Freitag, 23. Dezember 2011

The March of Life


 
"Thousands of Yemenis have joined the “Life March” that began its 250 kilometer journey from Taiz to Sana’a on Tuesday, December 20, due to arrive in the capital Sana’a to stage a demonstration in front of Parliament on Saturday, December 24.

The “Life March” could be one of the longest marches recorded in history, but just as remarkable as the march, has been the complete silence of international media about this unprecedented event, including TV networks and newspapers in the Middle East, all of which have circumvented the importance of the event by simply calling it a “peaceful rally.”

To Yemenis and readers in the Middle East this is hardly a surprise: The revolution in Yemen has received limited coverage, even though hundreds of people have been massacred, cities stormed and peaceful demonstrators attacked.

For a country at the edge of breaking, being one of the world’s poorest, with a long history of unrest and secession, continued strife in the north, and with millions and millions of firearms on the streets, the fact that the Yemeni revolution did not escalate into a civil war is one of the most remarkable and yet unheard of, successes of Arab Spring.

On Saturday, the Parliament is scheduled to vote a law that would grant full immunity from prosecution to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and many senior officials, in compliance with the terms of the deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and signed by Saleh in November in Saudi Arabia.

The Yemeni revolutionaries have made clear the aims of this peaceful march: Rejection of the deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and political compromises with Saleh, their adamant refusal to circumvent the goals of the revolution and to accept guarantees or amnesty granted to those who have looted and savaged Yemen for decades.

Lastly, they emphasized that the world should know that what is happening in Yemen is a revolution and not just a political crisis. In this spirit, they call for peaceful coexistence between all political and religious groups, to ensure true freedom for all Yemeni people." 

(Arie Amaya-Akkermans: Yemen's 'Live March' monumental, but media remains silent, in: bikyamasr 23.12.2011; read the rest of the article here)

There is also a great and very moving blog entry on this topic, which you should read here

And below is some video footage on the March from AJE:

Donnerstag, 3. November 2011

Ta`iz, yesterday

The city of Taʿiz in the lower highlands of Yemen was heavily shelled by security forces yesterday. Laura B. Kasinof has written an excellent article on this, which you can read here. Below is a video from youtube documenting the bombardment.

Mittwoch, 2. November 2011

Appeal by Tawakkul Karman

The world must not forsake Yemen's struggle for freedom
The Guardian, November 1, 2011
by Tawakkol Karman 

Yemenis are ready to pay the ultimate price to take on a brutal dictator. Yet the UN can't even bring itself to condemn him.

    Yemen
    Yemeni women in the capital, Sana'a, burn veils in protest at a government crackdown on peaceful protests. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

We in Yemen are no less thirsty for freedom and dignity than our brothers and sisters in Tunis. After the fall of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, our own vigils took a new direction when thousands of young people went on to the streets. They reached their climax with the fall of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, when millions of Yemenis called for the departure of the dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Many in the Arab world were worried about our uprising. Everyone knew that the country is awash with weapons. It was feared that the revolution would descend into violence and distort the image of the other Arab uprisings.

But the Yemeni revolution surprised everyone with its astonishingly peaceful nature. This peacefulness exposed the unrestrained brutality of the regime toward the revolutionaries. They met the bullets of the regime with bare chests, preferring to guard their revolution rather than be lured into the quagmire of violence. A thousand martyrs fell and thousands more were injured, yet not one revolutionary raised a weapon in the face of the butchers.

What is truly regrettable, though, is...

Read the rest of the article here.

Montag, 31. Oktober 2011

Occupy Sanaa

The Time Magazine has a great new photo story out on Change Square in Sanaa:

Yemen's Change Square: Occupy Sana'a
Time LightBox, October 31, 2011
by Aryn Baker

Change Square, the locus of anti-government protests in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, has become a veritable tent city, home, for more than eight months, to several thousand protestors. And like any city, it caters to the needs of its citizen population: Doctors tend to the wounded at a makeshift hospital, volunteers prepare food, imams call the faithful to prayer, and a few entrepreneurs provide entertainment in the form of pellet-gun rifle ranges for revolutionaries frustrated with the peaceful part of their protest.

But unlike other cities, where the dead are forgotten in far away cemeteries, the martyrs of Change Square are at the center of attention. Photographs of those killed in the clashes flutter from the tent ropes that crisscross the city’s walkways. Portraits are plastered on the walls of the mosque.  Some protesters even wear bandanas printed with pictures of the dead wrapped around their forehead. And in the center of the square is a vast billboard where the protest’s grim toll is laid out in a mosaic of death intermingled with pride.  “We all want to be martyrs,” one young protestor told me. “To have change, we need to sacrifice, and sometimes that means our lives.” His friend agreed. “The only way we will get international attention for our cause is if there is blood on the streets.”

It’s a subtle condemnation of waning interest from the West as the Arab Spring moves into its ninth month. Thousands waving placards demanding the fall of the regime no longer garner the fevered media attention of Tunisia and Egypt. But death does. So in service to their dreams of liberation, some Yemeni revolutionaries aspire to the snipers bullet, or the machine gun spray. Not all of course. “I don’t want to be a martyr,” another protestor told me. “I want to see our dreams of a new Yemen come true.”

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME who has covered the Arab Spring since January. To see his previous work from Libya, click here.

Aryn Baker,
TIME‘s Middle East Bureau Chief, is based in Beirut. Find her on Twitter at @arynebaker. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

See the photo story here.

Freitag, 28. Oktober 2011

Yemen prepares for civil war

Intensive army recruitment feeds ongoing conflict
Yemen Times, October 27, 2011
by Nadia Al-Sakkaf & Mohammed bin Sallam


Estimates predict that between 15 and 20 percent of the men involved in Yemen’s armed combat are under 18. YT Archive photo

Despite recent news of a truce between the state security and splinter army, recruitment of new soldiers from both sides has not stopped. Thousands of new recruits, mostly driven by poverty and many of whom are children, are being prepared for a feared civil war.

Armed recruitment on both sides of the conflict has reached an unprecedented level this month with thousands of young men, many under 18, have been joining the ranks of both the official and the splinter army since April.

A source from within the defected First Armored Division said, on condition of anonymity, that at least five thousand young men had signed up during October alone.

Similarly, a source in the state’s Central Security said that in anticipation of a heavy armed conflict, President Saleh had issued orders on October 18 to initiate the recruitment of thousands of Yemenis. The source said that at least 12,000 new soldiers needed to be recruited before the end of the month. The new soldiers will be recruited mostly from the governorates and deployed both in Sana’a and conflict areas elsewhere.

On Tuesday young unemployed men lined up outside the Central Security offices in Ibb city hoping to be enlisted as part of the 2,000 sliders needed to be recruited from that area. A local from Ibb said that Brigade Rashad Mutahar Al-Masri, Central Security Commander and son of Interior Minister Mutahar Al-Masri had ignored a number of recruitment requirements so as to reach his target as soon as possible.

Currently, most state army units are in Sana’a governorate, with strong focus on the three Republican Guard camps in the Arahab district on the outskirts of the city where regular battles are fought with the Salafi tribes.

The second concentrated presence is in Taiz, where the armed opposition is most active. Sources from the city’s armed opposition said that the five thousand new recruits of Al-Ahmar’s division are set to back up the armed conflict in Taiz. “It is supposed to be the Benghazi of Yemen. From there we will take over Sana’a,” said the source.

Recruits on both sides receive minimal training before they are sent off to the battle grounds. Bakeel Mohammed, a fresh graduate from university and one of the new recruits in the splinter army, said they had a six-day-in-camp training before given a rifle and asked to join the fight. “But I am not doing this for the money but because I am tired of this regime and believe that a peaceful way for ending it is no longer possible,” he said.

“He suddenly disappeared from home after telling his sisters that he is joining the defected army,” said his panicked mother. “This is my son whom I raised and nurtured, how can he throw himself into the danger just like that?”

Many of the new recruits in the splinter army have had close association with either the Eman University headed by Abdulmajid Al-Zindani, an alleged AQAP member.

“My son was doing his masters degree at the Eman University in Sana’a when I heard the news that he was killed by the state army,” said the father of Mahdi Abdulghani, who joined the ranks of the splinter army this month and died in armed conflict on October 8. “He was supposed to graduate and have a life, not die for an unclear battle. Even then, the army that recruited him did not take the effort to provide for his burial and funeral service. Is that how they reward their men?” questioned Abdulghani’s father.

Commenting on the increased recruitment by the opposition forces, the army’s official media as well as the website of the Ministry of Defense warned that it was illegal and that any men recruited by anti-government forces would not be acknowledged by the state and should not consider themselves officially enrolled.

Child soldiers

Several international organizations highlighted their concern that many of new recruits are children. In an April report this year, Human Rights Watch stated that it had encountered dozens of armed soldiers who appeared to be younger than 18 in Sana’a since unrest began in February.

“On April 12, Human Rights Watch interviewed 20 soldiers in Sana’a who gave their ages as 14, 15, and 16, and said they had been serving in the army for one to two years,” said the report.

The same report stated that six officers from the First Armored Division told Human Rights Watch that the unit allowed the recruitment of 15-year-olds and occasionally makes "exceptions" by recruiting younger children.

Most of the state’s newly recruited youth within Sana’a were allocated to the various checkpoints within the city and at its entrance points.

“At the check point a very young man – I would not give him more than 16 years – stopped me very arrogantly and checked my car in an unprofessional manner,” said Fathi Abdu, a resident in Sana’a. “He didn’t seem to know what he was doing, but was enjoying the power he had to stop people and make them wait.”

Ali al-Sayyaghi, a recruitment officer at the Ministry of Defense, told IRIN, the UN’s news agency, that some new recruits looked younger than the date of birth on their ID cards, but said the ID card was “the only reliable document for determining the age of an applicant".

Moreover, the pro-government tribal militia and the Houthi rebellion in the north were included in the UN’s 2011 list of shame report. Each year the Secretary-General lists those parties to conflict who recruit and use, kill and maim or commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children in conflict.

The UN listing stated that 15 percent of the pro-government militia were children compared to 20 percent of the Houthi rebels. While the conflict in Sa’ada, north of Yemen, between the Houthis and the state ended in 2009, the composition of both armies remains the same.

Despite the UN highlighting the risk of child soldiers being used in Yemen, the White House issued a memorandum allowing military funding to Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Chad last month – all of which are on the UN’s list of shame for recruiting child-soldiers.
 
This article was originally published here.

Donnerstag, 27. Oktober 2011

On the complex role of women in the Yemeni "revolution"


Women cry for tribal protection   


Yemen Times, October 27, 2011
by Amira al-Arasi

Some 800 women burned their veils as they called on tribal leaders to protect them from armed attack. Photos by Adnan Al-Rajihi
 
SANA’A, Oct. 26 — Women burned their veils as they called on Yemeni tribes to protect them from attacks by the regime yesterday.

Around 800 women, some travelling from as far as Taiz 200 kilometers south west of Sana’a, burned veils and headscarves at 60 Meter Street on Wednesday.

They read a statement signed by women’s alliances in Change Square before starting the fire and calling on the “honorable proud men of all Yemeni tribes” to come to their aid and end the killing of women by the regime.

Yesterday’s protest came 10 days after a woman from Taiz was killed when the Republican Guards attacked an opposition protest on October 16. She is said to be the first female protestor killed since the uprising began and was shot in the head by snipers because of her political activities. Two weeks ago in Sana’a two women who were thought to be part of a mixed protest were shot in the legs by pro-regime snipers.

Asma’a Al-Uthari, a campaigner in Change Square, said that they began organizing this event after Aziza Al-Mahajri was killed in Taiz. The women collected nearly 400,000 veils in Taiz, which they brought to Sana’a. They wanted to call on the tribal sheikhs to help them against the regime that has killed and suppressed women and children. The protest started at 11am on Wednesday and the burning began at noon.

“This is not a message to only the tribal sheikhs but to also all the free people in the world. We want to tell them that Yemeni women have been attacked and killed,” she said. Al-Uthari added that the cover the regime has used to hide itself should be revealed.

The burning of the veil in Yemeni tradition is a cry for help used by women in tribal culture to complain of injustice. It is supposed to move men to action when they see that the women have been violated, with the veil or headscarf symbolizing women’s honor.

This custom obliges the women to actually remove their veil or headscarf because she then exposes her symbolic hidden shame. However, the women in yesterday’s protest did not remove their veils but instead brought additional veils to be burnt.

“What happened today is a ridiculous mockery that depicted women as helpless and weak while we are strong and revolutionary,” said Wameed Shaker, a member of the Tahaluf Watan Women’s Collation for Peace. She said that by doing this, the women had sidelined their role, which should have been in the forefront of action rather than crying for help.

“This is also a call for violence and war, because it is a call to the tribes as if saying ‘come and protect me no matter what you do’,” she said, adding that the protest should have been more modern and civilized. While she watched protest and tried to convince the women not to go ahead with it, she heard the surrounding men mocking it and making fun of Yemen’s women, added Shaker.
 
The article has originally been published here.

Samstag, 22. Oktober 2011

UN Security Council Resolution on Yemen

Yesterday, on October 21, 2011, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2014 (2011) with the following text:


The Security Council,

Recalling its Press Statements of 24 September 2011, 9 August 2011, and 24 June 2011,

Expressing grave concern at the situation in Yemen,

Reaffirming its strong commitment to the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen,

Welcoming the Secretary-General’s statement of 23 September 2011 urging all sides to engage in a constructive manner to achieve a peaceful resolution to the current crisis,

Welcoming the engagement of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and reaffirming the support of the Security Council for the GCC’s efforts to resolve the political crisis in Yemen,

Welcoming the continuing efforts of the Good Offices of the Secretary-General, including the visits to Yemen by the Special Adviser,

Taking note of the Human Rights Council resolution on Yemen (A/HRC/RES/18/19), and underlining the need for a comprehensive, independent and impartial investigation consistent with international standards into alleged human rights abuses and violations, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring full accountability, and noting in this regard the concerns expressed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,

Welcoming the statement by the Ministerial Council of the Gulf Cooperation Council on 23 September 2011 which called for the immediate signing by President Saleh and implementation of the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, condemned the use of force against unarmed demonstrators, and called for restraint, a commitment to a full and immediate ceasefire and the formation of a commission to investigate the events that led to the killing of innocent Yemeni people,

Expressing serious concern at the worsening security situation, including armed conflict, and the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation due to the lack of progress on a political settlement, and the potential for the further escalation of violence,

Reaffirming its resolutions 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009) and 1960 (2010) on women, peace, and security, and reiterating the need for the full, equal and effective participation of women at all stages of peace-processes given their vital role in the prevention and resolution of conflict and peacebuilding, reaffirming the key role women play in re-establishing the fabric of society and stressing the need for their involvement in conflict resolution in order to take into account their perspective and needs,

Expressing serious concerns about the increasing number of internally displaced persons and refugees in Yemen, the alarming levels of malnutrition caused by drought and soaring fuel and food prices, the increasing interruption of basic supplies and social services, and increasingly difficult access to safe water and health care,

Expressing further serious concern at the increased threat from Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the risk of new terror attacks in parts of Yemen, and reaffirming that terrorism in all forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable regardless of their motivations,

Condemning all terrorist and other attacks against civilians and against the authorities, including those aimed at jeopardizing the political process in Yemen, such as the attack on the Presidential compound in Sana’a on 3 June 2011,

“Recalling the Yemeni Government’s primary responsibility to protect its population,

Stressing that the best solution to the current crisis in Yemen is through an inclusive and Yemeni-led political process of transition that meets the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Yemeni people for change,

Reaffirming its support for the Presidential decree of 12 September which is designed to find a political agreement acceptable to all parties, and to ensure a peaceful and democratic transition of power, including the holding of early Presidential elections,

Stressing the importance of the stability and security of Yemen, particularly regarding overall international counter-terrorism efforts,

Mindful of its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security under the Charter of the United Nations, and emphasizing the threats to regional security and stability posed by the deterioration of the situation in Yemen in the absence of a lasting political settlement,

“1.   Expresses profound regret at the hundreds of deaths, mainly of civilians, including women and children;

“2.   Strongly condemns the continued human rights violations by the Yemeni authorities, such as the excessive use of force against peaceful protestors as well as the acts of violence, use of force, and human rights abuses perpetrated by other actors, and stresses that all those responsible for violence, human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable;

“3.   Demands that all sides immediately reject the use of violence to achieve political goals;

“4.   Reaffirms its view that the signature and implementation as soon as possible of a settlement agreement on the basis of the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative is essential for an inclusive, orderly, and Yemeni-led process of political transition, notes the signing of the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative by some opposition parties and the General People’s Congress, calls on all parties in Yemen to commit themselves to implementation of a political settlement based upon this initiative, notes the commitment by the President of Yemen to immediately sign the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative and encourages him, or those authorized to act on his behalf, to do so, and to implement a political settlement based upon it, and calls for this commitment to be translated into action, in order to achieve a peaceful political transition of power, as stated in the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative and the Presidential decree of 12 September, without further delay;

“5.   Demands that the Yemeni authorities immediately ensure their actions comply with obligations under applicable international humanitarian and human rights law, allow the people of Yemen to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including their rights of peaceful assembly to demand redress of their grievances and freedom of expression, including for members of the media, and take action to end attacks against civilians and civilian targets by security forces;

“6.   Calls upon all concerned parties to ensure the protection of women and children, to improve women’s participation in conflict resolution and encourages all parties to facilitate the equal and full participation of women at decision-making levels;

“7.   Urges all opposition groups to commit to playing a full and constructive part in the agreement and implementation of a political settlement on the basis of the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, and demands that all opposition groups refrain from violence, and cease the use of force to achieve political aims;

“8.   Further demands that all armed groups remove all weapons from areas of peaceful demonstration, refrain from violence and provocation, refrain from the recruitment of children, and urges all parties not to target vital infrastructure;

“9.   Expresses its concern over the presence of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and its determination to address this threat in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and international law including applicable human rights, refugee and humanitarian law;

“10.  Encourages the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to Yemen, and in this regard requests all parties in Yemen to facilitate the work of the United Nations agencies and other relevant organizations, and ensure full, safe and unhindered access for the timely delivery of the humanitarian aid to persons in need across Yemen;

“11.  Requests the Secretary-General to continue his Good Offices, including through visits by the Special Adviser, and to continue to urge all Yemeni stakeholders to implement the provisions of this resolution, and encourage all States and regional organizations to contribute to this objective;

“12.  Requests the Secretary-General to report on implementation of this resolution within 30 days of its adoption and every 60 days thereafter;

“13.  Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.”

Donnerstag, 20. Oktober 2011

New Crisis Group Report on Yemen

A new International Crisis Group Report was issued today on "Yemen's Southern Question" (Middle East Report No. 114):

Executive Summary:
Ten months of popular protest spiked by periodic outbursts of violence have done little to clarify Yemen’s political future. Persistent street protests so far have failed to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh or bring about genuine institutional reform. The country is more deeply divided between pro- and anti-Saleh forces than ever, its economy is in tatters and both security and humanitarian conditions are deteriorating. Amid the uncertainty fuelled by this lingering crisis, the country’s unity – and notably the status of the South – hangs in the balance. Old grievances are coming into sharper relief and, among some, secessionist aspirations gaining steam. There remains an opportunity for Yemen’s rulers, opposition groups and protesters to reach agreement on a political transition that would give priority to the Southern question and redefine relations between centre and periphery, for example by moving toward a federal model. Should this chance be missed, the conflict risks getting bloodier. And Yemen’s unity could be a thing of the past.

The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) merged with its northern neighbour, the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), on 22 May 1990 to form the Republic of Yemen. From the start, this was a troubled unification that resulted in a short, bloody civil war in 1994. The North emerged victorious, but this hardly closed the chapter. In the wake of the conflict, two profoundly different narratives took shape. Under one version, the war laid to rest the notion of separation and solidified national unity. According to the other, the war laid to rest the notion of unity and ushered in a period of Northern occupation of the South. 

The most recent tensions did not suddenly erupt in the context of the January 2011 Yemeni uprising. In 2007, a broad-based popular protest movement known as the Southern Movement (Al-Hiraak al-Janoubi) had come to the fore. The Hiraak originated as a rights-based movement requesting equality under the law and a change in relations between North and South – all within a united country. The government responded to the demands with repression; it also largely ignored its own promises of reforms. By 2009, the Hiraak had begun to champion Southern independence. In the months leading up to the uprising that became the Yemeni Spring, its influence and popularity in the South clearly were on the ascent.

Could the popular uprising open up fresh opportunities to peacefully resolve the Southern issue? If the various sides act reasonably, it should. From the start, it facilitated cooperation between Northern and Southern protesters and broke through barriers of fear, allowing a larger spectrum of Southerners to join the national public debate on the status of the South. Most importantly, it has facilitated debate and growing consensus around federal options. If political foes can reach agreement on a transition of power in Sanaa and launch an inclusive national dialogue, they could seize the moment to negotiate a peaceful compromise on the Southern issue as well.

The problem is that there is no indication Yemen is heading there. Instead, as mass protests have continued without result, frustration has grown and so too has Southern distrust that anything that happens in the North will improve their lot. The risks are many. An enduring political impasse could prompt further collapse of security and economic conditions throughout the country, producing greater unrest and instability in the South. Alternatively, a full-fledged civil war could break out between Northern rival elites, a scenario that could prompt Southern stakeholders to pursue a serious bid for separation. Already, the early euphoria generated by coordination between protesters in the North and South is giving way to resurgent calls by some for Southern independence. 

This is a dangerous brew. The South’s secession almost certainly would be resisted by the North and could spark a violent conflict. Any effort toward independence also could trigger in-fighting and additional fragmentation within the South itself. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other violent groups already are prospering amid growing instability and chaos; further deterioration would only expand their reach. 

A clear path toward a redefinition of relations between centre and periphery is badly needed. This can only be achieved through an inclusive dialogue that recognises Southerners’ legitimate grievances and the importance of profoundly amending that relationship. Four possible outcomes are being discussed in various forums, with varying degrees of popularity: maintenance of a unitary state albeit with more inclusive, transparent and accountable central government; maintenance of a unitary state but with significant powers devolved to local governments; a federal state consisting of two or more regions; and Southern secession. 

Of these, the first and last are the more likely recipes for heightened conflict. The former (a kind of status quo plus) would essentially ignore Southerners’ legitimate demands for greater participation, control of local resources and protection of local identity and culture. The latter (Southern independence) would alienate not only Northerners but also many Southerners who strongly prefer reform within the context of unity. 

That leaves the two middle options. Both have their problems. Hiraak supporters suspect that a mere strengthening of local government powers – even under a more democratic and representative central government – could be a subterfuge and fail to truly protect Southerners’ rights. For this and other reasons, they favour either immediate separation or, at a minimum, a federation of two states lasting four to five years, to be followed by a referendum on the South’s ultimate status. 

On the other hand, federalism, especially under a two-state formula (one Northern, the other Southern), is eyed by many with considerable suspicion as only the first step toward the South’s eventual separation. Some form of multi-state federalism, with perhaps four or five regions, potentially could allay those anxieties. It has found relatively wider appeal in the North and arguably could gain traction even within staunchly pro-unity parties, such as the ruling General People’s Congress and the opposition Islamist party, Islah. But much more precision about the details of this model will be required before it does so. Overall, none of these fears ought be brushed aside or downplayed. Instead, they should be aired openly and discussed seriously through robust debate and peaceful negotiations.

External players, including the Gulf Cooperation Council members, the U.S., the UK, the EU and the UN, have a role to play. All officially support a unified Yemen. But that is an umbrella broad enough to accommodate the need for Yemenis to comprehensively renegotiate the relationship between the central government and regional entities.

Yemen’s upheaval presents a rare opportunity to redefine its flawed and failed political compact. At the same time, however, it has considerably raised the price of inaction. If nothing is done soon to peacefully address both national and Southern deep-seated grievances, a darker and more ominous chapter could yet be written.

Read the recommendations here.
Read the full report here.


Mittwoch, 5. Oktober 2011

Yemen Panel in Berlin Tomorrow



Tomorrow, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., a panel on the current social and political developments in Yemen will convene in Berlin at the 18th Congress of the German Middle East Studies Association for Contemporary Research and Documentation (DAVO). The speakers will be as follows:

Mareike Transfeld (Erlangen): Friend or Foe? Islah at Sanaa's Change Square

Thomas Müller (Darmstadt): AQAP in Yemen and the Arab Spring – Onward Irrelevance or an Islamic Emirate Looming?

Sarah El-Richani (Berlin): Yemen’s Youth Protesters and their Use of Social Media

Marieke Brandt (Dägeling): Political Developments in Sa’da, Yemen, since the End of the 6th Sa’da War

Marie-Christine Heinze (Bielefeld): Weapons of the Revolution: The Role of the Yemeni Dagger

The panel will be chaired by me. For more information on the Congress and its venue, click here.


Samstag, 1. Oktober 2011

Anwar al-Awlaki's death

So he is dead and like most Yemenis I wonder more about what this is going to mean for Saleh and the current political situation. By now we know that the US Department of Justice has no misgivings about killing one of its own citizens and had produced a respective fatwa to legalize the drone strike that did away with Anwar al-Awlaki on Friday. But the fact that it was a drone strike that killed al-Awlaki underscores Brian Whitaker's analysis (below) that his death weakens rather than strengthens Salihs ability to cling to power. Obviously, Salih had no hand in this and now that al-Awlaki is gone, the US might feel more inclinded to let Salih go than it was a few days ago. 

What is important now is to seize the opportunity to accomplish a peaceful transition of power while it is still there. Gregory D. Johnsen has laid out a sound approach towards this goal and the US would be well advised to follow in its path before it loses all credibility with the youth of Yemen. This revolution will not turn Yemen into a full-fledged democracy in the short run, even most independent youth on Change Square have realized this by now. But there is still the opportunity of preventing civil war and taking a first step to a stabilization of the political situation in the country upon which further steps in the direction of democracy may follow. And as long as Salih remains in power, this is not going to happen. Right now, the best alternative to Salih (at least for a period of transition) is Vice President Hadi. He is weak enough for all parties vying for power (Salih, Ali Muhsin, and the al-Ahmar brothers) to be able to agree upon.

(I will post Brian Whitaker's post in full as his blog does not allow linking to specific posts. For all those interested in Yemen and Middle East politics in general, however, I highly recommend following his blog regularly.)


al-Bab, October 1, 2011
by Brian Whitaker
 
The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen raises questions about its likely impact on the country's politics – in particular, whether it will hasten or delay President Saleh's departure.
Internationally, Saleh has tried to present himself as a lone bulwark resisting al-Qaeda and uses it as an argument for his remaining in power. 

He was at it again on Thursday, in an interview with Time Magazine and the Washington Post. Reminded that the US has urged him to step down, he responded by questioning America's commitment to "fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda".  

"We are pressurised by America and the international community to speed up the process of handing over power," he said. "And we know to where the power is going to go. It is going to al-Qaeda, which is directly and completely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood." 

Remove Saleh and the militants will take over Yemen – that, at least, is what he would like people to believe. The reality, as I have pointed out several times before, is somewhat different. Saleh needs al-Qaeda in order to stay in power. Al-Qaeda must remain sufficiently active in Yemen for the world to be scared by it, so that Saleh can continue to be seen fighting it – and reaping the political benefits of doing so. 

One view of Awlaki's killing is that it will strengthen Saleh's hand by making him appear relevant again to the world outside.

"The revolutionaries in Yemen are worried that al-Awlaki's death will ... provide a respite to Saleh in the face of mass protests against his rule," Anis Mansour, a Yemeni journalist, told the German press agency on Friday. 

Jeb Boone, an American journalist who was based in Yemen until recently, also wrote: 
"Having duped the west three times into believing he was about to step down, he has now handed America's most sought-after head (in the shape of Awlaki) to Washington. With a counter-terrorism trophy like that on display for American audiences, US diplomats may find it difficult to maintain the pressure on Saleh to resign."
The alternative view (which I lean more towards) is that without Awlaki lurking in the background Saleh's position is significantly weaker. The American media had become obsessed with Awlaki, inflating his importance out of all proportion – and that also had its effect on US policy. Unless some new threat emerges in Yemen which directly affects Americans, the general perception will be that there is far less to worry about now than before and the US will be better placed to push ahead towards a transition of power. 

A further point is that in Awlaki's killing Saleh appears to have been more of a bystander than an active partner with the United States in the "war on terror". Details are scarce, but as yet there are no indications that Saleh (or the Yemeni military) played a major role. So far, the Americans are taking all the credit and/or blame. That also suggests Saleh is less indispensible than he would like to imagine. 

From a US policy perspective, the main need now is to de-link American security concerns from questions about Saleh's fate. Saleh has always been a tricky person to deal with, as the
WikiLeaks documents showed. The attitude of a future Yemeni government on that score is unlikely to be worse, and might even be slightly better. 

Behind the scenes, there are signs that the US does not really buy Saleh's arguments for staying in power. On Friday evening, according to the German press agency, the Yemeni government and the opposition coalition were close to signing an agreement on the basic principles for dialogue – under US supervision. 

The agency added:
"This comes as a result of three-day roundtable talks led by the United States, with a European participation, in a bid to come up with a peaceful end to the Yemeni crisis ..."
The goal of these and other diplomatic efforts is to implement the "transition plan" cooked up by the Gulf Cooperation Council. As I have said before, I don't much like the plan. If, by some miracle, it can be made to work it is more likely to preserve the status quo (minus Saleh) than to deliver the sort of changes that Yemeni protesters have been demanding. But, at this stage, getting rid of Saleh may be better than nothing. 

Mittwoch, 28. September 2011

Thin hope for political change in Yemen



Yemen's unhappy ending. Sometimes, the bad guys win.
Foreign Policy, September 27, 2011
Foreign Policy, September 27, 2011
Foreign Policy, September 27, 2011
by Charles Schmitz
Foreign Policy, September 27, 2011
by Charles Schmitz


Foreign Policy, September 27, 2011
by Charles Schmitz


Back in June, when Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for Saudi Arabia for treatment of his wounds, most observers thought Yemen's political crisis would be resolved in favor of the political opposition and the revolutionary street protesters. If Saleh -- who was badly burned in an attack on his presidential mosque -- did not die, then he would at least be prisoner of the Saudis, who had been actively seeking his resignation. Few thought he would ever return. And inside Yemen, the pro-Saleh forces would be weak without the president, so it was a hopeful time for those opposed to Saleh's rule. A transitional government would oversee a new set of elections that would usher in a new post-Saleh era.

That was then. 

Over the bloody summer, the Saleh clan proved itself more than capable of holding on to its political position. The president's sons and nephews, who preside over key security and military positions, aggressively sought conflict. Sporadic fighting raged all over the country: in Taiz, in Sanaa, in Arhab, in Abyan, in Aden, and elsewhere.  

In Sanaa, most victims of the fighting were civilians. Saleh's supporters seemed to almost relish provoking the military defectors aligned with Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the top general who joined the "revolutionaries" in March and promised to protect them. 

The attacks on civilians not only sent a message to protesters, but also revealed the weakness of Ahmar's forces. Indeed, all the various groups opposed to Saleh's rule -- including Ahmar's 1st Armored Division, the revolutionaries in the streets, the forces allied with tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar (not related to Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar), and the political parties of the Yemeni opposition -- together appeared incapable of tipping the balance of power in their favor. There were no elections, nor was the opposition able to form a successful transitional government, despite attempts to do so. 

And Saleh did not die from his wounds. As a "guest" of Saudi Arabia, he recovered and over the summer was seen acting presidential -- meeting in the hospital compound with some of the other Yemeni government officials who were injured in the attack. 

Western officials tried to quickly manufacture facts on the ground by dealing with the vice president, Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, as if he truly were the acting power in Yemen. Formally, Hadi was the acting head of state, but Ahmed Saleh, the president's son and commander of the Republican Guard, locked Hadi out of the presidential palace and forced him to work at home -- sending a clear signal about who was in charge. 

Hadi did prove useful to the Americans, however. With his military background and local connections, he was able to rally the local forces and turn the tide against al Qaeda's ground assault in Abyan governorate. Hadi promised his cooperation and assured the Americans that Yemen would not allow al Qaeda to take advantage of Yemen's crisis. Local reports from Abyan say that Saudi and American airdrops were critical in keeping the loyalist 25 Mika Brigade alive while it was besieged for three months by militants in Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan. (Saleh thanked both the Americans and the Saudis for their support in the war on al Qaeda in a speech shortly after his return to Sanaa.) 

The Americans and Europeans wanted Hadi to go further and implement the Gulf agreement that called for Saleh to step aside one month after signing it and for a transitional government to oversee new elections. They wanted a political settlement that would resolve the crisis that was clearly feeding Yemen's instability and preventing the country from addressing its badly deteriorating economy. 

But Saleh's clan effectively prevented any political settlement, subjecting street protesters to live fire by snipers or random shelling, almost to show that it could act with impunity against its opponents. 


Read the rest of the article here.

Samstag, 24. September 2011

Salih's return

So, Salih took us all by surprise and sneaked back in the night before last while we were sleeping. He as yet has to make his "speech to the nation", which was announced for yesterday, but has now been delayed to September 26, when Yemen celebrates the revolution against the imamate of 1962. Salih obviously finds it fitting to deliver his speech, with which he will aim to put an end to this year's revolution, on this day. Meanwhile, he has made it more than clear that he is willing to reassert his power in Sanaa with all necessary force. He believes that as long as this city is his, the country is his. While we wait for him to make his speech, in which he will announce exactly how he is going to continue gambling away the lives of innocent Yemenis for the sake of his hold on power, I recommend you read this or this (there are several pages to this post).

And if you are feeling desperately cynical, I recommend you watch this. It has all you need to understand Salih's politics:


Samstag, 17. September 2011

The revolution at a crossroads

The following article is by far the best I have read on the "revolution" in Yemen, sind February. It is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in what is going on in the country.

Yemen's counterrevolutionary power-play
Foerign Policy, Septermber 16, 2011
by Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani

Observers of Yemen are often asked why the revolution there has taken so long and why it has been so inconclusive. The more basic question -- never asked, though inextricably tied to this -- is why an uprising started in the first place. 

When the Arab Spring started in Tunisia and began to spread in the region, I did not think the conditions in Yemen were ripe for it. Indeed corruption, inequality, and the callous disregard for law were much worse in Yemen than any other country in the region. However, the conditions usually viewed as prerequisites for revolution -- a large and mobile middle class, a strong civil society, high literacy rate, and internet penetration -- are all non-existent. Yet the state does benefit from an historical accident, the adoption of a multi-party system in 1990 as part of the unity agreement between South and North Yemen. Twenty years of multi-party experience and the attendant mobilization skills of politicking made it possible for Yemeni activists to launch the revolution. Unfortunately, the absence of a broad middle class and a dynamic civil society has stunted the movement's momentum. The revolution has gradually transformed into what is largely an elitist struggle for power. 

In February, the revolution was in its purest form, an escalating popular protest not controlled by political parties or political factions. Activists demonstrated a degree of national unity rarely witnessed in Yemen. But the Joint Meeting of Parties (JMP), the main coalition of opposition groups, was reluctant to participate in the protests. As a result, youth in squares across Yemen cried out, "No partisanship and no parties. It is a youth revolution." 

Junior partners in the JMP, especially the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP), were more forthcoming in support of the revolutionary platform from the start. Meanwhile, the Islamic party Islah, the main opposition faction, which until recently had an alliance with President Ali Abdullah Saleh, was hesitant to commit until the revolution gathered pace. They had the most to lose by openly challenging the regime. Islah eventually joined the youth in full force and successfully maneuvered to control the organizing committee of Al-Taghyeer (Change) Square in Sana'a and was instrumental in setting up many provincial protest squares. It's worth noting that the exception to Islah dominance played out in al-Hurreyah (freedom) Square in Taiz, Yemen's third city, which came to be referred to as the heart of the revolution. 

From then on, the slogans and the rhetoric of the protestors came to represent the voice of the JMP rather than the youth. A notable example of this shift in rhetoric is the attacks on the General People's Congress (GPC), the nominal ruling party which lacks hard power and which the masses do not perceive as a primary adversary of the revolution. Islah's disparagement of the GPC is seen as a self-serving tactic, a ploy which they hope would lead to disbanding the GPC and thus giving Islah a real chance of gaining a majority in post-revolution elections. 

The situation transformed in March after the massacre at al-Karamah where snipers shot dead 54 unarmed youth and injured many more. That horrific event led to mass defections within the regime, the military, the bureaucracy, and the ruling party. 

General Ali Mohsin, Shaykh Sadeq al-Ahmar, and Sheikh Abdul-Majid Al Zindani were the most notable converts to the revolution. Mohsin, the second-most powerful person in Yemen, was Saleh's closest ally. As Saleh succeeded in concentrating power around him and his closest relatives, Mohsin was sidelined and, in turn, became Saleh's greatest competitor. Al-Ahmar inherited the powerful position of the Paramount Sheikh of Hashid Tribal Confederacy from his father, the legendary Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar, whose approval of Saleh was sought by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia before it agreed to install Saleh as president in 1978. Moreover, Zindani is the most popular and best-known Yemeni hard-line cleric with links to Osama Bin Laden. A leader of Islah, he was Saleh's ally against Islah moderate leadership in the past few years. 


Read the full article here.

Mittwoch, 14. September 2011

UN report on the revolution in Yemen

Report of the High Commissioner on OHCHR’s visit to Yemen

Summary

A delegation from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) visited Yemen from 28 June to 6 July 2011 to assess the human rights situation in the country. As a result of nine days of extensive meetings and consultations with representatives from the Government and civil society in the cities of Aden, Sana’a and Ta’izz, the Mission observed an overall situation where many Yemenis peacefully calling for greater freedoms, an end to corruption and respect for rule of law were met with excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force by the state. Hundreds have been killed and thousands have suffered injuries including loss of limbs.

On 18 March 53 persons were reportedly killed in Change Square in Sana’a, an incident which lead to the resignation of a number of Ministers, Ambassadors, members of parliament, of the Shura council (the Upper House) and of the ruling party, and the defection of General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar who vowed to send his troops to protect the peaceful demonstrators in the square. In another major incident on 29 May in the city of Ta’izz, after a riot and a brief kidnapping of security officials, “Freedom Square” was forcefully cleared by Government security officials, burning tents and killing dozens of demonstrators. Tribes claiming to protect protesters sent armed supporters to the square and occupied certain public buildings.

By the time the Mission had arrived in Yemen the picture that was emerging in the major cities was of a number of separate, but at times intertwined, struggles taking place. One comprises peaceful demonstrators calling for change in a similar fashion to their counterparts in other parts of the region. Another is an increasingly violent struggle for power between President Saleh and his supporters on the one hand and armed opponents, including alleged elements of Al-Qaeda, on the other. Yet another comprises political opponents, including recent defectors, who are publicly renouncing the resort to violence and seeking a resolution that would bring about regime change.

The Mission noted that the Yemeni Government had lost effective control of parts of the country and within the major cities, where armed opponents appeared to have de-facto control. The Mission also observed that among those seeking to achieve or retain power some have deliberately sought to collectively punish and cause severe hardship to the civilian population by cutting off vital access to basic services such as electricity, fuel and water. The Mission notes the danger that the protests might become increasingly radicalized and more violent in response to the excessive use of lethal force by the government, and the growing involvement of, and intimidation by, armed elements within the demonstrations. In essence violence has led to more violence and it is a tribute to the street protesters that they have sought to maintain their peaceful character despite the heavy price in loss of life and in severe injuries that has been paid thus far. On the other hand, the Mission is alarmed by the deteriorating humanitarian situation, which is negatively affecting most Yemenis, but in particular the poorest and most vulnerable, such as children, IDPs and refugees. Isolated acts of sabotage cannot account for all the suffering witnessed by or reported to the Mission throughout the country and the availability of electricity, fuel, cooking gas, water and other basic services should not be misused to punish the entire population. The Mission is of the view that calls for investigations and prosecutions will be undermined unless urgent measures are undertaken to ensure the independence and integrity of the judiciary and to provide them with sufficient resources. Additionally, given the lack of confidence by many Yemenis in the judiciary to conduct impartial investigations into human rights abuses there is a need for international, independent and impartial investigations to take place.

Read the full report here.
Read more on Yemen's humanitarian crisis here.

Samstag, 10. September 2011

Yemen's humanitarian crisis continues


Yemen's future is being made now
September 10, 2011
by William Lambers


More than 110 malnourished children under the age of five were enrolled and treated at the outpatient therapeutic program, while 38 suffering acute severe malnutrition were admitted to the therapeutic feeding center in Saada’s Al-Jumhori Hospital in August 2011. According to a rapid assessment conducted last year, 45% of under-fives in some parts of Saada are suffering from global acute malnutrition. This is one the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. (Ali Ghailan/UNICEF Saada/August 2011)


White House anti-terrorism advisor John Brennan spoke to reporters yesterday about the growing threat of Al Qaeda in Yemen. According to Laura Rozen’s report, Brennan warned, “Anytime there is a power vacuum, as in Somalia, and Yemen, Al Qaeda is attracted to it.”

Yemen is still in turmoil with protesters demanding that long-time President Saleh step down from office. The hope is now for a smooth, peaceful transition of power.

But the truth is that Yemen’s future is already being made, away from the protests and political halls. In fact, every day that small children in Yemen do not get proper nutrition, they are a step closer to lasting physical and mental damage. No society can advance under such a scenario.

The political crisis needs to get resolved quickly and peacefully. But Yemen clearly needs more. Child hunger takes center stage.

In Yemen, malnutrition among children was a huge problem even before the political turmoil started. About half of Yemen’s children are chronically malnourished. In the Sa’ada governorate of Northern Yemen, years of conflict between the government and rebels has taken its toll on children. Child malnutrition rates are extremely high.

The political unrest in the capital, as well as the fighting in Southern Yemen, have made the situation even worse.

Yet there are things the international community can do to bring some relief and allow Yemen to catch its breath. This would be to set up a child feeding program that would cover all cases of malnutrition with special foods like plumpy’nut. Right now, all children are not able to receive food as there is low funding for aid agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Programme. Relatively inexpensive interventions like child feeding have not received enough attention.

A full supply of plumpy’nut, for instance, would be a rescue line for Yemeni children to get them through the first 1,000 days. This type of interim aid is crucial so you can move on to building longer-term food security after a successful intervention. For example, there needs to be a national school lunch program with the idea of reducing malnutrition among children and getting them to school to complete an education. The ministry of education in Yemen and the World Food Programme once worked on a school feeding program with a take-home ration element. It was cut because of low funding.

But this is the kind of plan that if enacted on a wide enough scale could bring significant change and hope to Yemen. We can take action now to help Yemen as it resolves its political crisis and fights Al Qaeda. There is no better place to start than with the future: the nation’s children.


This article first appeared on Blogcritics.

For possiblities in regard to making donations for Yemen, read my blog post from July.

Samstag, 3. September 2011

Hamid al-Ahmar and the revolution

This is an excellent article by Sudarsan Raghavan on Hamid al-Ahmar and his role in Yemeni politics.

In Yemen's struggles, sighs of tribal clout
Washington Post, September 3, 2011
by Sudarsan Raghavan

SANAA, Yemen — Hamid al-Ahmar is not a member of Yemen’s ruling party or its military. He holds no formal position in its opposition movement. Nor can he claim the authority of a religious leader.

Yet Ahmar is anything but a mere observer in the seven-month-old populist uprising to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh. He is a billionaire, a scion of the country’s most powerful tribal family, and he is using his money and power to assert a role in a new Yemen.

He has bankrolled protest marches in 10 provinces, providing everything from microphones to transportation. He commands tens of thousands of tribesmen, including a heavily armed contingent that guards him day and night. His tribe’s clout has bought him access and influence; now it is providing Ahmar with a power base, one that has brought fresh energy to the revolution but has also spawned more violence and chaos.

“I am living with this revolution, day by day, hour by hour,” the 43-year-old said in an interview inside his opulent mansion.

Perhaps more than in any other country in the Middle East, the bonds of the vast extended families known as tribes occupy a central role in Yemen, a country ruled by two rival groupings, the Bakeel and the more powerful Hashid.

But Yemen is hardly alone in the region being riven by tribal loyalties; tribes are a factor in Libya, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and across the Persian Gulf. In some ways, they play a role just as important as the government, military, clerics and the opposition, injecting another unpredictable dynamic into the turbulence of the Arab Spring.

The Ahmars are blue bloods in Yemen’s tribal society.

Hamid al-Ahmar’s late father, Abdullah, headed the Hashid tribal federation, to which Saleh’s tribe also belonged. Abdullah al-Ahmar also headed the country’s largest opposition party, Islah, and served as speaker of parliament. Hamid’s elder brother now heads the Hashid federation.

In Yemen, tribes make up the central social unit, and their power has only grown in recent years, while Yemen’s central government has proven incapable of controlling much of the country. Most Yemenis depend on their tribes for jobs and other services.

To help maintain his power during more than three decades of rule, Saleh turned again and again to the Ahmars, in a symbiotic relationship not unlike his bond to Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen, the country’s most powerful military leader — one in which all parties chose to overlook their differences.

In return for help from the Ahmars and Mohsen, Saleh gave them wide latitude to “run their affairs with informal armies, courts and economic empires” and made “direct payments from the treasury to the . . . tribal and military constituencies,” then­U.S. Ambassador Thomas C. Krajeski wrote in a 2005 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

This year, following the deaths of 52 protesters by snipers loyal to Saleh, the Ahmar clan and Mohsen broke with the president and openly expressed support for the uprising.

‘A fiery combination’
 
As a child, Hamid al-Ahmar played with Saleh’s sons and nephews. In high school, Ahmar started a tourism company, using family money. He earned an economics degree at Sanaa University and spent two summers in England, where he studied English. He also studied the language in the San Francisco Bay area for four months while visiting one of his nine brothers, Sadiq, who was training to become a pilot.

His business holdings include Yemen’s largest cellphone company, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Baskin-Robbins franchises, a supermarket chain, and an influential satellite-TV network that has been critical of Saleh’s government.

To his supporters, Ahmar represents Yemen’s future: a young, modern businessman with the willpower to guide a nation gripped by poverty and Islamist extremism into a more stable era.

But to his detractors, including many youth activists who sparked the revolution, Ahmar is a living testament to how tribal-backed power has suffocated the Middle East’s poorest nation.

“There is a part of the people who like Hamid al-Ahmar,” said Ali al-Jaradi, editor in chief of al-Ahali newspaper, one of the largest in Yemen. “There are others afraid of what he represents. He’s from the president’s tribe. He’s a part of the old order.”

Unlike his father, though, Hamid al-Ahmar has shown no loyalty to Saleh. As a member of Yemen’s parliament since 1993, he is a senior leader of the opposition party, known as Islah, and he first called on Saleh to step down in 2005 — six years before the uprising that began this year.
“I don’t hate him personally. I hate his way of running the country,” Ahmar said, adding that Saleh’s sons and nephews should also leave power.

His increasing influence did not escape the attention of American diplomats. “Hamid al-Ahmar has ambition, wealth and tribal power in abundance, a fiery combination anywhere but especially in Yemen,” then-U.S. Ambassador Stephen A. Seche wrote in August 2009, in another of the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

Read the full article here.

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, Yemen..it'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.