introduce non-Arabs to the Arabs and their culture. Western
explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries portrayed the Arab world
as a strange, exotic and sometimes terrifying place. Al-Bab seeks to portray the
Arab world neither as an object of fear nor as a cultural
curiosity - fascinating though it may be.
It tries to look beyond the
strange or exotic, to show the Arab world as it is and to
explain, as simply as possible, how it has become what it is.
It tries to seek out the points
of interaction with other cultures rather than the
differences; the ways in which the Arab world has influenced
other cultures or been influenced by them.
It tries, too, to celebrate the
achievements of Arab culture and to discuss its failings
Al-Bab consists mainly of
links to other sites and pages on the internet but also contains
some original material. The links are presented in an organised,
structured way which is intended to make information easy to find.
How it started
The site began in February 1998 as
Yemen Gateway. Its web address, al-bab.com, alluded to Bab
al-Yemen, the famous gateway leading into the old city of Sana’a
but also highlighted the site’s purpose, which was to provide an
electronic gateway to information about Yemen.
You can read an account of setting up the
At the time I was working on a PhD
thesis (uncompleted) about Yemeni politics. In the
process I had amassed a lot of documents and other material. Knowing
how difficult it can be to obtain information about Yemen, I
decided to make them more widely available by putting them on the
I added to this a collection of
links to information about Yemen which was available elsewhere on
the internet, with the intention of creating a comprehensive
non-partisan resource for researchers, students, journalists and
anyone else who wants to know more about the country.
With more than enough webspace for
my own needs, I offered some of it to the British-Yemen Society
(a registered charity) for an "associate site". The
content is entirely under the society’s control, though I
maintain the site for them. It includes the complete text from
every issue of the society’s journal. Many of the
articles are written by people who were in Yemen during the final
years of the British occupation and provide some valuable
first-hand insights into that period.
It was not long before visitors to
Yemen Gateway began suggesting that I should expand the site by
applying the same formula to the other Arab countries.
The calligraphic logo currently used by the
website was designed by the Palestinian artist, Khaled
Hourani. It says "al-bab" in Arabic and its shape
represents a door. The semi-circular device at the top is adapted
from the fanlights often seen above the doors of old houses in
Jerusalem. The blue-yellow-green colour scheme was borrowed from a
set of decorative tiles found in a souq in Tunisia.
From 1999 to 2006, I worked as Middle East
editor of the British newspaper, The
Guardian, and later wrote and commissioned Middle
East articles for its Comment
Is Free section. As a result of that, I made some changes to
al-bab, adding links to articles that I wrote and others which I came across in
the course of my work – in the hope that others would find them
I am currently freelancing.
Links on the site
The main test for inclusion (or exclusion) of
links is whether
they contribute something to knowledge of the Arab world. Al-Bab cannot, of course, vouch for information contained on
other sites. In general, though, the accuracy or otherwise of the
content, and the value of the opinions expressed is a matter for
the reader to judge.
Some of the links are to sites
whose basic purpose is propaganda. These are included not in order
to promote the organisations concerned but for benefit of readers
who may want to find out more about them. In these cases, the
nature of the site is indicated in the link.
At the last count (July, 2001) the site contained 856 web pages and 11,681 links to external
sites. Unfortunately, it is impossible to ensure that all the
links are working at any given time: websites come and go, and
site owners have a nasty habit of moving their pages to new
Keeping so many links up to date
is a formidable task, and readers can help by sending an email
to report any defective ones. It’s even more helpful if you can
find the new address of the relevant page.
A note about Israel
Readers sometimes ask why the the list of countries featured on
Al-Bab does not
include Israel. The answer is that Israel is not an Arab country
(though substantial numbers of Arabs live
there). Iran is exluded too, for the same reason. The site does, however, include a page about Jews
in the Arab world.
there is some debate about which countries should be regarded as
"Arab", the test used for the purposes of the
website is whether or not they
are members of the Arab League.
section is primarily about the Palestinians,
but because of Israeli-Palestinian interaction it would be
perverse (and unhelpful to readers) not to include information
about Israel where it is relevant.
Similar issues arise in relation to other non-Arab populations,
such as the Berbers and the Kurds, and our approach is to
provide information about them within the overall context of the
When mentioning Israel, Al-Bab follows
the definition accepted by most of the international community, i.e. the boundaries existing at the start of the