01 August 2011

Robert F. Worth - Yemen on the Brink of Hell

Today's article is from the New York Times.

This is rather a stunning piece of reporting. Early on, I felt like I was beginning another celebration of the transformative power of nonviolent protest; Worth starts by describing and talking to Bushra al-Maqtari, one of the leading figures in the peaceful sitdowns that keep happening in Yemen's second-largest (and most Western) city of Taiz.

This thread continues throughout Worth's article; a portrait of Abdullah bin Haddar, a tribesman from Marib who has joined the protesters, is particularly compelling, and I'll quote a full paragraph from that portrait here:
Haddar brought the zeal of a convert to his new role as a protester. “I had never imagined this would be possible, giving up violence,” he said, staring at me with large, earnest eyes. “It is something heavenly, not earthly.” Within days, he had been beaten up badly in a street confrontation with plainclothes government thugs. He wore his new badge proudly, and Al Jazeera broadcast footage showing his bare back covered with scars. Members of his tribe in Marib saw it, and one of them called him right away. “They said we are coming to take revenge,” he told me. “They were heavily armed. I refused. I said if anyone wants to join me, he must leave aside all weapons, and not even carry a dagger. I told them, even if I am killed, they must not retaliate.” This was a violation of one of the fundamental tenets of tribal life. Haddar’s fellow tribesmen, baffled and wondering about his mental health, sent a delegation to see him and explore the sit-in. There were about 25 of them, he said, and on the first day in the city, a group of government thugs recognized Haddar and attacked him. “The tribesmen tried to protect me, but I said: ‘No! Each one protect himself.’ ”
Thankfully, though - if only because it transforms the article into something more complicated, more difficult, and, possibly, more powerful - Worth refuses this easy narrative in favor of a more fragmented one that points out the multiple sides to what is going on: a government that is fundamentally hostile towards the cities because of cultural differences; armed conflict between tribes in the North; a functional government cession of power in the South to jihadis (or, as Worth says the population calls them, 'musulaheen,' or 'armed men,') along with a population that is embracing those same jihadis because of their relative lack of corruption and because they're often perceived (no joke) as affiliated with the government that the US is paying billions of dollars to wipe them out.

One more quote:
Later that day, Saleh told me, he saw the jihadis open the vault at Zinjibar’s central bank. Saleh watched in amazement as they tossed piles of piles of currency into the air, urging local people to help themselves as the notes fluttered earthward. “They did not steal anything,” Saleh said. “They were the opposite of the Army, which always steals.”
If you're at all interested in what is an underreported and underrepresented aspect of the "Arab Spring," you owe it to yourself to check out this article. Do it. Do it now.

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