From Ḥadīth to Zawāmil
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.
Today's big news from Yemen, as usual, happened in Arabic. Ḥasan Muḥammad Manā', who is quickly becoming my favorite governor to read, has an interview in today's al-Sharq al-Awsat. How can you not like a guy who quotes a ḥadīth in an interview with the press?
He talks about a number of things - the state of al-Qaeda in Ṣa'dah (weak), his reaction to the Huthis overtures (lies and deceptions, nice to see he has the same script as San'a) and, of course, the recent arrest of his brother, Fāris - but the thing I found most interesting was his discussion of the tribal fighters from the al-Ḥada tribe.
The reporter asked about the 1000 tribal fighters, but was quickly corrected by al-Manā', who said it was only 150 and they were only there as guards for a convoy of supplies. But what is missed in this exchange is that the government's current military commander in Ṣa'dah, Muḥammad al-Qawsī (the principal deputy in the Ministry of the Interior - also a key figure in the politics of marriage) is from this same tribe. The links, as always, are more fascinating the deeper you go.
From there the quality of the day dropped off significantly.
First, there is Jonathan Schanzer's testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which depressed me, and not for the usual reasons that reading about Yemen depresses me.
Next up was this report, following an event today at the Bipartisan Policy Center. The report is much too massive for a Wednesday evening, but in skimming through it I noticed two things. First, everything I said at a Carnegie event back in July was attributed to Christopher Boucek and not to me (the person who said them). That is not the way to win friends at Waq al-waq. C'mon, we know you can do better.
Second, the piece for some reason claims that Imām Aḥmad was known as "the devil." I nearly choked on my Gatorade.
Still, it was an admirable attempt to add color to the report. It just happened to be incorrect and misleading color. The Arabic, I'm fairly certain, that Ahmad would have used to refer to himself would have been Bāhūt and not Iblīs. R.B. Serjeant - a huge hero of Waq al-waq, who reportedly liked a fine single malt - translated Bāhūt as "The Terrible," a phrase I cannot improve upon.
After the latter two reports, the rest of my to-read pile on Yemen lost its attraction.