Saturday, May 13, 2006

Brief Links

The apartment is empty, after a long day and even longer night of packing, moving and other more nocturnal and social activities. The only thing left is a bag, a mat and my computer - tomorrow morning it is on the road for parts east.

Still, I did want to highlight a couple of things. First al-Sharq al-Awsat has an interview with Shaykh 'Abdullah al-Ahmar - now I haven't had a chance to read or even skim it, so I can do little but pass along the link.

The postman also delivered my latest issue of N+1 magazine, which I highly recommend.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Less than a month

It is now less than a month until the World Cup kicks off in Germany. The US will have a difficult road out of its group, but anything is possible. All of us here at al-Nawadir will be giving predictions as the tournament grows closer, but for now a link to the website.

One prediction that has been made final: Arsenal 2 Barcelona 1 in the Champions League final set for next Wednesday. A team of experts here has been working on a complicated equation I don't pretend to understand that spat out this formula - I came to a similar conclusion by observing the two teams the past few months. No matter the road we all ended up at the same destination, and I'll be taking bets through the weekend.

Poor journalism on Yemen

I must confess that despite the fact that I have never met him I really don't like James Brandon. I have always found his reporting to be missing something, and today is no different. And while I do not know him personally everyone I respect in Yemen who has met him dislikes him, with one notable exception. He has caused no end of hassle and heartache for many in Yemen, most notably during an attempt to cover the al-Huthi revolt in 2005. I say this not as way to pick on Brandon, but rather to say he has a new piece out in the Christian Science Monitor on poetry as an antidote to terrorism in Yemen.

The piece is not that objectionable, he quotes a respected authority in the field - W. Flagg Miller - although I think Steve Caton would have been a more senior choice, but ok, and he doesn't make too many errors of fact. But I can't help wondering, why this piece made the paper and why it is significant? The poetry program, if one can call it that, first started making headlines in Yemen in 2004, but never really took off despite the governments attempts - a different "re-education program" did much better.

Besides magnifying a small program with very little impact the piece did nothing, and of course Brandon only interviewed English speaking sources and relied on President Salih's press secretary, Faris Sanabani, as a major source, while only identifying him as close to the president. The piece is puff, and I'm fairly dissapointed that the Monitor saw fit to print it - there are so many stories out of Yemen - the end of water, the sketchy and fragile de facto truce between the government and Islamists groups, and so on - that settling on this story seems a force-fed piece of propoganda from the president's office to the paper. Somewhere Hemingway says something like: You never really likes journalism about a country you really know. I suppose that is true in my case, or at least about a country I like to think that I know, but I think there are any number of important and intriguing stories that could be written about Yemen, and this is not one of them.

But we're moving on. In other news, another one of the 23 escapees has been re-captured. I wasn't going to point this out until I noticed the similarity of al-Hayat's and al-Sharq al-Awsat's headlines - but I don't remember the prison being mentioned as a "Political Security Prison," in earlier stories, which is not to say that it wasn't only that I don't remember it as such. Whether or not that was the case, the fact that the 23 men escaped from a Political Security prison is fairly important - as they almost surely had inside help - and something no one seems to be talking about. If Political Security is corrupt to the point where officers are actively supporting suspects break out of jail then something is drastically wrong. Here is the story from the BBC on the recapture of Abdullah al-Raymi.

Two English stories on al-Zindani. I was disappointed by Chaise's coverage for AFP, especially considering the track record of excellence that this reporter has established, but I'm willing to let it slide. The wrath of al-Zabaniya is famously just. Here is one from the Yemen Times on al-Zindani opening up al-Iman University for inspection.

I could say much more and point out more stories that caught my eye, but moving day is open us- the boxes are packed the truck rented and the time to shake the dust of this town from our collective feet is now.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A sign of the times

This week is moving week, which means that the posts will be a bit lighter as I pack my books into a trailer for yet another move across the country to yet another school for yet another degree.

Still, I saw a few things that caught my eye in the press. First, President Salih warning everyone to stay calm during election season, which ends on September 23. This piece, in the Yemen Observer, is remarkably similiar to one from the UPI, which the Observer cribbed with only a veiled reference. The Observer just got its license back does it really want to be stealing articles? I know Faris does this as a matter of course, but still - not that cool.

Other election stories (English) are here: financing a presidential campaign with a flat from Paris, Women in Taiz support Salih, and finally more on the recent poll in Yemen, that Khaled al-Hammadi first reported in al-Quds al-Arabi.

But the one story that really caught my eye was one from al-Sharq al-Awsat about tribal fighting in Marib. Now, the more jaded among us here at al-Nawadir tend to blow off instances of tribal fighting in Marib, it is just too common to really make a note of, but I think this is different. And an early case of what will continue to happen for the forseeable future. This fight was over a water well. Yemen for those who don't know is quickly running out of water, and when that happens, which it will in the next two decades, it is going to be ugly. This is only the beginning. You have been warned.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Weekend Reading

(Carole Lombard)

First, I would like to recommend Mr. and Mrs. Smith to anyone interested in a great screwball comedy from Hitchcock. No this is not the one with Brad and Angelina. It stars Carole Lombard - quite a looker, who was married to Clark Gable - but who unfortunately died in a plane crash, as fate would have it, according to Wikipedia (always an authoritative site) her final film was in post-production and her character says at one point: "What can happen in a plane?" The producers wisely cut that line out of the final version.

I would also like to highlight two pieces on writers that all of us here at al-Nawadir enjoy. The first is a speech given by Orhan Pamuk at the latest PEN conference and published in NYRB. The second is from the Guardian on Taher Ben Jelloun.

In Yemeni news, there is an article by Abd al-Salam Tahir on a confrontation between qat sellers and police in the governorate of Dhalla' over the attempts of certain police or security forces to raise the tax on qat. Now, in Yemen qat is supposed to be taxed, but it often is not, as the security forces usually just take a bag or two instead of a tax, or bus or taxi drivers will help the sellers or middlemen hide the qat from the soldiers in exchange for a take themselves. The result being that the state loses money - although corruption is so rampant it is unlikely the taxes would make it to the treasury anyways. This happens quite often, and it just so happened that al-Sharq al-Awsat decided to write about it this time.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat also features a column by Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid on Yemen becoming a new GCC member. Just for the record, I don't think this is going to happen anytime soon, unless their is outside influence put upon the current GCC states - Yemen has too many problems that would reflect poorly on the GCC.

Al-Hayat has a piece saying that 'Ali Abdullah Salih has ordered the release of Muhammad Badr al-Din al-Huthi, who according to the report was captured last year by government forces around Sa'dah. This is yet another important move by the government in its attempts to diffuse the situation in Sa'dah.

Al-Arabiyya has a piece about Saudi men marrying Yemeni women as does the Arab News from Saudi Arabia. The two pieces are so similar that it is my guess that the Arab News cribbed the report from al-Arabiyya, which is all too common a practice for English language newspapers in the Middle East. Of course, the most famous Saudi with a Yemeni wife is Osama bin Laden.

Al-Arabiyya also has a report on the latest clash between the religious establishment in Yemen and the intelligentsia. This time it is between the poet Ali al-Muqari and the former Minister of Religious Endowment Nasir al-Shaybani. Al-Muqari claims that certain mosques in Yemen have called for him to be punished and that al-Shaybani has said he was an infidel. The piece explains that this is largely due to his poem تدليك
which I am translating as "massage," although I'm perfectly willing to conclude that I might be mistaken, as I am not that familiar with al-Muqari's work and can't seem to find his diwan in my library although the article says it was published in 2004. I'll pick it up this summer if it is still available. Anyway, this bears watching.

Khaled al-Hammadi of al-Quds al-Arabi reports on a recent opinion poll regarding the upcoming elections. 1500 people from 10 governments participated in the poll, which found that only 57 percent of the respondents would vote for Salih if the elections were held today, while 42 percent agree with Salih's decision not to stand for re-election. The poll is actually quite shocking - only 57 percent, in a region known for much higher numbers for incumbent presidents. Still, this poll agrees nicely with what I have long suspected and what many other local observers have been saying for the past 2 or 3 years that President Salih has roughly 60 percent of the population that would vote for him. Nice to have it confirmed even if the transparency of the poll is far from certain.

Also, I wanted to bring to your attention one reporter that I've been reading lately, Christian Chaise of AFP. I've been quite impressed with the quality of four of the reports I've read by Chaise on Yemen. I've linked to them here -I could only find two - but they are all in English. Unfortunately, most US papers don't use AFP as a news service, but Chaise is doing good work. On corruption, on a female presidential candidate in Yemen.

Slow News Day

(What editors do on slow news days)

Very little to report on Yemen in the Arabic press today, although the Yemen Observer does have a brief about a delegation being put together to visit the Yemeni inmates being held at Abu Ghrayb.

Other than that the Lakers lost, the White Sox won and nothing more on Yemen in the news, which was helped by the fact that al-Thawri's latest wasn't up on the Internet and the only thing of real interest in this week's al-Sahwa was a report buried on page 2 about 3 members of the joint meeting parties at a meeting in Aden by political security.

And that is all the news that is fit to print.

Spy Novels

With the academic year winding to a rapid close - too soon for some of us and one final paper - and with summer nearly upon us, it is almost time to head for one's favorite beach with an armful of spy novels. Thankfully, my favorite spy novelist Alan Furst is out with a new book, The Foreign Correspondent, due to be released on 3 June 2006 (just in time for me to grab it before fleeing the country on the 6th) - and while I'm not sure if the book draws any inspiration from the old Hitchcock film of the same name, which Robert Fisk credits with sparking his interest in journalism, I am anxiously awaiting its release.

Others among lovers of genre literature, however, are not so impressed. In the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly, which showed up at my door yesterday along with the New Yorker and the Virginia Quarterly Review, B.R. Myers had a review of Furst's latest offering. He was not impressed. And while I agreed with a number of his points - Furst does have an interesting relationship with punctuation - I can only hope that he is wrong. That being said, I enjoyed his most recent novel, Dark Voyage, the least of all of his novels. I hope this isn't a trend.

Myers also says that The Polish Officer is Furst's best novel, which is nowhere close to the truth. And while most of his novels tend to run together, my vote would be for Kingdom of Shadows. Still, I hope Myers is wrong, as my sanity on long plane flights this summer depends on it. For some reason Le Carre and Eric Ambler aren't doing it for me anymore, plus I've read most of there stuff - Le Carre's latest, Absolute Friends, was rubbish, and I'm even struggling to get through The Little Drummer Girl - something must be wrong, struggling to get through a spy novel. Earlier this year I even bought David Ignatius' Agents of Innocence, which was followed by Milt Bearden's The Black Tulip, neither of which was any good.

Why can't good spy novels be written any more? I really don't know, maybe the cranks at the computers need time to focus on a new enemy and maybe the next few years will see a host of books on al-Qaeda and the like. But for the moment Furst is our only hope, let's hope he doesn't disappoint.