Samstag, 24. März 2012

Where Obama's notion of press freedom ends

In Yemen. Watch this well-researched documentary by AJE entitled "The dangers of reporting 'the war on terror'" to learn all about President Barack Obama's notion of 'the freedom of the press':

You can also read up on the reports of Iona Craig and Jeremy Scahill on this issue by klicking on the respective links.

Mittwoch, 14. März 2012

Yemeni youth forsaken

Below is a great piece that reflects precisely the feelings of disappointment and disillusionment of many Yemeni youth one year after the Yemeni revolution first began to gain momentum. "Ordinary Yemenis are in dire need of honest brokers", the author reminds us, "instead everyone is keeping silent, as the baking, boiling and frying continues in the Yemeni Kitchen." In many ways, and especially in regard to the national political elites and the international community, this holds true indeed. Nonetheless, there are a number of new initiatives, none of which will change the current situation immediately, but which will hopefully contribute to keeping the moment of politicization among the Yemeni youth alive and to enable them to work for a better future of the country in the long run. One of these intiatives is called "The Yemeni Dream" and aims at providing Yemeni youth with the role models and "honest brokers" they so desperately need. Read more on this project on its website.

"Peaceful" (photo by Abdulrahman H. Jaber)

Interesting times in Yemen
The Independent Op-Ed, March 12, 2012
by Safa Mubgar

An old Chinese curse runs “May you live in interesting times”. I have come to realise that it is certainly applicable to Yemen – what with the release of the film version of the 2007 novel “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”, and a particularly interesting ‘election’ brought about by a Yemeni style Arab Spring Revolution smoothing the way for a two year transitional period. Happily Yemen is flavour of the month; as opposed to the unfolding tragedy in Syria.

Abdu Rabo Mansour Hadi’s acclamation follows a pantomime waltz, choreographed by the international community, that literally celebrated Yemen’s dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power, honouring him, his cronies, and family with the immunity and garlands of gratitude for exemplary service (the 24 million Yemenis who suffered 33 years of this nasty regime can eat cake!) What’s particularly disturbing is that – much like “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” where a surprisingly “good” and “very rich” Arab brings hope and unity to Yemen – a more complex web of international and regional plots, “expertly blended” with a variety of fallacious arguments and petro-cash incentives, brought Abdu Rabo Mansour Hadi (Ali Saleh’s Yes-man, ex-Vice-President) to power in an uncontested “election” a few weeks ago.

Yemenis – we’re meant to rejoice, to call it a turning point, celebrate that at least it’s not Syria. You may want to follow the chorus of joyous optimism or simple relief; people did welcome relief from a year long struggle without electricity, water, or security – not that any of these are guaranteed to materialise after this election. although during the election campaign all services were restored briefly!! I, for one, reserve my right to feel cheated. Because nothing fundamental has changed: Ali Saleh’s old clique is still very powerful, and for the majority of ordinary Yemenis (Northerners and Southerners alike), the “new” government is just more of the same – witness the immunity law – But then again, this production was deliberately intended not to bring about radical change to Yemen.

Yet if anything, Abdu Rabo Hadi’s acclamation has led to a more chaotic picture in Yemen. An unsettled hotchpotch where everything is up for grabs – a far cry from the democratic aspirations of the peaceful youth revolution. In this cauldron, Yemen is subjected to numerous powerful forces – Western allies of Saleh, Gulf partners, and Saudi Arabia – all pouring in various influences and seasoning with petro-dollars. Added to this lethal mix is the Yemen’s domestic political clique, oozing opportunism and greed. None wish to see a successful revolution in Yemen, and will undermine it with all they can. For them, Yemen’s transition has to be cosmetic; for the West, this is acceptable as long as there is a kind of calm: shipping undisturbed through Bab al-Mandab, and their interests safeguarded and secured. They spend even more money to keep the lid on things, but nothing further.

In the meantime the embryonic peaceful youth revolution stand alone, peppered with false promises, with support from neither credible political opposition nor middle class to speak of. Ordinary Yemenis are in dire need of honest brokers; instead everyone is keeping silent, as the baking, boiling and frying continues in the Yemeni Kitchen.

By pumping dollars into the Yemeni economy, the Yemeni riyal seems not to be doing badly (considering Yemen’s economic situation) – but at the expense of Yemeni business, trade and sustainable development. People of wealth are getting wealthier, whereas the poor remain without education, jobs, opportunity or health. While Abdu Rabo Mansour receives his orders and administers from his huge palace (built for him by Ali Saleh a few years back) near the airport in Sana’a. The traditional tribal militias of Al Ahmar , Ali Muhsen and co, are aiding and abetting him. This gang has no remit or intention to change: 99% of Yemenis will not benefit; no real or sustainable development or growth will be generated.

The Yemeni revolution – a revolution which could have resulted in far reaching consequences and change in the Arabian Peninsula, has been pacified for now. But the kitchen remains hot, with too many cooks, and outcome yet unknown. Like others, I believe our Yemen Spring will not bloom until a Gulf Spring has flowered. If the ‘pruning’ in Bahrain is any indication, that may take some time.

So we wait. And watch. And pray for the countless who continue to suffer needlessly.

Montag, 5. März 2012

Yemeni music from the 1960s and 1970s

I am so buying this CD!!!

making music at Bab al-Yemen (© M. Heinze)

One man's research uncovers gems in Yemen's music history
The National, March 4, 2012
by Christopher Lord

In markets and antique shops across Yemen's capital city of Sanaa, a vast vinyl heritage has been gathering dust in cardboard boxes for the past 50 years.

Songs by a generation of Yemeni singers, with lyrics about unrequited love and inner turmoil, were impressed on to records after a rush of ad hoc recordings and studio sessions across the country throughout the 1960s.

Chris Menist is an avid collector and rescuer of old records, and spent two months in 2011 scouring markets in Sanaa and Aden for any bit of vintage vinyl he could lay his hands on. This search has culminated in Qat, Coffee and Qambus: Raw 45s from Yemen, a compilation of reissued tracks from among his best finds, released last month on the Dust-To-Digital record label.

"The Yemeni music I was finding reminded me of early blues recordings," says Menist, who was in the country just weeks before the start of protests against the leadership of Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"There was an honesty and rawness about the sound, like somebody just switched on a recorder and the musicians played without interference from record label people in the background. I don't understand the lyrics, but there's a great amount of emotion and, in a positive sense, simplicity to the music."

Menist holds a day job as a consultant for NGOs and the United Nations, but couples this with regular research trips to find and unearth overlooked music from around the world. He's previously worked on compilations of psychedelic rock from 1960s and 1970s Thailand.

The eight tracks on this new Yemen release sport enigmatic titles such as Hey, Who Enters the Sea of Passion? and Night Stars Watcher, and have a remarkably different sound from what is typically associated with Arabic music from that era. These singers, though active as recently as the 1960s, seem to call out from a more ancient period.

"There's a strong, poetic tradition in Yemeni culture, and a lot of these songs were recited during social gatherings or when people were chewing qat," says Menist, referring to the plant that, when chewed, has a narcotic stimulant effect and is an overarching pastime among many Yemenis.

"This is one of the oldest inhabited places on Earth," says Menist. "Culturally it's so rich, but has been left behind economically in places touched by the oil boom like Saudi and the UAE. In a positive sense, that has meant it's retained its originality." Conversely, he notes, this has also left much of the country mired in poverty.

Menist hears a rhythmic element in the music much stronger than that found in traditional centres of Arab music production such as Baghdad and Cairo. This may be the result of Yemen's proximity to the East African coast, he suggests, and there are audible connections between the music's jangling, bouncing cadence and that found in Swahili island settlements such as Zanzibar and Lamu.

But the compilation also captures the final years of popularity for the qambus, a fur-lined, lute-like instrument indigenous to Yemen that was superseded in popularity with the more widespread accessibility of the oud from the 1970s.

Menist market-crawled for two months, working closely with a de facto local fixer called Selim, and carting around his portable record player. "Most of the people I met there hadn't heard this music for 30 years, simply because they don't have the means to play records. Vinyl is regarded as an outmoded medium, and particularly in the Middle East."

HMV set up a recording studio in Aden in the 1950s, and the recordings produced at this time, Menist believes, remain locked away in the record label's vast archive in Middlesex, England. The field of studies for Yemeni popular music is fairly new, and when Menist returned to the UK with a stack of records, he was struck by the lack of academic writings on the subject.

Read the rest of the article here.

Listen to soundbites and buy the record here.

Freitag, 2. März 2012

Mein neues Forschungsprojekt zur jemenitischen "Revolution"

... durfte ich bereits vergangenes Wochenende auf der von der Universität Leipzig im Auftrag der VolkswagenStiftung organisierten Konferenz zum Arabischen Frühling vorstellen. Der Deutschlandfunk brachte hierzu ein Feature, in welchem auch das von der VolkswagenStiftung finanzierte Jemen-Projekt zur Sprache kam. Start des Projekts, welches in der Islamwissenschaft an der Universität Bonn angesiedelt ist, ist August 2012. Hier ein Ausschnitt aus dem Feature von Bettina Mittelstraß, der gesamte Text findet sich hier.

photography by Abdulrahman H. Jaber

"Für die Forschung geht es darum, diesen Prozess zu verstehen, indem man ihn begleitet und dokumentiert. Auch im Jemen ist die Neuverhandlung von Interessen oder Macht zwischen den gesellschaftlichen Gruppen nicht abgeschlossen. In der Hauptstadt Sanaa auf dem Platz des Wandels ist eine Zeltstadt entstanden. Dort trifft sich, wer zuvor noch nie auf die Idee kam, miteinander zu kommunizieren, sagt die Islamwissenschaftlerin Marie-Christine Heinze:

"Wir sehen, dass aus diesem Platz des Wandels praktisch ein Marktplatz der Ideen geworden ist. Ein Marktplatz von Debatten und Ideen und Ideologien und ein wirklich permanenter Austausch und eine permanente Diskussion. Es gibt Zelte wie das akademische Zelt oder das Medienzelt, wo die Leute zusammenkommen und Vorträge hören und debattieren oder sich einfach auch auf der Straße selbst austauschen und diskutieren. Es gibt Jugendgruppen, die sich dort gegründet haben von Jugendlichen, die sich vorher eigentlich noch nie gemeinsam irgendwas organisiert haben oder organisiert waren, die jetzt eigene Zeitungen herausgeben, die nur auf dem Platz des Wandels produziert und verteilt werden, um dort die Diskussion zu beeinflussen."

Das am Institut für Orient- und Asienforschung der Universität Bonn angesiedelte Projekt verfolgt gemeinsam mit dem unabhängigen Meinungsforschungsinstitut Yemen Polling Center, wie diese Gruppen auf die politischen Ereignisse reagierten und reagieren - die Ausreise des Präsidenten nach Saudi Arabien, seine Rückkehr, die Wahlen, die Erarbeitung der neuen Verfassung. Marie-Christine Heinze:

"Wie argumentieren sie? Und wie verändern sich die Ideen, die sie haben, und bestimmte Schlagwörter, die wir immer wieder hören, wie Demokratie, Freiheit, ziviler Staat. Wie verändern sich diese Begriffe und Ideen im Laufe dieser Debatte und des Abgrenzungsprozesses der verschiedenen Gruppen untereinander?"

Der Bedarf an Antworten auf diese Fragen ist enorm. Zur Konferenz, die die Volkswagenstiftung an der Universität Leipzig organisierte, kamen 140 Wissenschaftler - beinahe doppelt so viele wie geplant, etwa 50 davon aus nordafrikanischen und arabischen Ländern."