An open door to the Arab world


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Arts and culture




About al-Bab



Al-Bab aims to 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 openly.

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 website here.

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 internet.

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.


Bab al-Yemen

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.

The Guardian

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 useful too.

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 locations.

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. 

As 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

The Palestine 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 Arab world.

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 1967 war.



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Last revised on 06 August, 2015