December 2013

by Amal Al-Yarisi, Yemen Times, November 26, 2013

The institution of marriage has gone through radical transformations since our ancestors gave up their nomadic wanderings and adopted an agricultural-based lifestyle. What has historically been an economic arrangement and a way to merge properties and tribes in Yemen is increasingly becoming a love arrangement.

Though arranged marriages remain the norm, Yemeni women are proving how far they are willing to go to be with the ones they love, including turning the tradition of a dowry on its head. As more women marry the men they love, they are contributing to wedding costs, a phenomenon unheard of in Yemen until recently.

A year ago, Sabah Al-Khalidi and her then fiancé, Saeed Ali, began furnishing a three-room apartment in the Al-Safia district of Sana’a. The burden was solely Ali’s, but Al-Khalidi, a private school teacher, ended up contributing the majority of their home furnishings.

In Yemen, marriage costs, including the wedding ceremony, the couple’s future home and new clothes and gifts for the bride, are traditionally paid for by the groom and his family.

According to Ahmed Al-Ghazan, a social researcher at the Sana’a Social Studies Center, dowries in Yemen generally range from YR200,000 ($930) to YR2 million ($9,300), barring the extremely poor, extremely wealthy Yemenis paying higher dowry prices for women who hold citizenship from Western countries. (more…)

This photograph taken on May 2, 2013 shows Pakistan man, Abdul Razzaq holding the national identity card of his brother Amanatullah Ali, who has been detained for the last nine years in Bagram jail in Afghanistan, in Faisalabad. Guillaume Lavallee/AFP/Getty Images

Abu Zubaydah and the banality of ‘jihadism’

by Terry McDermott, al-Jazeera,December 19, 2013

The world is full of dangerous goofballs, but we can’t treat them all as threats to civilization

The Abu Zubaydah diaries recently made available to the public by Al Jazeera America might seem interesting only to security officials or 9/11 obsessives. To regard them as such would be a mistake, for they contain the most detailed portrait of the interior life of a dedicated jihadi that we have ever seen, and that we might ever see. They also help substantiate what should by now be clear: The U.S. has made significant, basic errors in its response to 9/11 and the threat of radical Islam.

Zubaydah, born in Palestine and raised in middle-class comfort in Saudi Arabia, rose through the 1990s — by what abilities it is not clear — to a position of some stature within radical Islam. He recorded his rise in hundreds of diary entries addressed to his future self. Written over two decades, the diaries track him from an early adulthood spent studying computer programming at a technical college in India through early 2002. Further diaries, written while he has been in U.S. custody, including at Guantánamo, have yet to be revealed.

Zubaydah was captured in the spring of 2002, the first significant Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist to be caught after 9/11. It turned out the link to Al-Qaeda was more tenuous than the U.S. government had imagined. For years, the U.S. government had viewed him as a major figure within the group, at one point even elevating him to the No. 3 position on what turned out to be a fanciful Al-Qaeda organizational chart. (more…)

The photographs here were taken of camels and people in Libya around 1957 by Dr. Virgil Clift.

[Tabsir Redux is a reposting of earlier posts on the blog, since memories are fickle and some things deserve a second viewing. This post was originally made on April 27, 2013]

There is a fascinating Tumblr website devoted to images of veiled Muslim women walking in front of things. The pictures are well worth looking at. As the two chosen here demonstrate, there is a cultural disconnect between walkways. The Yemeni woman above is wearing a sharshaf, introduced by the Ottoman Turks and at first an urban icon. It has now spread, through Salafi influence, to the whole country, even the blistering hot Tihama. The image below is revealing because the veiling is much more of a social statement against the grain in Western contexts where bare or nearly bare female bodies are easily viewed. Both demonstrate conformity, which most fashion dictates no matter what is worn or not worn, but the context, and thus the contrast, differs.

The extraordinary British actor Peter O’Toole died yesterday at the age of 81. His most famous movie, without question, was Lawrence of Arabia. But he made many other performances, including Becket (1964) with Richard Burton, a remake of Goodbye Mr Chips in 1969 and the hilarious spoof, The Ruling Class (1972). I had the privilege of meeting O’Toole at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 1997, when he gave a stirring reading of his latest autobiography. You will find numerous obituaries, but here is the one in The Guardian.

Egyptian satirist and television host Bassem Youssef is surrounded by his supporters upon he arrival at the public prosecutor’s office in the high court in Cairo
(AFP Photo)

by Bassem Youseef, al-Arabiya, December 13, 2013

In some sort of excessive selfishness, Egyptians are tending to see as victims only those with whom they sympathize. For example, if you voice your anger over the verdict to imprison the Alexandria Girls (they were later acquitted), a friend will send you a photo of the Kardasa soldiers who were unjustly killed and tell you: “If you’re sad over this verdict, then remember those soldiers.”

If you express your grief over the killing of soldiers in Sinai, Muslim Brotherhood pages on social networking websites will publish photos of the dispersal of the Rabia sit-in and tell you: “If you’re sad over those soldiers, remember the protestors who were killed first.”

National security officer Mohammed Mabrouk gets killed in a terrorist ambush, and instead of praying for mercy over his soul – since he is a human being – some rush to publish photos and names of those killed by Interior Ministry gunfire. It is as if Mabrouk is responsible for all those martyrs. (more…)

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…)

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