in German-speaking anthropology to publish on gender topics. The late 1960's thus brought Dostal into even closer contact with new international developments in this field and beyond.

In 1975, Dostal returned to Vienna to take over the Chair at the University of Vienna's Department for Social and Cultural Anthropology. On May 25th 1977, he was elected a corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (AAS). At the University Department, several among those who today belong to ISA's senior and mid-career core staff were his doctoral and magisterial students and benefitted from his wide academic repertoire and counseling - among them Andre Gingrich, Guntram Hazod, Johann Heiss, Christian Jahoda, Maria-Katharina Lang, and Helmut Lukas. That list also includes those who continued to cooperate with ISA while pursuing their careers elsewhere, such as in the US (Peter Schweitzer, Alaska Fairbanks), the UK (Hildegard Diemberger, Cambridge) or Germany (Ernst Halbmeier, Marburg).

At the AAS, Walter Dostal merged the Ethnological and Arabian Studies Commissions into the Commission for Social Anthropology, and instilled this unit with new life. By promoting major research projects through the Commission for Social Anthropology, Dostal decisively contributed to the basis on which ISA today is built. Not only did he promote a new generation of field work being carried out in the Himalayan countries and in Tibet, as well as in southeastern Asia, he also personally launched the major Austrian Science Fund project in Asir (Saudi-Arabia) which led to his edited publications of 1983 and 2007. In addition, Dostal published his monographs on the Austrain Yemen scholar Eduard Glaser, and on socio-cultural evolution in Arabia. In view of these prolific scholarly activities, Walter Dostal was elected a Full Member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences on May 11th 1993. He served as the Commission for Social Anthropology's Chair until 2003, and he continued to provide his advice and expertise as the Consultative Board's chair when that Commission was upgraded to a Research Unit in 2007 and subsequently into today's ISA in 2009. ISA as well as Central Europe's anthropological communities at large will always remember the person and the scholar with respect, gratitude, and affection.

Mittwoch, 10. August 2011

Democratic transition in Yemen will need outside support

Taking a chance on a democratic Yemen

August 8, 2011, al-Jazeera
by Abubakr al-Shamahi

The Yemeni youth movement represents the country's best chance for democracy - but it needs outside support to succeed.

Yemen finds itself in the fifth month of mass anti-government protests that have left the country with a severely injured President seeking treatment abroad, an economic and humanitarian disaster, and a seemingly intractable stalemate. The youth, who comprise the vast majority of a population whose average age is 18, are increasingly divided, yet increasingly adamant that all the corrupt remnants of the old regime should be replaced by a fully-functioning democratic system.

This wish, in line with the aspirations of millions of Arabs inspired by the events of the "Arab Spring", may appear to be idealistic and even naïve in a country like Yemen. Poor education levels, the lack of an established middle class, the prevalence of qat, and, perhaps most importantly, various armed uprisings, secessionists, and militant activity, are seen as roadblocks preventing any realistic democratic enterprise. However, the events of the past few months have given hope that a new, more democratic, Yemen might emerge out of the ashes of the current crisis.

There is no denying that the current anti-government movement is supported by the majority of the Yemeni people, especially in the restive areas of Taiz, Aden, Saada, Ibb, and Hodeida. Even in the capital Sanaa, where pro-Saleh sentiment is seen as strongest, the biggest and most regular rallies have been those calling for his removal from power.

The anti-government protest movement encompasses a wide cross-section of Yemeni society, centred around a student-based youth movement, and growing to encompass various civil society groups, the traditional opposition parties, women's groups, and a significant tribal element. The cultural change that may bring hope for the future of the country can be seen in the seemingly uniform calls for a pluralist state by the protesters, and the conferences, town hall style meetings, and even poetry nights that are held at the protest squares around the country.

Nonetheless Yemen, in keeping with its history, is different. Yemenis have not had their "resignation moment", as Egyptians and Tunisians did, and yet they have a President who has left the country, unlikely to return. Ali Abdullah Saleh's son, Ahmed, has taken his father's role in the palace, without officially taking over, nor having the power to. Vice-President Abdu Rabbo Mansur Hadi, whom the constitution designates as acting President in light of Saleh's absence, is seemingly powerless, and torn between the various sides who all want to influence him. Some revolutionary groups have set up transitional councils, yet the details are shady. State media, usually a good indicator of the control of an authoritarian government, remains the official mouthpiece of the Saleh regime, and still labelling protesters as criminals and mobs.

One of the main reasons that the regime has carried on without Ali Abdullah Saleh is that his sons and nephews, especially his son Ahmed and his nephew Yahya, have effectively been running the show for the past few years. This period has seen the President replace his old advisors with these family members, and the accompanying period of instability in the country can be seen as evidence of this transfer of power. Although the figurehead is no longer in the country, the Salehs have been busy building on their established military and security power bases to consolidate power for themselves.

Read the rest of this article here.

Dienstag, 9. August 2011

Day and night in Yemeni politics

When will Yemen's night really end?

July 28, 2011, Le monde diplomatique
by Gabriele vom Bruck

Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh might be forgiven for refusing, on 22 May, to sign a Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered agreement obliging him to rescind power within a month. The date marked the twenty-first anniversary of the unification of his Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) in the south — the highlight of his political career. However, this was the third time he failed to confront the inevitable, so failing to ease the dangerous impasse in the country he has ruled for over three decades. Yemen, as Amnesty International warns, is “on a knife-edge”.

Thus far, the country has been spared another devastating war, one potentially bloodier than those fought since unification in 1990. In the capital Sana, in spite of daily harassment, tear gas, beatings and killings by security forces, the protests have for the main part remained peaceful, even after the killing of over fifty protesters on 18 March. In the southern city of Taiz, where security forces destroyed protesters’ tents, killing dozens of them on 30 May, “Martyrs’ Square” — recently renamed “Freedom Square” — has again become testimony to the city’s martyrs. There are daily clashes in the southern provinces (in the former PDRY); five provinces in various parts of the country are no longer under government control. Since the attack on Saleh’s palace mosque on 3 June which compelled him to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, there has been a power sharing of sorts. Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi has become acting head of state, but Saleh’s eldest son Ahmad has moved into the palace and the government insists that Saleh will return and rule until the end of his term in office in 2013. Amid continuing deadly clashes in several areas and a looming humanitarian crisis, a political transition process is urgently needed.

The current crisis follows the trajectory of Saleh’s rule: the president is not known for seeking peaceful solutions to political crises. He has relied on “divide and rule” tactics to neutralise threats to his authority, and on a patronage system that permeates all sectors of government and society. The political elite exercises authority through extra-constitutional means and controls a substantial part of the business sector. The provision of public services to provinces has often been made dependent on political loyalty — a policy which has served to perpetuate historical grievances and antagonism. Even where obvious solutions were available to some of the country’s more entrenched problems, the political will was lacking. Yet western nations offered support to Saleh’s regime even as he lost legitimacy among his people. In the past months the regime, as well as western diplomacy, has been challenged in the streets of Yemen’s towns and cities. US foreign secretary Hillary Clinton’s statement on 2 June 2011 that “if it wasn’t obvious before it certainly should be now that [Saleh’s] presence remains a source of great conflict” reads like an embarrassing admission of past misjudgement. In 2010, the so-called “Friends of Yemen” was established, a group made up of 20 countries determined to improve Yemen’s capacity to maintain security and increase and coordinate foreign assistance. The tragic irony of the project was that it sought to stabilise a country that had been systematically destabilised by its leader.

Square of dignity

Nowadays, Yemen’s capital is divided by checkpoints manned by rival factions of the army, some of them allied with militias loyal to tribal leaders. Fearful residents argue that this stand-off is reminiscent of events in 1994 which marked the end of a promising period of liberalisation which had begun in 1990. The armies of the former YAR and the PDRY confronted and eventually fought each other, leaving thousands dead. Yemen’s democratic experiment, strained by economic downturn and the two former leaders’ ambition to outsmart each other, was doomed to failure.

Read the rest of the article here.

Freitag, 5. August 2011

Yemeni tribes and the revolution

This is a fascinating article about recent developments in the involvement of Yemeni tribes in the ongoing upheavals in Yemen:

Yemeni Tribes Unify under Western Darkness, August 4, 2011, The Palestinian Chronicle
by James Gundun

As information flows from Yemen's revolution, it quickly deposits into the black-hole of U.S. and European media. Sometimes this information completes the transit intact, but reports are more often jumbled and spliced before reaching the Western public. Even then, an estimated 3-9% of Americans are paying "serious" attention to the incomplete picture of Yemen’s revolution.

Last weekend naturally elapsed through this machine when many news sources, Western and non-Western, picked up the brutal clashes between Yemeni security forces and anti-government tribesmen. Most bandwidth has been diverted south to the ongoing battle in Zinjibar and Aden, where government forces and anti-government tribes are caught in a proxy battle against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and government-funded "jihadists." While international media generally positions Yemen’s tribes on the government’s side, they are largely fighting both Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime and AQAP after the government manufactured a takeover of Zinjibar in May.

As the U.S.-trained Republican Guard and Central Security Organization concentrate their remaining forces in Sana'a and Taiz, local units were ordered to retreat and reinforcements were withheld until mid-July.

The commander of Yemen’s 25th Mechanized Brigade tried to explained his situation in a recent interview with the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat. For reasons still unclear to him, Brigadier General Mohammed al-Sawmali found himself outgunned and "besieged" by AQAP militants at a local stadium. al-Sawmali admitted upfront, "The security services pulled out of Abyan leaving their weapons behind, and Al Qaeda seized these weapons, and is now using them against us. This is something that no one can deny."

"However, if you ask me about the motives behind this, I can only say to you 'God knows.'"

Read more about this and the recently established Yemen Tribal Coalition in the full article.

Mittwoch, 3. August 2011

Parliamentary performance in Yemen before and during the revolution

I would like to use this opportunity to draw attention to a project implemented by the Yemen Polling Center, the foremost independent research institute in Yemen: Yemen Parliament Watch (YPW). Since November 2009, the Yemen Polling Center (YPC) has been observing parliamentary performance on a daily basis. It has also trained Members of Parliament about the responsibilities and opportunities of their job as well as journalists on how to monitor the performance of MPs. The English version of the website can be accessed here, it is, however, not as detailed as the Arabic one. One of the features I as a researcher like most about this project is the ability to access information about all MPs, i.e. their affilition, constituency, background as well as the correct spelling of their names in Arabic (very important!). YPW has also documented the performance of Parliament throughout the revolution. Moreover, it has published two detailed reports analyzing the the performance of parliament last year, which are available in English and Arabic.

Montag, 1. August 2011

A Friday on Change Square in Sanaa

If you want to get a feeling for what it is like to be on Change Square in Sanaa, watch these beautiful video documentaries by a young Yemeni lady: