Category Archives: Member News

International Women’s Day 2017

drivingIn celebration of International Women’s Day 2017, the Middle East Program, the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, and Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center collected essays from 33 women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the United States, and elsewhere to mark the occasion. We bring together their responses—which cover a wide geographic region and a wide range of views—in this publication. The full publication is available here.

Amatalalim Alsoswa, former Yemeni Minister For Human Rights, and founder of Yemeni Women National Committee (Yemen)

Unfortunately, the United Nation’s attempts to establish a ceasefire in Yemen to stop the war that began on March 26, 2015 have been unsuccessful, because of the intransigence of the involved parties.

According to the United Nations Humanitarian Response Plan, in 2017, 18.8 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, and 10.3 million people are in “acute” need of humanitarian aid. Health care, educational services, and the public treasury are collapsing, and famine has become widespread. Many people are unable to send their children to school because so many people have stopped working, there is a shortage of textbooks, and the costs of studying in government and private schools are high.

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Burrowes on Dr. Abd al-Karim Al-Eryani

AKI Fragments
by Robert Burrowes

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Dr. Abd al-Karim Al-Eryani (AKI) was diminutive—I mean short, really short.  From time to time, a professor in the PhD program in Yale allegedly would come into class and exclaim: “Can’t believe it, but I just saw a driverless car with no one behind the wheel speeding across the campus.” The car he was alluding to was in fact one being driven by AKI who could only look through and not over the wheel.

If it wasn’t Dr. AKI who told me this tale, it was probably Middle East specialist Michael Hudson who did.  He and AKI were PhD students at Yale at the same time, Mike in political science and AKI in biology.  And this reminds me that it was Mike who facilitated my meeting Dr. AKI, and it also lets me illustrate things about the man.  As the following tale suggests, and regardless of his place in government, society or family, Dr. AKI did not tower over people—and this was not a function of his physical size.  He was by nature a welcoming, open and generous man.

At the urging of a political friend in Taiz, I had come  to Sanaa in spring 1976 in order to meet Dr. AKI, head of the Central Planning Organization.  An unemployed American academic and a refugee from Lebanon’s Civil War, I only made it halfway up the stairs to Dr. AKI’s office before I totally lost confidence, stopped and retreated.  Luckily for me, following me down the stairs was my friend Mike Hudson who had just met with his friend, Dr. AKI.  When Mike told me he was going the next day down to the Tihama with Dr. AKI for three days for a ceremony at the Wadi Zabiid Project, I proclaimed my envy.  Mike said:  “No problem. Show up with your bag at the hotel tomorrow morning.  I will introduce you to Dr. AKI and he will invite you to go along.  And that is precisely what happened.

We had a wonderful three days together, going down to and from the Tihama, in Wadi Zabid and for two nights in a modest hotel in al-Hodeidah.  Over these days, I learned more about the politics and recent political history of Yemen than I had over the previous half year in the country.  This proved to be the beginning of my political education—and nearly forty years of friendship.  He welcomed me with open arms dozens of times.  Some three decades later, not long after the Yemeni unification that he had helped engineer, Abd al-Karim invited me and several others for a week’s stay on an extraordinary island, Socotra.  We had a wonderful time, as did the Yemeni politician with the PhD in biology from Yale.  I think Mike Hudson was with us.

Was Dr. AKI politically naïve?  Yes—and no.  I think he was forever a political optimist, and at times I thought he was too much so.  When exasperated colleagues urged that after decades it was time to be rid of Dr. AKI, President Salih is alleged to have said “No, we need him and are going to work and ride him like a donkey until he drops over dead”.

In his second tour as prime minister, Dr. AKI chose as a main task the reform of a greatly inflated, incompetent and costly civil service that had gotten worse over the decades.  After months of effort, he was able to go before President Salih and announce that he had finally achieved agreement on a plan that would eliminate thousands of “shadow” positions, save lots of money and allow the leadership to focus on creating an effective government work force.  In response, the president announced to Dr. AKI that he had just reinforced tribal support for the regime by creating and financing thousands of “shadow” military jobs for tribal militias.  And so it went.

On the other hand, Dr. AKI often revealed a strong sense of political insight and awareness. Introduced to the Arab world in the late 1950s, I was for decades a disciple of Gamal Abdul Nasser, and coming to Yemen in 1975, a year after Ibrahim al-Hamdi seized power, I quickly became something of a disciple to the person many hailed as “the little Nasser”. Early on, I noticed in Dr. AKI a lack of enthusiasm for President al-Hamdi, and at some point I questioned him on this. He answered with a story: “On one of the few times I met alone with Ibrahim he drew close to me, tapped me on my knee, and softly said this:  “‘Abd al-Karim, I have one great weakness—I don’t trust anyone.’  Quickly, Ibrahim’s distrust poisoned his regime and spread to everyone.  And, in the end, his colleagues in the military got him before he got them.”  Clearly, Dr. AKI’s take on al-Hamdi was much better than mine.

Another story told to me by Dr. AKI or someone else in the Al-Eryani family relates to the above.  When the rare military member of the family, the one who had previously advised President Abd al-Rahman al-Eryani on military affairs, returned to Yemen from exile, he told members of the family that the distribution of troops around Sanaa could only mean that the military was positioned to overthrow al-Hamdi.  When he asked family leaders whether he should warn al-Hamdi of the danger, he was told by Dr. AKI that the president, long suspicious and distrustful of the al-Eryani family, would reject the warning, accuse the family of sowing discord, and punish the al-Eryanis.

To donate to the Memorial Fellowship Fund for Yemeni Scholars in honor of Dr. Al-Eryani, click here.

 

 

AIYS at MESA

AIYS held two well-attended panels at MESA in Boston last week.  Here are some of the photos from the panel organized by Dan Mahoney on the destruction of Yemen’s cultural heritage:

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Dr. Lamya Khalidi, Dr. Krista Lewis and Dr. Dan Mahoney at MESA

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Dr. McGuire Gibson at the heritage panel.  Dr. Gibson was the founder of AIYS in 1978.

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Dr. Lamya Khalidi, who also provided a video of Dr. al-Sayani, the current Director of the General Organization of Antiquities  and Museums in Yemen.

And here are photos from the panel organized by Dr. Marieke Brandt:

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New Book: Arabia Incognita

In 2011, millions of Yemenis calling themselves the Peaceful Youth joyfully joined the “Arab Spring.” Four years later, popular aspirations for social justice and a serious attempt at national dialogue were thwarted by deadly domestic power struggles. When the pro-Saudi, US-supported government fled to Riyadh in April 2015, the Kingdom led a multinational military intervention inside Yemen. By December, daily bombardment had killed thousands of fighters and civilians, injured and displaced hundreds of thousands, and decimated homes and infrastructure. A naval blockade cut off access to fuel, medicine, and food for millions. In addition to this humanitarian catastrophe, the ensuing chaos emboldened al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and led the group ISIS to expand there.

Perfect for understanding the political economy, geopolitics and social relations of the region.Prof. Laleh Khalili, University of London, SOAS

Arabia Incognita helps readers understand this tragic misadventure by tracing the Arabian Peninsula’s modern history from Yemen’s strong anti-imperial movement of the 1960s through the present series of conflicts. The majority of the essays focus on Yemen’s colorful and complex internal socio-political dynamics; others draw attention to parallel, often inter-connected disharmonies inside the Gulf’s petro-kingdoms; wider regional upheavals and movements; and America’s deep, vast and very problematic security involvement in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula.

Contents:

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AIYS at MESA 2016

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The annual MESA conference will be held in Boston this year from November 17-20.

AIYS–American Institute for Yemeni Studies
Thursday, 11/17  Board Meeting, 4-6pm, Orleans (4)
The Board meeting is for AIYS board members.

Friday, 11/18  Business Meeting, 5:30-6:30pm, Brandeis (3)
The business meeting is open to anyone who is interested.

AIYS sponsored Panel:
[P4302] Yemen: From Zaydi Revivalism to Huthi Expansionism

Created by Marieke Brandt
Chair: Daniel Martin Varisco
Saturday, 11/19/16 10:00am
•    The Curriculum and channels of knowledge for contemporary Zaydi ‘ulama’ in the Yemeni highlands by Hollenberg, David B.
•    Itineraries of expansion: The Sa‘dah Wars revisited by Brandt, Marieke
•    Antiauthoritarianism, Outreach and Misdirection: Unpacking the Houthis’ March to Sana’a and Beyond by Salisbury, Peter
•    Strategic Implications of Huthi Expansionism, Perpetual Insecurity and Internal War in Yemen by Seitz, Adam
SUMMARY:
Zaydism is a branch of Shia Islam which can look back on a millennium of continuity in the northern parts of Yemen. Since Zaydism is regarded as a particularly tolerant form of Islam, its coexistence with Yemen’s other denominations was historically largely unproblematic. About 25 years ago, however, a development started which substantially undermined the coexistence of denominations in Yemen. The increasing spread of radical Sunnism (Salafism and Wahhabism) in Yemen, funded by neighboring Saudi Arabia, as well as the economic and political neglect of large sections of the Zaydi north by the Salih regime has led to the emergence of a Zaydi revivalism movement which was inspired by a deep sense of peril. As a result, previously unknown divisions and fault lines between Sunni and Shiite denominations began to arise in Yemen.
In 2001 a group known as Ansar Allah or Huthis, taking their name from the family of a noted Zaydi scholar, splintered off the nascent Zaydi revival movement by schism. In 2004 the Salih regime entered into a brutal six-year war against the Huthis, creating a martyr with the killing of Husayn al-Huthi, a prominent critic of Salih’s regime. After the resignation of President Salih in 2012, the Huthis were able to conquer large parts of northern Yemen including the capital Sana’a which they seized in 2014 with the assistance of army troops still loyal to Salih. The military campaign against the Huthis carried out by a Saudi-led international alliance of Sunni states, which began in 2015, has eventually turned Yemen into a central crisis zone and humanitarian disaster in today’s globalizing world. Although very much a proxy war in the expanding sectarian rhetoric between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the ongoing war has turned Yemen into an internal struggle for power between numerous groups and ideologies.
The panel aims at elucidating historical roots and current aspects of both Zaydi revivalism and Huthi expansionism by the means and tools of a number of scholarly disciplines (religious studies, social anthropology, political science, and strategic studies). The panel focuses on Huthi struggles to demarcate a Zaydi identity in the Modern Middle East; the impact of the so called “Sa’dah Wars” which the Yemeni state waged against the Huthis from 2004 to 2010; Huthi politics of political alliances since 2011; and strategic aspects of Huthi expansionist ambitions in Yemen. Through considering this wide array of aspects, the panel aims to shed light on the often opaque transformations and developments of previous years and decades and thus to achieve a better understanding of current conflict in Yemen.

Other Yemen Papers at MESA

[P4369-18299] The Southern Baptist Medical Mission to Yemen, 1964-2002 by Asher Orkaby (Sunday, 11/20/16 8:00am)

[P4627-19118] The State Crisis in Yemen. The Quest for the Republic of South Arabia, Other Statutory Solutions and the Fight for Power by Susanne Dahlgren (Friday, 11/18/16 8:00am)

[P4520-18781] “Ittassilli, ya Marina”: Friendship, Frustration and Despair in Yemen by Marina de Regt (Friday, 11/18/16 5:45pm)

Yemen at Gulf Research Meeting

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Dr. Najwa Adra  (4th from left), AIYS member, presenting her paper at GRM in Cambridge.

The annual Gulf Research Meeting (GRM) was held in Cambridge, England last week (August 16-19).  Given the current crisis in Yemen, there was considerable attention paid to the conflict.  AIYS President Daniel Varisco and noted expert on Yemen Helen Lackner organized a panel on “Yemen and the GCC: Future Relations.”

A total of 13 papers were presented:
• Najwa Adra: “Tribes in Yemen: A Problem or Potential Solution”
• Hanin Abou Salem:  “Yemen & the GCC: Sectarianism & Future Relations”
• Ahmed Baabood: “The Future Role of Oman in Yemen”
• Marieke Brandt:  “Yemen’s Arduous Road to Peace: Twelve Years of Mediation with the Ḥūthīs Revisited”
•Maria-Louise Clausen:  “How Being Defined as a Fragile State can Legitimize Intervention: The Case of Yemen”
• Sterling Jensen “The Future of Yemen: The Economic and Security Roles of the GCC”
• Ashraf Mishrif: “Role of GCC in Yemen’s Economic Development”
• Raza Naeem (distance presentation) “ Understanding the Rise of Radicalism in Yemen; and Notes from Pakistan”
• Arash Reisinezhad and Parisa Farhadi (distance presentation): “Ambiguous Connections: Iran and the Yemeni Houthis”
• Daniel Martin Varisco: “Developing Yemen’s Futures:  Can Arabia Ever be Felix Again?”
• AJG Wight and RJ Spencer: “Rehabilitating the Yemeni Defence and Security Establishment”
• Cornelia Zeineddin:  “The Gulf Countries’ Foreign Policy Changes and Standpoint in Yemen”
• Mahjoob Zweiri:  “Yemen in the Context of Iran-Gulf Relations”

Tribute to a Friend

The following obituary was published in Anthropology News by Dr. Najwa Adra on June 16.

Bint al-Wadi’i, Al-Ahjur, Yemen (circa 1944-2016), الله يرحمها ويعوض اهلها

Written in memory of a friend whose support was crucial to my understanding of life and etiquette during my ethnographic research in Yemen.

In 1978-79, my husband, Daniel Varisco, and I spent 18 months conducting dissertation fieldwork in the beautiful basin of al-Ahjur, located in Yemen’s Central Highland Plateau. I studied the semiotics of dancing in a project that morphed into the semiotics of tribal identity, while Dan’s work focused on the ecology of irrigation systems. Neither of us hired a paid informant. We spent most days going out into the community, Dan observing and talking with farmers in the fields, while I hung out with women and sometimes women and men together, since village life is not usually gender segregated. Occasionally each of us conducted formal interviews with local specialists, and it seemed that we spent an inordinate amount of time writing diaries and typing field notes.

We were fortunate to rent a room in the house of the respected leader and mediator, Al-Sayyid Abdallah Abd al-Kader. Our lodgings were extraordinarily comfortable by fieldwork standards, but more importantly, being guests of a respected family provided our presence with a legitimacy that opened doors to all of the houses in nearby villages and towns. Sayyid Abdallah and his family were more than gracious hosts. They were mentors, spending time and energy responding to our questions (and I’m sure the questions of others about us.) I spent hours with my hostess, known locally as “al-Sharifa” or “bint al-Wadi’i,” sometimes helping in the kitchen, other times sitting together chatting. She taught me local dialect and patiently answered my long lists of questions. Village gossip travels fast, and the goings and comings of local anthropologists are prime topics of conversation. She patiently explained local etiquette whenever she heard my faux pas, or I registered surprise at someone’s behavior. We became fast friends.

In 1983, I spent 4 months with them while Daniel was in Cairo. I did not realize until years later that my presence without my husband was troublesome. They had to defend my reputation in several ways, but she never let on. Our friendship continued over the years. I would visit whenever I returned to Yemen, and we talked occasionally by phone, although I often had problems connecting with them from New York. I am grateful that communication has been easier from Doha.

I never think or write about Yemen without remembering bint al-Wadi’i and her wonderful family. Both Dan and I owe so much to their help. Today, I learned that my friend passed away May 2 from a heart attack. May she rest in peace, and may God give her family solace.

The AN Column on obituaries is reserved for anthropologists, but many of us also mourn the passing of individuals we knew during and after our fieldwork. The following tribute was written by Najwa Adra, najwa.adra@gmail.com, on May 6.

 

 

AIYS Yemeni Fellowships 2016

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AIYS is pleased to announce that we were able to give out research fellowships to Yemeni scholars this year, despite the difficult situation in Yemen.  On June 21 they came to the institute to meet with Dr. Salwa Dammaj.  Those who received the fellowships are:

1.       Zeineb Suhill – Natural Disasters that affected Sana’a in the nineteenth and twentieth century.
2.      Libya Abdalla – Slaves and slavery in ancient writings of Yemen.
3.      Muhammed Abdel Wakeel Jazm – Pioneering Poets in Yemen..
4.       Aziza Tajadden – Micropropagation of Adansonia digitata by plant tissue culture techniques
5.       Fawziah al-Ammar – Adaption of survey for assessing PTSD in children and use in study of children in Sana’a.  .
6.       Thana Shuga al Deen – Assessment of heavy metal contamination in agriculture soils using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF)
7.       Zainab Alansse – Phytochemical and biological activity of Euphorbia arbuscula and its stem latex.
8.   سبأ العديني Saba al Udaini –Impact of foreign interventions on the domestic crises in Yemen 2004-201

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More AIYS at MESA 2016

AIYS will be sponsoring a second panel at MESA in Boston, as follows:

[R4434] The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Yemen and Current Preservation Efforts

Created by Daniel Mahoney
Friday, 11/18/16 10:00am

SUMMARY:

This roundtable, sponsored by the American Institute for Yemeni studies, will discuss the destruction of cultural heritage in Yemen, in light of the Saudi coalition air strikes as well as the ensuing internal conflict and rising Islamism, in order to assess the extent of damage and solutions for current protection and future preservation. Since March 2015, Saudi coalition air strikes have been conducted in Yemen under the stated purpose of countering Houthi rebels who had taken control of the capital Sanaa and a large part of the country. This offensive has left over 6,000 dead, over 30,000 wounded, and 2.5 million internally displaced. Another result has been the continuous destruction of over 47 archaeological sites and monuments, as confirmed by Mohannad Al-Sayani, director of the General Organization for Antiquities and Museums of Yemen. These include not only historical mosques and citadels, but also 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites including the celebrated vernacular architecture of old Sanaa, the pre-Islamic cities of Baraqish and Sirwah, and the famed Marib dam, all of which have already previously undergone significant restoration efforts. Additionally, more than six museums have been damaged by aerial shelling, among them the regional museum of Dhamar and the National Museum of Sanaa. This extensive destruction clearly provokes further questioning into the motivations of these campaigns which seem to target highly valued places of cultural heritage. The pattern becomes further complicated by the confirmation that, while the U.S. State Department (and UNESCO) had given the Saudi coalition a list of specific sites to avoid and their location, they also provided it with logistical support and intelligence for their military offensive. Conversely, other efforts have are being made to try to preserve and document Yemeni heritage before it is lost, such as the Yemeni Manuscript Digitization Initiative, wherein a team of scholars from inside and outside of Yemen are working together to create a digital library of manuscripts taken from private collections in Yemen. By addressing current damage, this round table is organized with the intention of raising awareness regarding the destruction of priceless world heritage and finding current and future solutions for its protection and preservation by local authorities and specialists.

The panel will be chaired by Dr. Daniel Mahoney. The panelists include: