Friday Papers: The Most Unhelpful Biography Ever
Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Johnsen has written for a variety of publications on Yemen including, among others, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, The Independent, The Boston Globe, and The National. He is the co-founder of Waq al-Waq: Islam and Insurgency in Yemen Blog. In 2009, he was a member of the USAID's conflict assessment team for Yemen.
There was much I missed in my two-day absence from blogging (although I greatly enjoyed the time off), only some of which I will recap here.
First, for those of you who missed Brian's not so live blogging of the Senate hearing on Yemen, I would recommend you read it. It is brilliant - even if I think my posture is to die for. I was at the hearing and I still found it illuminating to read his comments: like attending a game live and then getting home to listen to Bob Costas do the play-by-play. Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading the full testimonies of all the participants.
Apparently the length of mine (45 double-spaced pages) has frustrated and deterred some would-be readers (although no one on the committee has complained) but what can I say avoiding talking about Yemen in platitudes takes time and space and I cut out 20 pages on the Huthis and the entire section on the south as well as a great deal of detail on AQAP. For those brave enough or just plain bored all the testimonies, along with the video of the hearing, is available here.
I would also add that I came away from the hearing quite impressed with Senator Kerry's grasp of the situation - whoever briefed him did an excellent job.
I also took part in a panel at Brookings on al-Qaeda and Yemen - the full audio and select video is available here.
And finally the Wall Street Journal has an article on al-Qaeda's attempts to link up with different tribes in Yemen - I am quoted in the article, where I have apparently fallen in love with different variations of the word "root."
I would quibble with a couple of details in the article - I don't think Muhammad al-'Umda is a leader and I don't think al-Shihri joined AQAP in 2007 but rather in December 2008 or January 2009. Still there were some excellent points, and Charles Levinson and Margaret Coker bring up a number of points and even cite the anecdote that I often mention about the village in Shabwa and teachers and AQ, which I wrote about here.
I will say I am a bit surprised by some of Nasir al-Bahri's quotes. It would be very interesting and, possibly, quite frightening to see how much al-Qaeda is attempting to make itself over into a positive organization, or if this is even something the group is capable of doing or whether this is more along the lines of the group easing its presence by handing out money to people.
If it is just money then I am less concerned but if it is doing something more substantial then I think this is a more serious problem than most are realizing.
While I was away, Mareb Press had one of the least illuminating biographies of 'Aidh al-Shabwani that I have ever seen. Mareb Press has very good sources in, not surprisingly, Marib. But this article told us nothing that we didn't already know.
Al-Shabwani's house was attacked on Wednesday by Yemeni planes and the tribes responded with anti-aircraft fire. No word on casualties yet, but initial reports seem to indicate that there were none. There were, however, a couple of separate security incidents in Marib over the past couple of days.
In other news, one of the "pioneers of women's rights in Yemen," Fatima Abu Bakr al-'Awlaqi passed away.
Meanwhile, 'Abd al-Malik al-Huthi appears in a video to show that he is not A.) dead and B.) did not have a leg amputated as the Yemeni government claimed. These claims and allegations, he says, are slander and untrue. The video is here. The whole things is 38 seconds.
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