In Yemen, Locals Worry About Obama Policy on Al-Qaeda

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michael Horton, The Christian Science Monitor

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Yemeni family. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr)

From smoky halls to the rugged mountains of Yemen, locals are worried that their country – threatened more by poverty and water shortages than terrorism, they say – could turn into another Afghanistan.

Sanaa, Yemen – Amid an intensifying US effort to curb Al Qaeda activity in Yemen, locals in this impoverished country are worried that a focus on military aid alone could backfire – spawning a more robust militant movement and potentially drawing the US into an Afghanistan-like war.

In a smoke-filled hall in the capital of Sanaa, where men gather to chew the mildly intoxicating leaves of the qat tree and smoke water pipes, most of the talk is about Al-Qaeda and American intentions in Yemen.

“By God, they want to turn this country into Afghanistan,” declares Mohammad al-Jaffi, a young man who says he fled the Arhab area, a mountainous region just north of Sanaa, after a recent attack on a suspected Al Qaeda hideout. On Monday, the government said it killed two Al Qaeda members in the Arhab region.

“We are not radicals here,” Mr. Jaffi adds, his cheek bulging with the pulpy green leaves that strict Salafis — the Muslim sect that Al Qaeda members belong to — consider forbidden. Holding up a qat branch, he yells, “Look at this. We all chew this here – in Afghanistan, in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabis would kill us for chewing qat.”

But US and other foreign diplomats are clearly concerned. France, Germany, and Japan all closed their embassies Monday, following US and British closures the previous day, amid reports that a significant amount of explosives had gone missing from the Yemeni army.

“Exclusive Focus on Al Qaeda a Mistake”

With the reported surge in Al-Qaeda activity in Yemen, the Obama administration has reiterated its “partnership” with the increasingly vulnerable regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who faces a rebellion in the north and secessionists in the south. Gen. David Petraeus, who as head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) is overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, announced on Jan. 1 that the US would double military aid to Yemen after allocating a reported $70 million in 2009.

It has been widely reported that the US is also providing the Yemeni government with intelligence and military trainers. Britain, meanwhile, has announced that it will fund an antiterror police force. Such a sole focus on suspected terrorism is seen as a mistake by some experts as well as locals.

“I think an exclusive focus on Al Qaeda to the exclusion of every other threat in Yemen is a mistake,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Princeton PhD candidate who was recently in Yemen for his research on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). “Viewing this threat only through the prism of Al Qaeda induces exactly the kind of result the US is hoping to avoid.”

Locals in two provinces often cited as Al Qaeda strongholds, Al-Jawf and Marib, are more concerned with severe poverty – an issue they say the central government has done little to alleviate.

“This government does not care about us. Everything we have, we have to fight for – to get money for a school or medicine we have to block the road. This is all they listen to,” says Ahmad al-Nasri. “By God the tribe is all we have, it is what protects us.”

Mr. Johnsen says that development aid is “crucial” in Marib and Al-Jawf, but disputes the popular depiction of Yemen as a place with large areas that are totally ungovernable.

“The government doesn’t appear to be able to constantly control these areas,” he acknowledges, citing recent flare-ups between tribal leaders and the government. “But the image of Yemen being a Wild West … is not necessarily accurate.”

Yemeni government offices in Sanaa were closed and the Yemeni embassy in Washington was unable to comment before press time.

Water Shortages

A potentially greater destabilizing influence than militancy in Yemen is water shortages, which are already the root of a large percentage of the inter-tribal fighting that plagues the country.

The UN has ranked Yemen as one of the most water-scarce countries, and one local geology professor has estimated that Sanaa’s wells will go dry by 2015 at current usage rates. The country is in desperate need of investment in new drip irrigation systems and water conservation measures.

“Look at these apricot trees,” says Mohammad Faris, who owns an orchard on the outskirts of Sanaa that once flourished. “Half of them are dead from lack of water.”

“We don’t need more guns in this country,” declares Mr. Faris as he stands among the parched remains of what used to be fertile ground. “This village needs a new water pump and we need new trees that drink less water.”

Increased Sympathy for Al Qaeda?

Many locals emphasize that the country’s primary need is development aid, which has in the past been hampered by international concerns about government corruption. But some say they’re ready to fight if the US comes – a prospect that as yet looks unlikely, though Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut recently suggested that without preemptive action a future war may occur.

“We have a long history of fighting invaders here,” says Ismail Hadi, a village elder in the rugged mountainous province of Hajjah, not far from the sectarian war being fought against Houthi rebels. As he looks out over his terraces of qat trees that cascade down towards a deep canyon, he adds, “We fought the Turks, we fought the Egyptians, God willing we will fight the Americans when they come.”

Back at the Sanaa qat hall, Uithman al- Ansi echoes that sentiment.

“If the Americans want a fight they will get it,” says Mr. Ansi as he grabs the hilt of his jambiya, the traditional dagger carried by many men here. Another man who says he is from Marib, one of the two frequently cited Al Qaeda strongholds, suggests that US attacks or support for attacks on suspected militants could increase the number of Al Qaeda sympathizers in Yemen.

“The Americans don’t know our customs,” says the man. “When they attacked al-Harithi [a suspected Al-Qaeda member who was targeted by a US drone in November 2002] on our lands, his people became our guests. We have long memories.”

Christa Case Bryant contributed reporting from Boston.

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An Evening with Camels

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

From Moments In Words From Hadhramout by noreply@blogger.com (Omar Barsawad)

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Camels. In Australia they are brutally butchered; not for their meat; not for their skins; but simply because they are considered ‘feral’, ‘pests’ and a ‘problem’. The recent ‘culling’ of camels in Australia’s Northern Territory cost its government about 50,000$; enough money to have dug boreholes for the camels which roam from place to place in search of water. The one humped, Arabian Camels were introduced to the mainly arid Australia, for transport, in the mid 18th Century; but since then, they have rapidly been increasing in numbers. As Australians have no other use for them, they have repeatedly reduced the population of camels, by cruelly shooting them either form planes in the air, or by chasing them on moving vehicles. How barbaric. Had some poor, developing country been doing that to marauding lions or elephants – how would Australians have felt?

Camels should never have been taken to Australia; as people there have no liking for or understanding of the amazing animals. Had Australians understood this wonderful creature, they would have known how to benefit from it; they would have known how to use it; and they would have known how to respect it. Benefit from it; use it; and respect and value it as we do here in Hadhramout. 

African elephants, which I have many times seen at very close range – have always greatly awed and amazed me; and so have camels. A few days ago, I spent an evening with these extraordinary animals. Just a few meters from the center of Al Mukalla, is  a market for camels:

Most people wrongly believe that, as camels mainly live in very arid, hot places, the humps that they have is for storing water. The humps are actually a reservoir of fat; it helps in providing nutrients when needed and in a way helps in controlling heat over the animal’s body.

Camels are born without humps; the hump develops as the camel grows . And as camels use the fat within the humps when they have less food, the hump’s size reduces. Or it increases when the camel has more food. Camels can weigh op to 700 kilograms and can grow up to slightly over 2 meters. They gestate for 11 months; usually giving birth to 1 calf at a time. The young reach adulthood at between 5 to 7 years. A normal life span for a camel is 40 years.

A camel’s hump is a giant mound of fat. In a healthy, well-fed camel, the hump can weigh as much as 35 kilograms. The hump allows a camel to survive an extremely long time without food, if need be.

Camels are cud-chewers. Its mouth is very sturdy enabling it to chew dry, thorny desert plants. Its eyelashes have an interlocking system, of three eye-lids, which automatically shut when necessary; like during sand storms. The first two eye-lids have long eye lashes, which keep out sand; the third eye-lid is transparent and blinks side ways like car wipers, and is transparent allowing camels to see even when their eyes are closed. Its nostrils are shaped to protect it from dust and to trap water vapor and return the vapor to the body during respiration. The ears too, are shaped to protect it from dust and sand. Camels release white salivary stuff when they feel threatened; as the above camel is doing when I got too close to it while taking these photos.

A camel’s neck is long. This enables it to reach leaves and thorns which are high on trees. Its thick, hairy coat reflects sunlight and insulates it from intense desert heat or keeps it warm when it gets cold. Camels are unique: they can survive in extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. Their maintenance is cheap and easy as they can browse and eat a wide range of plant species; and they are very resistant to diseases.

Camels can survive without water or food; depending on the heat and how what luggage it is carrying, a camel can survive for up to 10 days without food or water. If it is cool, it can live even longer without water. In the Sahara, they can go all winter without water.

Camels do not only live in some of the most desolate and inhospitable places on Earth; they thrive there. Where most large animals would perish, camels survive. They are able to do this by their amazing body mechanism and their incredible ability to efficiently use the available resources there; and they are omnivorous and able to eat a most varied type of foods.  

Docile and very good when treated well; camels easily become angry and stubborn when ill treated. No other animal is as endearing to Arabs as the camel; it is said that there are about 160 words for ‘camel’ in the Arabic language. To most Bedouins, camels are a symbol of wealth and strength.

Here, camel meat is cherished; and so is its milk. Both of which, especially its milk – are considered medicinal. Even a camel’s urine is used as medicine for treating hepatitis, cancer, skin diseases, toothache, autism and many other diseases. The urine is also used as an antiseptic. I know for a fact, that women who have used camel urine to wash their hair, their hairs became longer, lighter and more lustrous.

Did you know that camel meat has no fat or cholesterol? As the fat is concentrated on a camel’s hump, its meat is lean and better for us than beef and much better than pork. And did you know that camel’s milk is closer to human milk than cow’s milk and thus better for us? It does not curdle. Is more easily digestible than cow’s milk. It has three times the amount of vitamin C than cow’s milk; is rich in B vitamins and iron.  And it also contains anti-bodies and insulin which can fight diseases.

Able to travel for up to 50 kilometers per day in the harsh, hot deserts; camels have long legs which keep it high from the hot sand. Its feet, with broader hooves than that of horses, has two toes – underneath which are fatty balls of leathery pads or ‘cushions’ which enable it to walk easily on sands. Observe closely at the way camels walk: of all animals, only cats and giraffes are known to walk in the same way – moving both front and back legs on one side of the body and then the other legs on the other side.

Camels are used in all Middle Eastern countries and in many parts of Asia. But, surprisingly, camels’ predecessors are from the Western Hemisphere and they are closely related to llamas, alpacas and vicunas of South America. Did you know that, today, of all people – Somalis, both in Somalia and in Ethiopia, have more camels, per capita, than any other people?

And did you know that, although Arabs use both very well; and love and value both very much, horses detest the smell of camels? In wars, when camels are used against horses – horses are known to become hard to control; and many times they run away from charging camels.

All old great Middle Eastern civilizations, very much depended on camels. The Arabs, the Assyrians, the Persians and the Nabateans all used camels. And so did the Muslim armies that conquered the then super-powers: the Byzantine and the Persian empires in the 7th AD. Whenever one thinks of the Great Prophets of old, camels come to mind. The camel is mentioned several times in the Holly Bible. It is eloquently mentioned in Quran Al Kareem: Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made? ………” Surat al-Ghashiya (17-21).

No other people respect, cherish and value camels as Arabs and Muslims do. No other animal species is as important here as is the camel. It has served us very well before. Is still serving us. And will undoubtedly continue to serve us always. With the present, fast World’s changing climate and as quick as food prices rise – as environmentally friendly a mode of transport as it is; as beneficial a dietary as it is; and as versatile, sustainable and adaptive as it is, the Camel will be a most important part of life here, for as long as it and humans exist.  

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Mohammed Ikram, ‘Green Hero’

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Pic Mohammed Ikram, Energy Manager and former Electrical Engineer for the USAG Detroit Arsenal, was awarded the 31st Annual Secretary of the Army Energy and Water Management Award. He successfully solved the challenge of coordinating five projects which resulted in a reduction of of more than 30,000M  BTUs and a cost savings of over $500K in one year’s time. As the Program Manager, Mr. Ikram oversaw the total coordination and implementation of the Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC).

“Mr. Ikram’s work to maintain energy levels at the installation are a significant achievement given our small land mass and increasing population growth at Detroit Arsenal,” reads the citation.

Because of the dedicated efforts of Mohammed Ikram, the USAG-Detroit Arsenal has established a strong foundation for the future development of safe, dependable, environmentally friendly and cost-effective energy and water campaigns.

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The Frozen Faloodeh

August 13, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

FALOODEH The month of August is one of the hottest in the Middle East, with temperatures sweltering, in many parts of the region, to well above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping cool is at the forefront of everyone’s mind and the best way to do that is with a delicious bowl of ice cream. Forget about Baskin Robbins and all their 31 flavors. For centuries, frozen Faloodeh has graced the palate of many an Arab ice cream connoisseur. Faloodeh is one of the earliest known frozen desserts, with historians dating its creation prior to 400 BC in Persia. Back then the people would collect ice from the mountains and build special freezers known as yakhchals specifically to freeze Faloodeh.

The Faloodeh is primarily a concoction comprised of water, cornstarch, limejuice and rose water. It is often garnished with chopped pistachios, cherries and a splash of cherry juice. The method is simple. A cup of cornstarch is dissolved into three cups of boiling water. That mixture is left to thicken and then placed into a strainer. With a spoon, the mixture is forced through the strainer and into a large bowl of iced water so that thin noodles are formed. The noodles are left in the water until firm. Once they are drained, they are mixed with the rose water and limejuice and frozen for 5 hours, with intermittent stirring. Prior to serving, the Faloodeh is sometimes colored with food coloring. It is divided into three portions. And each portion is colored red, green, or yellow.  It is assembled on the plate in a horizontal bar shape.

The result is amazing. Perfect little frozen noodles that are flavored with just the right amounts of both sweet and sour notes. Faloodeh is popular everywhere in the Middle East however, it is a staple item in Afghanistan, Iran, India and Pakistan. And based on which country you are in, the Faloodeh is culturally morphed to fit in with local cuisine. In Pakistan and India, for example, the Faloodeh is served as a garnish for the traditional Kulfi ice cream.

The Faloodeh was no doubt born out of necessity. Even today, rich cream and sugar are expensive commodities in many parts of the developing world. Whipping up a bowl of rich and creamy ice cream would break the budget of a family in Afghanistan or Iran. Faloodeh is so economical, requiring so few ingredients, that even poor families can indulge the frozen dessert on a regular basis.

Faloodeh is not the only unique ice cream in the Middle East. Some of the most popular ice creams in the region would make most Americans turn up their noses. Unlike in America, where cake, cookies and candies are what make premium ice creams popular, Middle Eastern ice creams are typically flavored with teas, spices, fruit and even vegetables. Some of the most popular ice creams include saffron ice cream, which is a deep yellow and tastes as pungent as the spice itself and beetroot ice cream which is crimson red and flavored with just a hint of rose water. Another favorite is avocado ice cream, which is a best seller in the scorching summer heat.

No matter which way you scoop it, ice cream is popular all over the world with each country putting their own twist on the frosty treat.

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Tunnels

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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A tunnel is an underground passage that may be used for car or boat traffic, subways, pedestrians, water  or sewage, or power and communication line. Some of the earliest tunnels were the roman aqueducts. They were used to carry clean water into the cities and transport sewage away. Even without electric machinery, the Romans constructed tunnels that lasted until modern time.

The method used to create a tunnel depends on where it is to be constructed and what material will surround it. A tunnel through mountain rock is usually made with a tunnel-boring machine, or mole. This powerful machine is shaped like a large cylinder: it cuts and grinds through rock, leaving behind a passageway. Because rock surrounds the tunnel, extra support isn’t necessary during construction. Explosives were used before the invention of moles, but moles are safer and quieter. They also leave behind a smoother tunnel of the exact shape the engineers want.

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The Crimson Tide

March 26, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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It sounds like something out of a sci-fi blockbuster. A mysterious red blob suffocates and kills anything that gets in its way as it slithers along, leaving mayhem in its wake.

However, in the case of the current crimson tide washing up in the GCC, truth is stranger than fiction. Known as ‘red tide’, the phenomenon is caused by a thick growth of phytoplankton called dinoflagellates, and it occurs naturally.

However, scientists have discovered that some variants of the occurrence may also be a by-product of human activities, such as development programs to extend land borders by adding fillers to the sea, or the dumping of waste into the ocean. The red tide suffocates fish and other marine life to death. Areas of the coastline affected by the phenomenon are often littered with the carcasses of fish, crabs and other sea creatures.

Typically, the red tide rears its’ ugly head in the spring. However, this year the red tide arrived as early as this past October off the coast of the UAE where it still lingers and is spreading to other GCC States including Oman. This past January the Ministry of Environment and Water in Abu Dhabi appointed a specialized team to develop a national course of action to cope with the problem that has left many beaches in the kingdom empty as well as several dinner plates. The ministry has also launched an intense media blitz to inform the public how to stay safe during the peak of the red tides. While studies have shown that it is safe to swim in the tainted water, being in close contact with the algae can cause severe respiratory problems. As for eating the marine life that is veritably soaking up the contaminated water, it is safe to consume seafood as long as the catches are caught fresh and alive. Officials have warned the public from scavenging through the several tons of dead fish that have already washed up along the coast. A mass clean up effort is continuously underway in the affected regions to collect the decomposing corpses and incinerate them at a public facility.    The government of the UAE also plans to develop a system of satellites to serve as an early warning system for when the red tides begin to roll in.

This past week the State of Kuwait was put on alert as the red tide began looking for its next victim. The Environment Public Authority (EPA) in Kuwait has warned the government to give the phenomenon special attention for the sake of public health. The Kuwaiti government sent scientific expert, Dr. Mona Hussein, to the UAE this week to study the red tides first hand before they make landfall in Kuwait. Dr. Hussein will collect water and dead fish samples to bring back to Kuwait for further studies.

As a result of the red tides, the tourism industry in the GCC has taken a massive hit especially in Dubai where divers from all over the world come to enjoy the crystal blue waters and immaculate coral reefs. The murky waters are keeping tourists away and isolating the public from their own coastline.

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