Monday, January 28, 2013

Why Abyan? and What to do?

Watch Al Qaeda in Yemen on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.
Image via Ibtimes
Image via Yemen Online
In the waning days of Saleh's regime, unconfirmed reports claim that military leaders purposefully withdrew their forces in order to destabilize the region. Within weeks, the governorate of Abyan fell under the control of Ansar Al Shari'ah (Al-Qaeda affiliated group). Their control over Abyan lasted from March 2011 to June 2012. During this time, it was declared an "Islamic Empire".

After Ansar Al Shari'a were forced out, on June 19, 2012, U.S. officials including the US ambassador, Gerald Feierstein, and USAID administrator, Rajiv Shah, visited the war ravaged areas of Abyan. In September, they released this assessment. In this trip, USAID pledged to provide an extra 52$ million dollars of assistance to Yemen. Some humanitarian assistance began in Abyan; however, no concrete reforms can be felt.

Before Ansar Al Shair'ah, Abyan had high unemployment rates, poor educational opportunities and was economically deprived. Government presence there was almost nonexistent. Now, not much has changed. Since 2012, there are tribal popular committees that were instrumental in evicting Ansar Al Shariah from the region much like Al-Sahwah tribal committees in the Anbar province in Iraq who helped end the war in Iraq. Government presence is still weak. The return of Ansar Al-Shariah is still a possibility as they are hiding in the neighboring regions. Ironically, some claim that a few members of the tribal popular committees are in fact members of Ansar Al Shariah. The question that comes to mind is why Abyan? and what to do?

Abyan is a vast lawless area with a harsh terrain that lacks government authority and institutions.  Low levels of education made the area ripe for extremist infiltration. Prior to the unification of Yemen, and in the context of the cold war,  Saudi Arabia and the US supported Islamic extremists (Mujahidins) to combat the spread of communism in Afghanistan and in the South of Yemen. When Osama Bin Laden visited Yemen in 1989 (his only vist there), he brought Jihadis from Afghanistan to Southern Yemen. Also, Yemen was one of the few countries they could go. In the brief Civil War of 1994, former president Saleh used these returning warriors to help him win the war against those who declared secession. It was part of Saleh's strategy to spread the Jihadi, Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood movement in the South. 

Historically, Abyan is known for adopting radical thoughts (for example; the Qarmatian movement (which is a Shi'i Ismaili group lead by Ali ben Fadhl Al Qormoti started in Jabal Khanfar in Ji'ar, Abyan. Also, Sufi extremist groups flourished there). Furthermore, in the past 20 years, most political and ideological movements in Abyan failed miserably  So, the community felt that the "return to religion" is the only option to combat the problems facing them. The Jihadi/Salafi ideology is one that revolves around the concept of life after death, where things could be better. 

Although people in Abyan are primarily considered Shafi'i, Sunni. In the past 20 years, Salafism (Jihadi- Wahhabism in particular) dominated Abbyan. In 1994, Abyan was the first area to convert a movie theater into a mosque. Also, in 1998, the first attack on tourists in Yemen was committed by Jaish Adan Al Islami (Aden-Abyan's Religious Army). This "army" was created in 1992 and participated in the previously mentioned Civil War with Saleh. They hold the messianic belief that their role in the Arabian Peninsula will bring Yom Al-Qiyamah (day of resurrection), based on the following hadith: 
"An army of twelve-thousand will come out of Aden-Abyan. They will give victory to Allah and His messenger; they are the best between myself and them".
The Aden-Abyan army wants to reinstate Islam as it was during the times of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). However, as we saw in their seize of Abyan, they were authoritarian and demanded absolute obedience. AQAP has become a rallying cry to many, but not out of conviction. Many people are not fond of Al-Qaeda, but like the saying "the enemy of my enemy is my friend"; because AQAP stands up to the government that neglected them, they follow suit.  

Currently, conditions in Yemen are substandard, and almost each region needs its own transitional plan. People in Abbyan need special attention (like other governorates) in order to revive their economy. Unfortunately, without any felt improvements, fighting jihad in order to go to heaven seems like a feasible venting method. Right now, people in Abyan are distressed and life is gruesome. The goal in Abyan is to lower the distress of these human beings. So what is needed is good governance and economic assistance in order for us to observe any real transformation in the region. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pictures from my Country

As promised, every Friday, I'll share photos from Yemen. [see previous post]. To celebrate Al-Mawlid Al-Nabawi, this edition includes scenic views and images of Yemeni people. Enjoy. 

Scenic Views from Yemen 
Photography by Mohammed A. Gerhoum

Old City -Sana'a

Jabal Maswar - Hajjah 

Jabal Maswar - Hajjah

Al Yazidi - Yafe'a


Old City - Sana'a
Faces from Yemen
Photography by Raiman Al-Hamdani 

Jum'a Mubarakah!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Yemen’s National Dialogue: The Country’s Critical Test for Stability

My latest piece published on Fikra Forum, January 17, 2013. 

On November 23, 2011, Yemen’s revolution subsided with an agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), enacting a two-year transitional government led by President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi. According to this agreement, a national dialogue is scheduled to take place by the end of February or the beginning of March to decide the formation of the new government and its constitution. However, the transition appears to be dawdling, causing many Yemenis to lose faith. Delays can be attributed to Yemen’s complex ethnic and tribal affiliations and interests, a deteriorating security situation, and Hadi's meticulous oversight, with a careful intent to avoid aggressive backlash and to maintain the nation's stability. Nevertheless, the national dialogue is progressing, the success of which will be critical in determining the future stability of the country.

Planning the National Dialogue

In July 2012, a technical committee was chosen to determine the overall nature and logistics of the dialogue. From August to December 2012, the technical committee, led by Yemen’s former Prime Minister, Dr. Abdulkarim al-Eryani, held 65 meetings, each followed by a press release and updates to the official Facebook page. The committee concluded its meetings with a report that was presented to President Hadi.

As a result of the technical committee’s report, the dialogue will have a total of 565 members. Around 40% of these seats are designated to political parties (not including new parties), while 35 seats are dedicated to Houthis, and 85 to Hirak Southern Separatist Movement members. The political parties must select their delegates according to the following stipulations: 50% of their seats must be assigned to people from the South of Yemen, 30% to women, and 23% to the youth. Furthermore, 160 seats are allocated to non-partisan groups: 40 for independent youth, 40 for independent women, and 80 for civil society organizations (2 members from each organization). Each category will be selected by seven technical committee members. The deadline for non-partisan applications is January 19. Overall, the aim of the committee is to host a dialogue that will be equally divided between Northern and Southern Yemenis.

Complicating matters further, the final list of the national dialogue attendees must include Yemen's tribal leaders, jurists, religious minorities, businessmen and women, young or new political parties, and those with special needs. The selection process for these groups remains unclear, though President Hadi has the right to nominate these individuals or create a special committee that will select them.

The moderator of the dialogue is still undecided, but two options are available. Either the president and the technical committee will appoint a person, or the national dialogue members will recommend individuals and vote. The national dialogue will most likely be held in Sana, however, the technical committee agreed that if security permits, other meetings should be held in Aden. Working teams will also operate in the following cities: Aden, Taizz, al-Mukalla, Sadah, and al-Hudaydah.

The national dialogue budget is 7.7 billion rials, none of which is provided by the Yemeni government. The technical committee’s report concludes that a portion of the budget will provide transportation, housing, and food during the expected dialogue period of six months. Finally, a special television channel and radio will be dedicated to broadcasting all of the national dialogue events. While the money has been pledged to Yemen by GCC countries, it has yet to be received, revealing the GCC’s lack of confidence in Yemen’s decision-making.

What to expect

A recent meeting on January 14 between President Hadi and those involved in the transitional phase (the national dialogue technical committee, political figures, and ten foreign ambassadors) is revealing as to the intricacy of Yemen’s current situation. Though the dialogue is supposedly “national,” international agencies and actors are heavily involved in supervision. The Houthi representative, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, refused to attend the meeting because the U.S. Ambassador was present. This is an indicator of what could happen during the dialogue if international actors attempt to partake rather than observe.

All Yemenis, regardless of their political opinions, must be represented in this dialogue; otherwise, the dialogue will fail and the country will be paralyzed. So far, the Southern Hirak has not released their party list and independent applicants from the South are hesitant to apply, seemingly discouraged to join. Recently, in a first step toward transitional and restorative justice, Hadi assigned two committees to address land disputes and forcible job expulsions that occurred in Yemen’s southern provinces of following the 1994 civil war. If this effort fails, the southerners will continue to feel persecuted and will demand secession.

The deteriorating security condition in Yemen makes it nearly impossible for the national dialogue to operate in various cities. Even in Sana, there are major security concerns. On December 22, 2012, three westerners were kidnapped in the heart of Sana and have yet to be released. Earlier this week, an AQAP cell was discovered in the capital. Aware of these security challenges, the technical committee, now called the preparatory committee, has dedicated a portion of the national dialogue budget toward special security.

Other important issues relating to security remain unanswered. Currently, a committee has been tasked with restructuring Yemen's Ministry of Interior. The goal is to mimic the structure of Jordan's Ministry of Interior, but the transformation will not be easy. In the next month, President Hadi is expected to announce the names of the commanders assigned to the seven armed forces that were newly reformed through his December 19 decree calling for the restructuring of the military. As long as this effort remains unrealized, security will be a constant threat to Yemen's successful transition.

Following President Hadi’s decree, many wonder what will happen to Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, former leader of the First Armored Division. Mohsen, though demoted, remains an influential military figure, and may participate as an advisor to the tribal members of the dialogue. Meanwhile, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is still considered the president of the General People’s Congress (GPC) party, though he is sick and needs medical treatment. The national dialogue technical committee did not specify any restrictions against Saleh’s attendance, but if Saleh decides to attend, the majority of participants will withdraw, ruining any real chance of dialogue.

The remaining influential figures worth noting are Hamid al-Ahmar, a businessman and leader of the Islah party, and Abdulkader Hilal, mayor of Sana. Al-Ahmar is a powerful man, with many loyalties among the Salafis, and even jihadis. He will likely attend the dialogue and he might even run for presidency int 2014. Hilal has also been rumored to be a presidential candidate. Like Mohsen and Saleh, he is from Sanhan, and he is a military man. On December 12, 2012, he successfully led a clean up campaign called “Sharik” to fix Sana’s streets, winning him much public acclaim.

The role of the U.S.

The U.S. government’s policy toward Yemen has been primarily concerned with counterterrorism. The American Ambassador in Yemen has been criticized in the past for not listening to the demands of the Yemeni people.  Yet, the ambassador meets with Hadi, Mohsen and al-Ahmar regularly. As previously mentioned, the Houthis are not happy with the presence of the U.S. Ambassador in national meetings. Therefore, during the dialogue, it is best that the international community observes and advises the national dialogue rather than partake in it.

Over the past two years, the increase in drone attacks has led directly to an increase in anti-American sentiment. For the first time in Yemen, the average Yemeni citizen views America as an adversary rather than a friend. However, cooperation between the Yemeni government and the U.S. is at an all-time high. This is mainly due to the fact that the U.S. and the international community are at the backbone of Hadi's strength in Yemen.

The best strategy toward tackling this newfound hostility is to adopt a different policy in Yemen, one that is not solely based on counterterrorism, and to listen to the demands of the Yemeni people. Furthermore, public recognition of the progress toward peaceful transition in Yemen will show support and encourage other non-violent transformations.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pictures from My Country

Mohsen Al-Jabri (image here)
On the 17th of July, 1978, a popular television show broadcasted on Yemen Television, displaying scenic images from all Yemeni provinces while Yemeni music played in the background. The show was loved by Yemeni emigrants; not only did it show images of their homeland, it was narrated in Yemeni dialect. It was called "Pictures from My Country"صور من بلادي. The host of the show was Mohsen Al-Jabri who hosted the show on a weekly bases for 30 years. He passed away in 2008.

In hopes of reviving a similar vision, Yemeniaty will post images from Yemen every Friday. Enjoy! 

Photography by Raiman Al-Hamdani

Jabal Al-Nahdayn - Sana'a

A House in Hajjah

From Al Haymah (Al-Dakhliyah)

Children in Al-Haymah

Scenic View from Hajjah

Children in Hajjah

Artist calls the image 'Innocence'

A village in Hajjah (on a mountain)

A Mosque in Zabeed

Jum'a Mubarakah!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Follow up: Women Seeking Freedom, Samia Al Aghbari

Image via Atiaf Al Wazir
On a previous post, found here, a situation was explained about a suitcase filed against Samia Al Aghbari for attacking "religion". After brief contact with her, this is what she had to say on the subject: 
What is happening today with me is an extension of a long campaign launched against a number of  women like writer Arwa Othman, activist Atiaf Al Wazir, and novelist Bushra al-Maqtari among others. This vicious attack confirms that without a doubt there is a systematic campaign targeting liberal activists and journalists in order to silence our voices.
They [the attackers] believe that they have silenced our voices. In the past, Saleh and his "associates" used religion to eliminate opponents and settle their accounts with opposition. They even used defamation and fabricated accusations of treason, not to forget the abuse of the judicial system that is used as a sword hanging over the necks of their opponents. Today, extremist groups - whatever their affiliation is - are using the same techniques. But we [women] will not fear their threats or their campaigns. We will continue our struggle until we win our humanity back and get the state that we want. 
What about the accusation that you slandered religion? 
My sentence was clear and the meaning was obvious. The term that I used, "ugliness", was to describe the allaince, not religion, however, some extremists exploited that situation. What I say is that I can not badmouth any religion, let alone my religion! Clearly, religion here is used to to settle political scores.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Yemen's Infidels: Women Seeking Freedom

Disclaimer: religion is a sensitive subject and this article doesn't condem anyone and does not critique religion. The purpose of this article is to promote religious tolerance and raise awareness on the misuse of it. 

About five months ago, I wrote about Bushra Al-Maqtari, a 31-year-old journalist, who was declared an "unbeliever" for writing a controversial article on the Yemeni Revolution. Al-Maqtari's article was about a massacre that took place in the city of Ta'izz, but many people fixated on a statement she made questioning whether God witnessed the crime that took place. Al-Maqtari then clarified that she considers herself a Muslim, and that she believed in God, but none of that matters when there is a political war being waged on Yemen's Women. Religion in Yemen has become an easy tool to use when trying to restrain women. Now, in January, the same story seems to be repeating itself; however there are minor differences. This time the victim is journalist Samia Al Aghbari.

On December 30, 2012, Samia gave a speech in the city of Dimt (province of Al-Dhali') to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Jarallah Omar. Omar was one of the leading figures in Yemen's Socialist Party (YSP). During Samia's speech she exclaimed that Yemen has a triple "ugly" alliance, religion, the military and the tribe. Of course, to many, it was understood that she was talking about radical political Islam and the manipulation of religion to serve hidden agendas. To this day, no arrests have been made for Omar's assassination, but there are rumors that it may have been a religious extremist. The truth is, no one knows for certain. 
Update, one man, Ali Al-Sa'wani, was tried for the assasination of Jarallah Omar and recieved the death penalty, two suspects are still at large; one of them is rumored to be a woman. 
  A man by the name of Akram Al-Ghouwaizi filed a complaint with Dimt's district attorney charging Samia of insulting and ridiculing Islam.

Many of the attacks launched against Samia are done on the Ikhwan Al Yemen (Yemen's Brothers) facebook page. This page is probably linked to members of the Islah party (and is not an official facebook page for them). The Islah party is made up of tribesmen and Muslim brotherhood (MB) members, so if Samia stated that the "ugly" triple alliance is that of the MB, the military and the tribe, then perhaps she won't be accused of insulting Islam. 

A collection of Samia's writings are found here (Ar)