Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Al-Qaida claims palace car bomb

February 29, 2012
AL-Qaida has claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a presidential palace in Yemen that had killed 26 soldiers.
"The hero martyr Abu Muhjen al-Sayari attacked with his bomb-laden car Republican Guard troops inside the presidential palace in Mukalla, Hadramawt's capital, killing nearly 30 officers and soldiers and wounding more than 50," an al-Qaida statement released yesterday on jihadist forums said.
The attack was timed with "the last chapters of this farce of power transition in Yemen, by which the United States aims to steal the fruits of the revolt," said the statement.
On Saturday a suicide bomber blew up a vehicle outside a presidential palace in the Hadramawt provincial capital Mukalla, overshadowing the swearing-in ceremony of the first new president in Sanaa since 1978.
The attack came as Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi took the oath in the capital Sanaa to succeed strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The statement signed by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) - al-Qaida's branch in Yemen - said the operation was "a clear message to the US ambassador" after alleged remarks he made "about restructuring the Yemeni army."
"This is a message to say that the US project in Yemen will not succeed and that our operations will target this project and its tools wherever they may be," said the statement.
A Yemeni military official has said that Saturday's attack bore the hallmark of al-Qaida and that the bomber "could be Mohammed al-Sayari," a Saudi originally from Hadramawt.
The same source said that no high-ranking officials were in the palace when the bomber struck.
The palace is guarded by troops of the elite Republican Guard, who are under the command of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh's son Ahmed.
In an address to the nation straight after being sworn in to succeed Saleh, Mr Hadi vowed to press the fight against al-Qaida and restore security across his impoverished nation.
"It is a patriotic and religious duty to continue the battle against al-Qaida," the new president said.
"If we don't restore security, the only outcome will be chaos."
Yemen is the ancestral homeland of slain al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Jewish silver craft preserved alive in Yemen

Arie Amaya-Akkermans | 29 February 2012
It is said that the numbers of the once prominent Jewish community in Yemen are dwindling fast, especially after the revolution during which a number of Jews had to flee from hostility in the northern province of Sa’ada. The number of Jews left in the country isn’t known with precision, but government sources estimate it at 450 and Jewish organizations in the United States estimate at slightly over a hundred.
Jewish history in Yemen however, goes back to the year 1451 BC as reported by Arab historians from medieval times and legends still circulate that they settled in the Arabian Peninsula around the times of King Solomon. What was once a prosperous community, heirs to unique cultural traditions, is today an impoverished and rather marginal group among others in the complex map of Yemen’s multilayered cultural landscape.
From the cultural legacy of Yemeni Jewry it seems that there is one part that stood the test of time, migrations and revolutions: The craft of hand-made silver jewelry. Last year in December, Yemeni silversmith Kamal Rubaih and retired American diplomat Marjorie Ransom presented a selection of Yemeni jewelry at the Library of the Congress in Washington, focusing on Jewish designs.
In his shop “World Friend” located in the old silver market in Sana’a, Rubaih collects jewelry in both traditional Jewish and Muslim designs. According to Rubaih, from the great variety of traditional jewelry made in the country the most exquisite was done by the Jewish silversmiths in the northern mountains and in the large cities, alongside Muslim jewelry from Tihama, the Hadramaut and Mahra, where Indian influence was felt strongly.
Yemeni brides always felt a strong preference for the Jewish jewelry that is considered an icon of wealth and beauty and it is said that until the 1960’s, it was a deep-seated tradition for Muslims to give a dowry in Jewish jewelry. At the silver market in Sana’a both Jewish and Muslim silversmiths worked alongside and their relations were always cordial and peaceful. However, the ancient Jewish craft has declined progressively as more and more Jews left the country or no longer practiced the craft. On the Muslim side, only a few silversmiths remain but some of them are working on the recreating the traditional Jewish practice.
Mrs. Ransom is a long-time collector of Middle Eastern jewelry since she was a graduate student studying Arabic in Damascus, and her collection now amounts to over a thousand pieces collected from every corner of the Middle East in over forty years. A part of her collection was showcased in 2003 in the exhibition “Silver Speaks: The Traditional Silver Jewelry of the Middle East” at the Bead Museum in Washington, D.C.
Over the years of traveling and collecting, she has become an expert on the cultural traditions of the region through studying the jewelry, interviewing people about the usage and reading everything on the topic, learning that way the history and culture of the region like very few, through the traditional crafts. Ransom and Rubaih have collaborated on the book “The Demise of an Ancient Craft”, to be published this year by the American University in Cairo Press. The book will deal with jewelry from all of Yemen, with particular attention to the now forgotten topic of the Jewish silversmith.
The traditional silversmith of the Middle East – including Turkey and Iran – has been replaced by gold jewelry, much of it imported and not handcrafted, thus, the efforts of Rubaih to keep the ancient craft alive are certainly remarkable. The larger repertory of styles and techniques in Middle Eastern silver jewelry – casting, chasing, embossing, repousse, filigree and granulation among others – has been mostly casted asides to the work of a few artisans and the constant unrest and deteriorating economic situation have chased away most of the potential customers in the Western world that were delighted to collect the pieces in previous decades.
Among the regional styles, however, some are distinctive and unmistakable, such as the Jewish silversmith craft from Yemen, using highly skilled techniques – filigree, granulation and geometric shapes applied to flat surfaces, producing rich layers of adornment. Rubaih has performed an exceptional task in preserving alive in his shop, traditional pieces recreating the ancient Jewish craft that is one among other timeless and important features of the rich and diverse Yemeni heritage.
According to Rubaih, only very few Jewish silversmiths remain in the country and are now in very old age, but that hasn’t deterred Muslim artisans from learning the craft and reproducing contemporary pieces in the traditional style. He says that now Yemeni women prefer to wear gold than silver and thus, there are only very few working in the trade that has mostly tourists as their customers, but with an entire year of unrest and soaring unemployment, this hardly suffices to keep the craft alive.
Unless there is an effort on the part of the Yemeni government to support traditional silversmiths as well as other artisans working with traditional crafts – weaving, embroidery, pottery and the like, Rubaih insists that it is very likely that they will disappear very soon and with them, an ancient heritage spanning sometimes into thousands of years. Mrs. Ransom was able to travel through Yemen for an entire year and met a small number of Yemenis working with traditional techniques and crafts.
It turns out that there are younger artisans, offspring of the elderly silversmiths, who are trained in the craft and said that they would like to take it up if it were possible for them to make a living with it. She even found the son of an indigo dyer – a technique that has been picked up recently in haute couture in Europe – who also would like to take up the craft if an opportunity would arise for him.
In the 1960’s the legendary cultural critic Susan Sontag wrote that “every era has to reinvent the project of spirituality for itself and in the modern era, one of the most active metaphors for the spiritual project is art”. Art always comes with a Janus-face, looking always into the past – the great things that men made then – and into the future – keeping whatever it is that is worth keeping, and is hardly strangled by the demands of the hostile present.
In spite of unrest and an entire year of an unfinished revolution, Yemenis are still clinging to the privilege of the heritage and this isn’t only a matter of nostalgia – a sentiment always reactionary and inimical to progress – but a vision of a better future safely anchored in the scandalous strength of the past, or in the words of Virginia Woolf: “The present when backed by the past is a thousand times deeper than the present when it presses so close that you feel nothing.”

Yemeni protesters seek expulsion of US ambassador

February 29, 2012
Yemeni protesters have called for the expulsion of the US ambassador to Yemen over his intervention in the country’s internal affairs and the desecration of the Holy Qur’an in a US-run military airbase in Afghanistan.
The protesters staged a protest rally in front of the US embassy in the capital, Sana’a, on Tuesday and burned an effigy of the ambassador Gerald Michael Feierstein and the US flag.
Feierstein has been accused of having a role in holding the recent single-vote presidential election in Yemen and returning the former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh home from a “medical visit” to the US.
The UK-trained army Field Marshal Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi was the only candidate in the presidential vote.
Feierstein met with both Hadi and his predecessor before Saleh signed a Saudi-brokered deal to hand over power to another person within the Yemeni regime.
The Yemeni protesters are also angry at the Saudi regime over the election. They say Riyadh has made each and every effort to keep the Saleh regime as intact as possible.
In the southern city of Taizz, protesters also said the United States and Saudi Arabia had backed the deal and thus had a role in keeping the former regime in power.
The deal also granted Saleh and his closest allies immunity from prosecution for crimes they committed during deadly crackdown on the anti-regime protests.
In Tuesday's demonstration, protesters also demanded that Saleh stand trial and all former political figures be removed.
Saleh's sons and nephews still hold key positions in the military and intelligence services. Many high-profile figures from the former regime are accused of committing crimes against peaceful protesters during the revolution.
Hadi was sworn in following the election on February 21, which pundits described as a mockery of democracy. The sham poll was likewise strongly supported by Washington and Riyadh.
The new Yemeni president will lead the country for a two-year-long interim period as stipulated by the so-called power transition deal, brokered by the Arab grouping of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council in November.
Many viewed the election as a referendum on Hadi's appointment. Opposition groups had also boycotted the polls over concerns that it would not bring an end to the rule of Saleh's regime.

Saleh planning to stay in Yemen, party spokesman says

Feb 29 2012
 (CNN) -
The former Yemeni president is not leaving the country any time soon, his party's spokesman said, calling reports of his departure "fabrications" as a new leader takes over.
Ousted leader Ali Abdullah Saleh plans to stay in Yemen in the longterm, according to Tareq Shami, a spokesman for the General People's Congress party.
Tens of thousands have marched near Saleh's home calling for his prosecution and demanding he leave the country over concerns that his presence will undermine the new president.
Abdurabu Mansur Hadi, who served as Saleh's vice president, was sworn in Saturday in the capital, Sanaa.
The two appeared at the presidential palace Monday in a handover ceremony cementing a power transfer deal that helped end months of protests and violence over Saleh's longtime rule.
Before Hadi became acting president in November, protesters had taken to the streets demanding an end to Saleh's 33-year rule.
A Yemeni government official said this week there have been discussions about Saleh settling in Oman or Ethiopia, but the former president has not made a decision. The official asked for anonymity as the official is not authorized to speak to the media.
Saleh congratulated Hadi at the ceremony, referring to him as "my brother and colleague" as protesters took to the streets nearby condemning the incoming president's appearance with his predecessor.
Hadi acknowledged the numerous challenges ahead and said stability remains a priority.
"Today, we welcome and bid farewell. ... Welcome a new leadership and we bid farewell to the leadership," he said. "This means that we lay new rules for the exchange of peaceful transfer of power in Yemen, because security and stability is the basis of development."
Saleh was wounded in a June assassination attempt at his presidential palace during battles between government troops and tribal fighters.
Despite his stepping down, he will remain involved with his party, officials said.
"Saleh has the option to continue involvement in politics, and the power transfer deal will not force him to step aside," said Abdu Ganadi, his senior aide. "He is the leader of the GPC, and his voice and support will continue being heard in the GPC."
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, with a severe shortage of water and rising levels of malnutrition among its population of about 25 million.
Saleh faced a separatist movement in the south, sectarian tensions in the north and the growing presence of what Western officials describe as al Qaeda's most dangerous affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.