Obama Administration

President Obama has been stalked by birthers ever since his first run for the White House. But forget about placing his birth in Kenya, even though Kenya is a country where qat (Catha edulis) is chewed. A friend in Yemen sent me this photograph which should confuse the birther issue even more. If Obama can chew like a Yemeni, who knows where he was really born. Just think, how much qat is there in Hawaii?

Bodies of Yemenis killed by a drone attack last Thursday

The use of drones in Yemen has received a lot of attention this year, even though there has appeared to be a lull in their use since the summer. It is reported in Yemen Press that an American drone killed 8 Al-Qaida suspects in Ahwar Abyan. No details are given in the article. Nashwan News, quoting sources from Yemen’s security forces, describes a different strike the same day in al-Bayda’ in which a top al-Qa’ida figure is said to have been killed. Or was it really a wedding procession, as reported in Al-Masdar Online, which describes a drone (known in Arabic as a ta’ira bidun tiyar) that killed 13 and wounded 30 others in hitting cars in a wedding procession (zifaf). Aden Online reports the number of dead as 17 and 32 wounded. Another source gives a range of 12 dead and wounded. The province of al-Bayda’ has seen a lot of resistance to the government. The drone struck at 4:30 pm on Thursday, hitting cars carrying men from two tribes. Two prominent tribal shaykhs were said to be wounded in the process.

The stories differ because the sources differ, some eager to justify any drone attack as effective and others unwilling to admit that the strike was successful in eliminating a terrorist. Clearly, however, as the horrendous photograph of the dead documents, whether or not al-Qa’ida lost a leader, there were quite a few other people who were killed. Even if the government thought it legitimate to go after one man, is it worth depriving so many citizens of life and limb? Once again drones serve as the best recruiting tool for terrorists in Yemen and drag the name of the United States even further into the muck. (more…)

Men walk past anti-drone mural in Sanaa, Yemen, Nov. 25, 2013; photography by Juan Herrerro

Yemen’s New Ways of Protesting Drone Strikes: Graffiti and Poetry

by Tik Root, Time Magazine, November 30, 2013

An American drone hovers along a main thoroughfare in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. Not a real drone, but rather a 7 foot-long rendition of an unmanned aircraft spray-painted near the top of a whitewashed city wall. Below it, a stenciled-on child is writing: “Why did you kill my family?” in blood-red English and Arabic script.

Painted by Yemeni artist Murad Subay, the Banksy-esque mural sits beside three others also admonishing the United States’ use of drones in Yemen to track and kill terrorism suspects. This drone art is part of Subay’s latest campaign, “12 Hours”, which aims to raise awareness about twelve problems facing Yemen, including weapons proliferation, sectarianism, kidnapping and poverty. Drones are the fifth and arguably most striking “hour” yet completed.

“Graffiti in Yemen, or street art, is a new device to communicate with the people,” says Subay, 26, who after taking up street art two years ago in the wake of Yemen’s Arab Spring revolution has almost single-handedly sparked the growing Yemeni graffiti movement. “In one second, you can send a message.”

The anti-drone chorus in Yemen has grown louder since the Obama Administration took office in 2009. All but one of the dozens of reported drone strikes in Yemen have been carried out since Obama came to office (although strikes here and in Pakistan have been more sporadic in recent months). Operations are rarely acknowledged by American officials but have nonetheless stirred a global debate about the strikes’ legality, morality and effectiveness. (more…)

A destroyed building as a result of fighting between AQAP and the Yemeni government in 2012, taken in June 2013. (Photo: Fatima Abo Alasrar)

by Fatima Abo Alasrar, Atlantic Council, October 30, 2013

Apart from the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference that has been generating good news in the press, the country is on a rapidly deteriorating course toward uncertainty. On October 18, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) launched a suicide attack targeting a military installation in al-Ahwar district of Abyan governorate which killed twelve soldiers and left several others wounded. This was the same governorate that fell under control of the terrorist group of Ansar al-Sharia during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011. Despite the liberation of Abyan from the terrorist occupation, the group still conducts terrorist acts, through planting land mines in schools, kidnapping aid workers, in addition to their usual suicide tactics against military installations and local popular committees that guard the city.

The danger of AQAP in Yemen is real, but so are the drone attacks which intensified during the Obama administration. The weapon meant to target terrorists caused great harm to Yemen in a number of ways. Human Rights Watch issued a report on October 22 highlighting the devastating effects of air strikes. The report examined six drone strikes since 2009. Although the number of investigated cases is not a representative quantitive sample on the drone strikes in Yemen (various sources document an estimated eighty-two to ninety-two drones attacks during this period), the qualitative sample made one important point abundantly clear: no matter how precise the drones, they still generate civilian casualties, destruction, fear, trauma, motherless children, loss of income, and increasing rage towards the United States. (more…)

by Rafiq ur Rehman, theguardian.com, October 25, 2013

The last time I saw my mother, Momina Bibi, was the evening before Eid al-Adha. She was preparing my children’s clothing and showing them how to make sewaiyaan, a traditional sweet made of milk. She always used to say: the joy of Eid is the excitement it brings to the children.

Last year, she never had that experience. The next day, 24 October 2012, she was dead, killed by a US drone that rained fire down upon her as she tended her garden.

Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day. The media reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Several reported the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All reported that five militants were killed. Only one person was killed – a 67-year-old grandmother of nine.

My three children – 13-year-old Zubair, nine-year-old Nabila and five-year-old Asma – were playing nearby when their grandmother was killed. All of them were injured and rushed to hospitals. Were these children the “militants” the news reports spoke of? Or perhaps, it was my brother’s children? They, too, were there. They are aged three, seven, 12, 14, 15 and 17 years old. The eldest four had just returned from a day at school, not long before the missile struck.

But the United States and its citizens probably do not know this. (more…)

By James M. Dorsey, RSIS Commentaries, October 16, 2013

The decision by the Obama administration to freeze military aid deprives the Egyptian military of its favourite toys but does little to weaken its military capability. It further strains relations with key US allies in the Gulf, and highlights Washington’s difficulty in balancing its twin goals of stability and democratisation in the Middle East and North Africa.


THE OBAMA administration’s decision to impose sanctions on Egypt’s military-appointed government following the killing of 51 anti-military protestors in Egypt illustrates the US’ limited leverage on one of its closest allies in the Middle East and North Africa. It also reflects its difficulty in striking a balance between acknowledging that the region has entered into an era of messy transition and maintaining close ties to its counter-revolutionary allies such as Saudi Arabia.

Washington had refrained in the past three months to define as a coup the military’s overthrow of Egypt’s only democratically-elected president and brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood that left more than 1,000 people dead, to avoid being legally obliged to cut off aid.

Reinforcing worries about US stance

The aid freeze comes on the heels of the announcement of a November date for the start of court proceedings against ousted president Mohamed Morsi. It is likely to reinforce Saudi and Israeli fears that Washington is steering a dangerous course not only by its perceived support for fundamental change of the region’s established order but also by its willingness to engage with revolutionary Iran, seen by Arab conservatives as a threat to their national security.

In anticipation of the US sanctions, Egyptian interim President Adly Mansour secured pledges for continued support from Saudi Arabia and other cash-rich Gulf states that have already funded his government to the tune of US$12 billion. In advance of the coup against Morsi, Saudi Arabia had already assured the Egyptian military that it would compensate for any loss of US economic and financial aid.

The Gulf’s support has kept the post-Morsi government afloat but does little to address Egypt’s festering, structural economic problems nor does it offer the prospect of substituting military hardware for what is the world’s 14th largest armed forces. (more…)

In today’s New York Times columnist Nick Kristoff responds to critics of his support for targeted missile strikes on Assad’s regime to send a lesson about the use of poison gas. I agree with his opening comment that columny (whether by a columnist or not) is not a very useful way to think about a complex issue. There is indeed a lot of bluster, so much so that one might metaphorically call the debate over the use of a retaliatory strike on Syria poisoned from the start. For President Obama, drawing a red line in a public speech was bound to be seen as a red flag by the bullshit artists of the Tea Party anti-Obama-anything club. For Republicans who wore their hawkishness on their sleeves under Bush to criticize Obama for daring to apply American military power to a foreign conflict, the irony is very much the epitome of politically expedient hypocrisy. Then we have the normally peace-promoting liberals who want to make a principled statement about the horrific results of using chemical weapons. How could there be anything but contentious calumny?

American public and political outrage at Assad’s callous use of poison gas has a red line as well: virtually unanimous agreement on all sides that there shall be no American boots-on-the-ground. Given that the U.S. has an arsenal that makes that possible, as was evident in Kosovo and Libya, we can forge ahead with smug assurance that as long as our sophisticated missiles do not carry any Sarin gas we are on higher moral ground. There is an ethical dilemma here that transcends who you support in the civil war that is raging in Syria. In sheer numbers Assad’s forces have killed 1,000 times more with so-called “conventional” weapons than the lobbing of several canisters of gas at a Damascus neighborhood. Even if you believe that poison gas is so horrific that its use must be punished, then there is the obvious retort that the U.S. knew Assad had used poison gas earlier, as it knew Saddam used it against the Kurds and against Iranian troops. At best this is a case of situation ethics, where the ethical point only matters if the situation is politically expedient.

Also in today’s news on Al Jazeera is a report that Philippine troops are securing the southern port city of Zamboanga, where an estimated one hundred Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) guerrillas have taken a number of hostages in a failed attempt to take over city hall. Although the “Moros” are a nationalist movement, they are also a brand of Muslim extremists who kill fellow Muslims, like the current morass in Syria. I suspect that most Americans are unaware that the Philippines were once under the direct control of the United States, as part of the spoils of the Spanish American War. (more…)

by Daniel Martin Varisco, Middle East Muddle, Anthropology News, July, 2013

The removal of Mohammed Morsi as president of Egypt has generated a frenzy of talking head punditry that shows little sign of abeyance, at least until another Middle Eastern leader bites the dust. Was it a coup? Was it yet another people’s revolution? Was it a failure of democracy? Did the Obama administration support the ouster? Was Morsi trying to make himself into a modern day Pharaoh? Tut, tut, sings the chorus of pundits.

Beyond the rhetoric back and forth, here is a reality check. The military has always been in charge of Egypt since Nasser took power in a well-recognized coup in 1952 that toppled a puppet king. Sadat and Mubarak came from the military, no matter what the status of their election. The military owns Egypt, quite literally, and is its main economic player. Morsi was not elected over the objection of Egypt’s top brass, but his attempt to weaken the power of the military is probably the main reason for his downfall.

In one sense of course it is a coup. It was the military, not the protesters, who really stormed the Bastille. It is the military who is keeping charge of Morsi and pushing for legal action against him. But in another sense it can hardly be called a coup when the military never gave up its power. Morsi was given slack, perhaps to let him fail on his own, but he never had any real power. Despite the official rhetoric, the leaders of most, if not all, Western nations are quite happy to see Morsi out of the way. At least a bloody corpse was not posted on state television, as happened at times in old-style army coups in the region. No American or European policy makers wanted to work with the Muslim Brotherhood any more than they do with Hamas in Gaza or with the militants calling for a new caliphate in Syria.

But here is the dilemma for scholars who study Egypt and have lived there. Egypt’s history, ancient, post-Arab conquest and modern, is a gold mine for researchers in a number of disciplines…

For the rest of this commentary, click here.

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