September 2011



Photograph by Yahya Arhab, EPA

Yesterday Yemen’s “embattled” President Ali Abdullah Salih granted an interview to Time Magazine and The Washington Post. While not very enlightening, it does suggest a new sign of desperation. The interview transcript (in English translation of course) is online. He once again played the blame game, insisting that he has been willing all along to abide the GCC agreement and step down.

Then there is the last question. Dodging any direct answer to the official U.S. call for him to step down, he pulls what may be the most desperate part of the interview — talking directly to the American people. The message is one that should resonate with the Tea Partyers who still think President Obama is a Muslim(at least those too dumb to realize who Salih is]. Here is Ali Abdullah Salih, the good dictator who can rid his country of the evil al Qaeda terrorists. Here is the gist:

I want to ask you about Yemen and U.S. relations, which is important: On the day you returned to Yemen …
[Salih] This is the last question. (See a video on the uprisings in Yemen.)

On the day you returned to Yemen …
[Salih] The Yemeni-American relationship is good. In fact, it has not been affected during the past 33 years. And we have relationships with many political powers in Washington, whether they are from the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. There have been some differences during the last Gulf War because of the Yemeni stance, but then the Americans realized that we were right and that we were not just defending the Iraqi regime. (more…)


Severely malnourished child from southern Somalia sits in Banadir hospital… (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

A Diplomatic Surge to Stop Somalia’s Famine

By Ken Menkhaus, Enough Project, September 21, 2011

[Ken Menkhaus is a professor of political science at Davidson College and a specialist on
Somalia and the Horn of Africa. He worked on famine response policy in Somalia in 1991
and served as a political advisor in the U.N. Operation in Somalia in 1993-94. He is author of
over 50 monographs, chapters, and articles on Somalia and the Horn of Africa, and has testified
five times before congressional committees on aspects of the Somali crisis.]

Somalia is dying. Three-quarters of a million people are at immediate risk of famine;
another 750,000 are refugees in neighboring countries, and 4 million – half the total
population – is in need of emergency aid. It is a calamity that could join the ranks of the
Rwanda genocide and the Darfur crisis in terms of scale and human suffering. And for
Somalia it is a terrible repeat of the 1991-92 famine that claimed 240,000 lives.

The international response to date has been shockingly inadequate – not just because
funds for humanitarian aid have fallen short, but because of the absence of political will
to take bold diplomatic action to remove impediments to the delivery of aid.

Unless this changes, the 2011 Somali famine will be to the Obama administration what
the 1994 Rwandan genocide was to the Clinton administration – a terrible stain, an
unforgiveable instance of lack of political will to push policy beyond incrementalism.
And for the Islamic world, al-Shabaab’s role in the Somali famine will be remembered as
the Islamic Khmer Rouge, in which an armed group with a deeply twisted interpretation
of the faith presides over the mass deaths of its own people. (more…)


Mosque in Jiblah, Yemen

There was a time when books were hard to come by. Either they cost too much or were inaccessible in a private or exclusive university library. Whatever else the world wide web has done (and that is a mouthful), it now functions as an archive. More and more, the rare and out-of-print books I used to be forced to read in a library reading room are becoming available online. Mr. Gutenberg might roll over in his Grab at the very thought of a pdf file, but print has taken a new and universal turn. I especially enjoy the “flipbook”, which simulates turning the pages of images of the original. For an enjoyable read on the early history of Yemen, there is the flipbook version of Henry Cassels Kay’s translation called YAMAN, ITS EARLY MEDIAEVAL HISTORY, published in London in 1892. This has excerpts (not always trustworthy in their translation) from Umarah ibn Ali al-Hakami (1120/21-1174), Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406); Muhammad ibn Yaqub al-Janadi (d. 1332?).

The sad thing is that well over a century ago, Kay lamented that there was virtually nothing available on the history of Yemen, which had become of strategic interest to the British empire. (more…)


[Over at Waq al-Waq, Greg Johnsen has a good read on Salih’s latest speech after his return to Yemen.]

Salih’s Speech (Instant Analysis)
by Gregory Johnsen, Waq al-Waq, September 25, 2011

Days after dramatically returning from Saudi Arabia, President Ali Abdullah Salih did what he does in these situations: he gave a speech.

The international media will likely lead with the fact that Salih called for early elections (in fact, here is an early al-Jazeera piece saying just that). But what this analysis misses is the caveat – that ever present out – that Salih gave himself, saying that elections would only take place in the context of the GCC deal.

The GCC deal, as those of you who read Waq al-waq frequently know, is worthless. Not only is it impossible to enforce – as Salih’s will-I, won’t-I dance illustrates – but there are so many loopholes in the plan that even if Salih did sign it he could easily manipulate the aftermath of the deal to ensure that a trusted ally or relative succeeded him as president, or find some excuse to continue in power.

To that end, Salih reaffirmed that his vice president Hadi is authorized to negotiate and eventually sign the GCC deal. This is worthless. And Salih knows it.

Numerous high-level Yemeni figures have already signed the deal, the signature that is missing is Salih’s. This is yet one more evasion from a president who sees his strategy of duck and delay starting to pay-off. (more…)


عبدالعزيز المقالح: ذهبت مثلما أتيت ملعون المساء والنهار .. يا قاتل الأطفال يا مهدم الحياة والديار

Yemen Press, Saturday, 24 September, 2011

ذهبت مثلما أتيت ملعون المساء والنهار…
أيامك الطوال عار..
وعهدك القصير عار..
أكبر منك نملة..
أشهر منك ريشة على جدار..
يا أمسنا الذبيح..
يا فأرنا القبيح..
يا قاتل الأطفال يا مهدم الحياة والديار..
ظننت أنك الإله .. أننا العبيد..
تفعل ما تريد..
تعبث في مصائر العباد..
فخانك الظن وخانك الرشاد..
أصبحت كومة من الرماد..
تنام في انفراد..
تصحو على انفراد..
تسألك الريح ، يسألك الجماد..
ماذا صنعت قل ..
ماذا صنعت للبلاد؟,,
ماذا تركت من ذكرى على ضميرها ومن أمجاد؟..
لا شيء يا صغير..
لا شيء غير لعبة المزاد..
رفاقك القرًاد والقوًاد..
وعاصف الفساد..
ماذا تركت للذين يقرأون؟..
ماذا سيكتب الأطفال عنك حين يكبرون؟..
سيكتبون .. مر من هنا منتفخا..
فأر صغير يرتدي ثوب مغامر جلاد..


Salih returns to Yemen, but probably not the best public relations to photograph him in front of an exit sign

In a move that took almost everyone by surprise, Ali Abdullah Salih returned to Yemen Friday from his recuperation stay in neighboring Saudi Arabia. It is not clear which Ali Abdullah Salih returned. Is it the one who has promised at least four times to abide by a GCC-brokered sweetheart deal that would give him immunity if he agrees to step down? Is it the Ali Abdullah Salih who was badly burned and almost killed in a bomb explosion last June and was considered unlikely to ever return to Yemen? Is it the father who cannot control his succession-mongering son and relatives from trying to kill off any possible opponents to their eventual takeover? Is it the Ali Abdullah Salih who has survived dancing on the heads of snakes for over three decades? Could it even be Ali Abdullah Salih the peacemaker, calling for negotiations?

In a way it does not really matter. Yesterday it is estimated that some 4 million Yemenis took to the streets all over Yemen protesting his regime and any attempt to perpetuate it. To be sure there are still some supporters, but the overwhelming majority of Yemenis have demonstrated, quite literally, that it is time the Arab Spring blossom into a new political system in Yemen. Meanwhile, it seems all the sides jostling for power are more interested in self promotion than love of their country. The cowardly attacks of the Republican Guard on the protesters will only make these regimists all the more hated. The battle for Sanaa is bringing life to a grinding halt in the capital city and taking the life of far too many innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. All of Yemen is suffering. (more…)


[One of my favorite works on the philosophy of history is Herbert Butterfield’s prescient 1931 The Whig Interpretation of History. While most people today probably have no clue what a “Whig” is, his reflections on how we look at and write about history are as relevant today as when he wrote them eight decades ago. The whole text is available online, but I provide some excerpts from the Introduction here to whet your appetite.]

1. INTRODUCTION

It has been said that the historian is the avenger, and that standing as a judge between the parties and rivalries and causes of bygone generations he can lift up the fallen and beat down the proud, and by his exposures and his verdicts, his satire and his moral indignation, can punish unrighteousness, avenge the injured or reward the innocent. One may be forgiven for not being too happy about any division of mankind into good and evil, progressive and reactionary, black and white; and it is not clear that moral indignation is not a dispersion of one’s energies to the great confusion of one’s judgement. There can be no complaint against the historian who personally and privately has his preferences and antipathies, and who as a human being merely has a fancy to take part in the game that he is describing; it is pleasant to see him give way to his prejudices and take them emotionally, so that they splash into colour as he writes; provided that when he steps in this way into the arena he recognizes that he is stepping into a world of partial judgements and purely personal appreciations and does not imagine that he is speaking ex cathedra. But if the historian can rear himself up like a god and judge, or stand as the official avenger of the crimes of the past, then one can require that he shall be still more godlike and regard himself rather as the reconciler than as the avenger; taking it that his aim is to achieve the understanding of the men and parties and causes of the past, and that in this understanding, if it can be complete, all things will ultimately be reconciled. It seems to be assumed that in history we can have something more than the private points of view of particular historian; that there are “verdicts of history” and that history itself, considered impersonally, has something to say to men. (more…)


I find myself finally in agreement with a slogan coined by the effervescent Newt Gingrich: America is at risk. But unlike the fear-mongering in his DVD (buy a copy to share with fellow Islamophobes at an afternoon Tea Party hate session), he himself and his shameless self-promotion are what put that which America stands for at greatest risk. The political opportunists (and anyone who is polling as appallingly low as Newt in the polls is an opportunist extraordinaire) have always stretched and even obliterated reality to suit their egos and their dreamed-for political fortune (in more ways than the ideological). There are terrorists in the world; some of them happen to be Muslim; most have grievances that have little to do with religious principles. The suicide bomber who screams Allahu Akbar is not a substitute for the devout Muslim who faithfully follows the pillars and values of his or her religion and who remembers that first and foremost Allah is merciful and compassionate (bi-ism-allah-ar-rahman-al-rahim). The Catholic mob which sawed Huguenots in half in France a few centuries ago, and so revolted Voltaire, is hardly created in the image of the Jesus of the Gospels. The risk to America is not from any military power or futile terrorist plot, but from the demise of the values that made America a beacon of freedom rather than a superpower flexing its muscles globally.

I have not padded the Gingrich Productions empire by buying his “Citizens United” (but only the right, White kind of citizens) DVD, but I did take a look at the slick (I am tempted to leave the letter “l” out of that last word) trailer. (more…)

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