Category Archives: Member News

Who Lost Yemen?

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Obama calls it a “model” for fighting terror. So why didn’t anyone notice last month’s coup?

By CHARLES SCHMITZ,  Politico Magazine, October 15, 2014

Nobody saw it coming. On Sept. 20, Yemen’s Huthi movement executed a political coup so stealthy that the world hardly noticed, and so momentous that local commentators are dividing modern Yemeni history into before and after the Huthi assent to power. The Huthis, a Shiite-led rebel group with a power base in Yemen’s far north, have been waiting for this moment since the early 2000s, when their civil rights campaign was forced to take up arms in self-defense.

The Huthi coup is not only reshuffling the Yemen political deck, but also regional political calculations, particularly in the Arab Gulf, because the Huthi maintain good ties with Iran. And it poses problems for President Obama’s war against Yemen’s al Qaeda affiliate.

Over the last six months, Huthi militias extended their control over regions adjacent to the Huthi stronghold in Saada, 230 kilometers north of the Yemeni capital Sanaa. They wrested leadership of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation, destroyed military units allied with the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islah Party, and ousted their Salafi opponents from the Dammaj Valley, a few miles southeast of Saada. Finally, the Huthi descended upon Sanaa, destroyed the last remaining military units loyal to Gen. Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, the once-powerful commander of the 1st Armored Division, and his allies in the Islah Party, and took control of the Yemeni government without much resistance – and surprisingly little international coverage.
Continue reading Who Lost Yemen?

Mahri: A language or dialect?

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from Bertram Thomas’ “Arabia Felix” (1932)

[The article below features research by AIYS Board Member Sam Liebhaber.]

by Ali Abulohoom, Yemen Times, October 2,  2014

“My father told me that [in his village in Mahra] back in the day, they did not use any language but Mahri in their daily lives, as there was no need to use ‘formal language’ [Arabic],” said Saeed Bin Basheer, 52, who lives in Al-Ghaiyda, the capital city of Mahra governorate.

Basheer still speaks the Mahri language and urges his four sons to do the same.

I always tell my sons not to forget Mahri as it is part of our culture and identity. Arabic, English, and other languages have become easy to learn anywhere, whereas Mahri [is in danger of dying],” Basheer added.

In 2009, the Yemeni Central Statistical Organization estimated the population in Al-Mahra governorate at 101,701—many of whom speak the region’s traditional Mahri language.

Like Arabic and Hebrew, Mahri is a Semitic language. Unlike its two Semitic counterparts, however, it lacks a written tradition. Except for a few short lines and word lists, which have been published in Arabic, the Mahri language has only been written down for scholarly audiences.

Continue reading Mahri: A language or dialect?

AIYS at MESA 2014: Making Yemen’s Islamic History: Engineering, Monuments, Taxes and Stimulants

[P3654] Making Yemen’s Islamic History: Engineering, Monuments, Taxes and Stimulants

 MESA Annual Convention, Washington DC
To be held Monday, 11/24/14 11:00am

•    Written versus archaeological evidence: The example of water and wastewater in medieval Zabid, Yemen by Dr. Ingrid Hehmeyer
•    Ideal and pragmatic tax law in mediaeval Zaydi Yemen by Dr. Eirik Hovden
•    A cultural heritage text from early medieval South Arabia by Dr. Daniel Mahoney
•    Coffee and Qat in Yemen: The Historical and Literary Evidence for their Introduction by Dr. Daniel Martin Varisco
•    Discussant:  Dr. Nancy Ajung Um

SUMMARY:

Scholarship on Islamic history has paid less attention to Yemen than to Iraq, Syria or Egypt. Despite an important corpus of manuscripts and the publication of several significant primary sources, the historical reconstruction of Islamic Yemen lags behind these other regions. This panel brings together historians who work on various periods in Yemen to illustrate how the current historiography is being made. Archaeological fieldwork on the Islamic era has been limited with the notable exception of the Royal Ontario Museum project on Zabid. Based on the excavation of water works in Zabid, one paper compares the material evidence with the description of water engineering schemes in the 16th century Yemeni text History of Zabid by Ibn al-Dayba’, thus showing the importance of archaeology for fleshing out the tantalizing details in written texts. Another paper focuses on the 10th century multi-volume al-Iklil of the Yemeni savant al-Hamdani, who provides a rhetorical landscape of monuments as an aid in the formation and maintenance of the South Arabian political identity in a fashion akin to modern cultural heritage texts. At the same time, al-Hamdani’s reconstruction of Yemen’s pre-Islamic past serves as a mirror of the politics of his own time, with the retreat of the Abbasid presence and the recent arrival of both Zaydis and Isma’ilis to northern Yemen, more than a century before the Ayyubid invasion. The Zaydi presence in Yemen’s north since the late ninth century is the focus of a paper on the tax policies of the Zaydi imams, especially the tension between the traditional zakat on production and other kinds of taxes. This paper discusses both the theological debate about tax collection and recorded information on how taxes were actually collected. Another paper examines the evidence for the introduction of both coffee (Coffea arabica) and qat (Catha edulis) into Yemen, probably during the Rasulid era. Recent research has resolved the issue of the origin of the term “qat” and there is a need to update discussion of the stimulant in previous sources, including the EI. This paper will examine historical, literary, legal and lexical sources as well as Yemeni folklore. Overall the panel provides both an indication of current research and an invitation for other scholars to help make Yemen’s history as well.

AIYS at MESA 2014: Yemen’s Cultural Crisis: Catastrophe or Opportunity?

Yemen’s Cultural Crisis: Catastrophe or Opportunity?

MESA Annual Convention,  Sunday, November 23, 4:30pm

•    Bridging the Generation Gap to Protect Nature in Yemen: Conservation of Nature through Culture by Mohammed Al-Duais
•    Cents and (Cultural) Sensibility: How Transnational Political Agendas Condition the Content of Contemporary Theater in Yemen by Katherine Hennessey
•    It Looks Good on Paper: Conserving Zabid’s Manuscripts and Intellectual History by Anne Regourd
•    Conserving Built Heritage and Landscapes in Yemen: Political and Cultural Considerations for Sustainability by Stephen Steinbeiser and  Abdullah Al-Hadhrami
• Chair:  Dr. Sheila Carapico

SUMMARY:

This panel investigates how sociopolitical turmoil in Yemen from 2011 to the present has impacted the production, development, and preservation of culture in domains ranging from the arts to architecture to archeology. Dire political and economic circumstances, as well as other impending emergencies, have largely thrown into crisis efforts to create and maintain Yemen’s cultural heritage. International and diplomatic efforts to stabilize the political situation in Yemen have resulted in pledges of billions of dollars, presumably to shore up a failing economy, combat terrorism and ensure security. Although these are undeniably crucial goals, this panel argues that a brighter future for the country depends more on a holistic awareness and approach to addressing the country’s problems, one which broadens the focus to promote education, the arts, and preservation of Yemen’s immense, but often undocumented and deteriorating, cultural patrimony.

Scholars on this panel will analyze the contemporary challenges to cultural preservation and production in Yemen, and the urgent threats such challenges pose. When possible, panelists will also provide examples of recent successful efforts to protect and support various aspects of Yemeni culture, as well as contemporary cultural production spurred by the Arab Spring, and to suggest ways in which individuals, organizations, and the international community could potentially capitalize on those efforts. The panelists’ areas of expertise will cover a variety of sub-domains under the general heading of cultural production, including but not limited to architecture and restoration; museums and cultural policy; manuscript conservation; environmental awareness; and literature, film, and theater.

AIYS at MESA 2014: Tribes in Yemen: The View from Within

[P3658] Tribes in Yemen: The View from Within

MESA Annual Convention, Washington DC
To be held Sunday, 11/23/14 11:00am

•    Chair:  Dr. Najwa Adra
•    Poetry and Tribalism in Yemen by Dr. Mohammed Sharafuddin
•    The Future Political Role of Yemeni Tribal Sheikhs in Light of the Expected Outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference by Dr. Adil Mujahid Al Sharjabi
•    The True Role of the Tribe in the Arab Political Scene: The Case of Yemen by Dr. Fuad Al-Salahi
•    Tribalism in the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference by Dr. Abdul Karim S. Al-Aug
•    Discussant:  Dr. Charles Schmitz

SUMMARY:

An estimated 80% of Yemen’s population is rural, and a large majority of this population self-identifies as tribal. Further, many recent urban migrants, as well as some influential political leaders and wealthy business magnates also self-identify as tribal. Tribal participation in peace building efforts and entrepreneurial economic activity indicate that tribes in Yemen are not peripheral to political, social and economic processes, nor are they homogeneous. In this panel Yemeni scholars present their research on the place of tribes and tribalism in Yemeni society today.

The wealth of literature in Arabic on Yemeni tribes, dating back at least to al-Hamdani’s work in the 9th Century, has not been easily available outside of Yemen. This panel introduces the nuanced and varied views of four Yemeni social scientists on tribalism in Yemen today. The first paper situates Yemeni tribes through their poetry, the preferred tribal medium of self-representation. It argues that a lack of communication between Yemen’s tribes and the outside world has led to misunderstanding and misrepresentation of tribalism. The second paper analyses the political roles of tribal leaders during the previous regime of past-President Ali Abdallah Salih and during the current transition period. It examines the potential impacts of political change on the power of tribal leaders. The third paper begins with the observation that tribalism in Yemen is neither homogeneous nor stagnant. It analyzes tribal participation in Yemen’s Spring Revolutionary process and explores recent changes within tribal society that both encourage and abet political participation. The fourth paper brings together the issues discussed so far and explores the potential significance of recent tribal participation in politics to the shape of Yemeni political processes: do they indicate a democratization of Yemeni politics or a “tribalization” of democratic process?

A Jewel of a Book by Marjorie Ransom

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AIYS member and long-time supporter Marjorie Ransom has just published her beautifully illustrated and diligently researched book on Yemeni silverwork.  This is a must for anyone interested in Yemeni culture.  It can be purchased from AUC Press or Amazon.  Get your copy today…

The photographs are exquisite as the sample here shows.

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Here is the description of the book by the publisher:

Continue reading A Jewel of a Book by Marjorie Ransom

Merchant houses of Mocha

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The most important historical port on Yemen’s Red Sea coast is no doubt the old port of Mocha, which gained fame in the West for its association with the Yemen coffee trade.  In her book, The Merchant Houses of Mocha:  Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean PortNancy Um provides a fascinating social history of the trade through this seaport during the Ottoman period.  Here is how the book is described on the publisher’s website.

Gaining prominence as a seaport under the Ottomans in the mid-1500s, the city of Mocha on the Red Sea coast of Yemen pulsed with maritime commerce. Its very name became synonymous with Yemen’s most important revenue-producing crop – coffee. After the imams of the Qasimi dynasty ousted the Ottomans in 1635, Mocha’s trade turned eastward toward the Indian Ocean and coastal India. Merchants and shipowners from Asian, African, and European shores flocked to the city to trade in Arabian coffee and aromatics, Indian textiles, Asian spices, and silver from the New World.

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Varisco on Yemen’s Date Palms

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On Monday, May 12, AIYS President Dan Varisco gave a lecture at the University of the United Arab Emirates in al-‘Ayn on the history of date palms in Yemen.  The lecture covered the history and geography of date palm production with a focus on information from the Rasulid agricultural texts.  For the coastal town of Zabid, the early 13th century traveler Ibn al-Mujawir related the following anecdote about the introduction of dates there:

اول من غرس النخل الامير علي بن محمد الصليحي ويقال الحبشة في اول دولة علي بن المهدي لما حضروا الحبشة وصلت  عير من ارض الحجاز حملها لتمر فكانوا يأكلون التمر ويرمون النوى فمن نداوة الارض طلع النخل فلما رأت اهل البلاد ذلك وعرفوا غرسه غرسوه وكثر النخل
ابن المجاور، تأريخ المستبصر

“The first person to plant date palms [in Zabīd] was Amir ‘Alī b. Muḥammad al-Ṣulayḥī.  It is also said it was the Abyssinians at the beginning of the rule of ‘Alī b. al-Mahdī.  When the Abyssinians were there, a caravan arrived from the Hejaz, carrying dates.  They would eat the dates and throw the stones down.  Because of the dampness of the soil, date palms grew. When the inhabitants of the area saw this, they learned how to plant [palms]; they planted them and they became numerous.”  (Rex Smith translation, 2008)