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Al-Qaeda plans 'army'  in southern Yemen

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is planning to form an army in Aden and Abyan with the aim of establishing "God's law", according to a recorded speech by its military leader, Qasim al-Raimi, which has been posted on the internet.

In the recording, he described the proposed army as "a line of defence for the nation and its religion, setting free its sanctities and cleansing its territory of the Crusaders and their apostate agents".

Al-Qaeda is clearly trying to tap into local discontent in southern Yemen and what we are probably seeing is the emergence of not one but two struggles to "liberate" the south from the Salih regime: al-Qaeda on one hand and the Southern Movement on the other. They are essentially separate though the lines between them can be blurred and it's often unclear which to blame for what.

Yesterday, for instance, Abdullah al-Baham – a senior police officer – was shot dead in Mudia/Mudiyah (Abyan province) during clashes between armed demonstrators and security forces. The occasion was a protest to mark the 47th anniversary of the southern uprising against British colonial rule. A security official blamed supporters of the Southern Movement for the killing; the Southern Movement in turn blamed a masked man "who belongs to al-Qaeda".

Shortly after that, a convoy carrying Ahmed Mohammed al-Maisari, the governor of Abyan, and Khaled al-Mirwani, the provincial police chief, was ambushed. The governor's brother, Ali Mohammed al-Maisari (a member of the ruling party), was killed, along with a soldier. Apparently, they were on their way to investigate the earlier attack.

AFP also reported yesterday that Colonel Riyadh al-Khatabi, the intelligence chief for Seiyun/Sayyun (Hadramaut province) had died in hospital after being seriously wounded by armed motorcyclists on Wednesday.

Noting the large number of motorcycle attacks in Yemen, the recently-revived Waq al-Waq blog has dubbed 2010 "The year of the motorbike assassination":

The motorbike jihadis have become such a menace in Yemen that a few weeks ago the government banned them in Zanjibar out of fear of similar attacks ... The number of security officials who have been assassinated by men on motorcycles is – if memory serves – nearly three-quarters of the assassinations. In 2007 and 2008, al-Qaeda preferred ambushes and bombs.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 15 October 2010. Comment

Sectarian tensions in Egypt

In an article for Middle East Report Online, Mariz Tadros takes a detailed look at the current sectarian tensions in Egypt.

"For six weeks," she writes, "Egypt has been sitting on top of a sectarian volcano. Protesters, men and women, have been exiting mosques following prayers almost every single Friday since the beginning of September to demand the 'release' of Camillia Shehata, a Coptic priest’s wife who they believe has converted to Islam and is now incarcerated by the Coptic Orthodox Church."

One of the more interesting angles that Tadros explores is the role of "honour" in fuelling such conflicts. "There will never be a shortage of women to serve as pawns in the struggles to preserve religious communities perceived to be under threat," she writes.

"It is a truism of study of patriarchal societies that concepts of honour are tied to women. The Coptic demonstrations in Upper Egypt upon the 'disappearance' of Camillia were driven by a sense of having lost a priest's wife to a predatory Muslim majority. 

"The phenomenon of abduction is thoroughly gendered in Egypt, since it is always a woman, and never a man, who is thought to have been abducted for the purposes of conversion. When rallies took place in every corner of Egypt later, they were driven by a desire to emancipate the Camillia who had ostensibly donned the niqab from the clutches of the church. 

"The gatherings were about defending the honour of Muslims in claiming what is rightfully theirs – a sister in Islam. At no time in memory has such a large number of women wearing the niqab engaged, week after week, in collective protest."

Tadros suggests that with elections approaching and prices rising in the shops, the Egyptian government "desperately needs" a diversion and is "particularly wary of issues that can unite the population across various dividing lines". Heightened Muslim-Christian tensions may thus serve a useful purpose for the regime at the moment.

Meanwhile, she says, the space for advocates of a rights-based approach to citizenship – one that focuses on separation of religion and state – is getting narrower and narrower:

"On October 10, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights launched a Reject Sectarianism campaign, featuring a powerful online video of young Egyptians talking frankly about the issue. But those who genuinely believe in a rights-based framework have neither the power of numbers nor the clout afforded by allies in high places. 

"Egyptian electoral politics, focused as it is on promising patronage to clients, offers little hope. A discourse of rights for all citizens, irrespective of religious affiliation, is simply not a vote getter. 

"The sectarian crisis of 2010 has exposed the widening circle of actors involved in sowing inter-communal strife, but it has not introduced an honest process for addressing the roots of sectarianism, one that would include attention to the role of state security. The question is what it will take to make that process happen."

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 14 October 2010. Comment

Ya Memri!

I won't say much about Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon, which is being extensively covered elsewhere. But I was delighted to see that Memri, the "media research institute" described by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman as an indispensable tool, has got another scoop. 

Yesterday, it informed readers that Ya Libnan ("O Lebanon!") is an Iranian website. Those wily Iranians, apparently, are lurking everywhere.

Still, I'm not sure this beats that other Memri exclusive back in 2006 when they translated and republished an Arabic TV station's spoof interview with Saddam Hussein, imagining that it was genuine.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 14 October 2010. Comment

Egypt cracks down on text messages

In what is widely seen as an attempt to stifle opposition activism in the run-up to next month's parliamentary election, the Egyptian authorities have have announced restrictions of the sending of text messages to multiple mobile phones.

News organisations that send out alerts to phone users have been told they must now get permission from the Ministry of Information and the Supreme Press Council before sending them, according to al-Masry al-Youm newspaper.

Political parties which have been licensed by the government will be allowed to seek permits to send messages – and, as might be expected, the ruling National Democratic Party has already been granted a such permit, according to AP's report.

This obviously gives the president's well-funded party a clear advantage. Meanwhile, it appears that the Muslim Brotherhood (an unlicensed party) and Mohamed ElBaradei's reform movement – both of which regard text messages as an important tool for campaigning – will not be allowed to make use of them.

Messaging service providers – known as SMS aggregators – have been given a week to apply for licences to continue operating. They are being asked to pay LE500,000 ($87,000) for the permit, plus the same amount as a guarantee against violating the new regulations. It's also reported that the government will take 3% of their revenues to pay for policing the system.

Al-Masry al-Youm says:

"The new restrictions are not dissimilar to those recently enforced in other countries, such as Iran, Cambodia, Burma and Thailand, all of which have banned SMS messages in an effort to curb popular mobilisation and collective action on the part of their political opponents."

In line with the government's policy of trying to control everything, the IT and communications minister, Tarek Kamel, says the move is simply intended to bring order to the SMS business.

"SMS services have become an industry," he said on Tuesday. "That’s why they must be properly regulated – so that we can protect it."

Playing down the political significance of the move, he suggested the aim was to prevent false religious edicts and "disinformation" that could affect the stock market.

The authorities are citing two recent outbreaks of sectarian tension to justify the crackdown – both of which they say were inflamed by mass text messaging.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 13 October 2010. Comment

'Hit-list' officer shot dead in Yemen

Ghazi al-Samawi, a criminal investigations officer named on an al-Qaeda hit-list, was killed in Zinjibar (Abyan province) on Sunday night.

A Yemeni official said two men on a motorbike shouted "Allahu akbar" as they shot him and sped off. Motorbike attacks have become a common assassination method in Yemen.

Last month, al-Qaeda issued a list of 55 security officials and said they would be killed if they failed to "repent". Samawi is thought to be the first victim among those on the list.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 12 October 2010. Comment

Tackling poverty – by deportation

A charity in the Saudi city of Jeddah is tackling the problem of child beggars ... by having them deported. 

The Al-Bir Welfare Society, which runs the kingdom's first welfare centre for child beggars, has organised the deportation of 6,000 children during its first seven years of operation, Arab News reports.

The centre is said to receive between five and 10 children every day, most of them from Afghanistan, Nigeria, Yemen and Chad. Of the 411 children placed in its care so far this year, 363 have been deported and 18 were handed over to their families, "who signed a pledge never to allow them to beg again".

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 12 October 2010. Comment

Battle of the fatwas

Last August, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree that restricted the issuing of fatwas to government-approved religious scholars. An announcement at the time said this was intended to put a stop to fatwas on "strange" or "obsolete" topics.

Since then, a satellite channel and various websites where scholars gave rulings on religious questions have either been closed or have stopped issuing fatwas. One conservative scholar, Yousef al Ahmed, who subsequently spoke out against employing female cashiers in supermarkets, was reprimanded by the king.

But conservative scholars are not the only ones affected. The ban also applies to those who challenge the official line from a more liberal perspective, such as Adel al-Kalbani, who has argued that singing and music are not necessarily forbidden in Islam.

However, another scholar – Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak, who is said to be close to the royal family – continues to flout the ban with apparent impunity. Barrak endorses jihad and in February he said those who oppose the kingdom's strict rules on gender segregation should be put to death. He has also been cited favourably by Osama bin Laden.

The Associated Press has been looking in some detail at the likely effects of the royal decree. While some Saudis view it as pointing the way to a modernisation of religious teaching, others see it merely as an attempt to assert state control.

The AP report points out that the officially-approved clerics – Council of Senior Religious Scholars – are far from progressive and many of them can be considered hardliners. "Beyond strict edicts on morality, they reinforce a worldview whereby non-Muslims and even liberal or Shiite Muslims are considered infidels, and their stances on jihad, or holy war, at times differ only in nuances from al-Qaeda's," it says.

AP quotes several fatwas on the council's website. One of them describes boys and girls sharing a swimming pool as forbidden. One says "It is not permissible for a Muslim to build a cinema, or run it for himself or for another person". Another says the practice of taking flowers to the sick "entails wasting money on non-useful purposes and imitating Allah's adversaries", while yet another warns against showing "mutual affection, love and brotherhood" towards non-Muslims.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 10 October 2010. Comment

Saudi marriage official's child bride

Amid continuing debate about under-age marriage in Saudi Arabia, Arab News reports the story of a marriage official (mazoun) with a 12-year-old wife:

"When my mother insisted I consummate my marriage, I had to summon up the courage for two weeks before I was able to have sex with her," he said. He said when he first saw her, he was shocked by her fragility and added that he spent a long time trying to understand how to treat her. 

"We used to be together without any sexual contact. She slept in the bedroom while I slept in the guest room. All the time I used to tell her the story of Adam and Eve. She often said to me that she did not know why her parents gave her away to me," he said.

The mazoun said his young wife has completed her sixth grade at elementary school and is now a better housewife than many university graduates.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 9 October 2010. Comment

Yemen and the GCC

For some years now, Yemen has been seeking to join the Gulf Cooperation Council. There are good reasons for thinking this would benefit Yemen, though the GCC states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – also have reasons to be wary. In the long term, though, continued exclusion is likely to cause them a bigger problem.

The US now seems to have put its weight behind the idea of Yemeni membership. In an article for Foreign Policy, Steve Caton of Harvard University argues the case for Yemen to join.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 9 October 2010. Comment

Diplomats under threat

Following the attack on a British embassy vehicle in Sana'a on Wednesday, Asharq al-Awsat newspaper has some interesting titbits about the militants' choice of targets.

"The British embassy in Yemen has suffered the most number of terrorist attacks of all the foreign embassies," it says. The Saudi embassy is the second most-targeted, and the US embassy comes third:

"The information obtained by Asharq al-Awsat from informed sources also revealed that the Saudi embassy in Sana'a received between one and three warnings a week of a possible terrorist attack, and that the British embassy receives a higher number – on average – of such warnings.

"According to the information, the most recent period has not seen any attacks being made against Saudi interests in Yemen, although the Saudi embassy remains a constant target. The information also revealed that not one week passes without the Saudi embassy in Sana'a receiving threats of attack."

This, I think, provides a useful antidote to the idea that jihadists are preoccupied with attacking the west and westerners. Muslim regimes that have "gone astray" are as much a part of their focus – if not more so. 

While the jihadists derive much of their ideology from Saudi Wahhabi religious teaching, the Saudi regime – which in turn bases its claim to legitimacy on Wahhabi teaching – is also one of their principal enemies. This was explored in more detail in a survey of jihadist websites by the Quillliam thinktank which 
I wrote about last week.

Regarding Wednesday's attack on the British vehicle, the Yemeni authorities announced yesterday that they have arrested seven suspects. I could be wrong, but this sounds more like a round-up of known militants from the area where it happened than the result of painstaking detective work. It sends a signal that the authorities are doing something about it, and it means they won't have to deal with letters from the British ambassador asking if they have caught anyone yet.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 8 October 2010. Comment

Diplomats attacked in Yemen

Violence, unfortunately, is part of the daily scene in Yemen and most attacks go unreported beyond the local press. When westerners are the target, though, there's more interest – as we saw yesterday.

A vehicle carrying five British embassy staff, including the deputy ambassador, came under attack – apparently from a rocket-propelled grenade – as it travelled to the embassy in Sana'a yesterday morning. One person in the vehicle was slightly injured and two bystanders were wounded by shrapnel. Two people were seen running away.

In the second incident of the day, a Frenchman employed by an engineering company was shot dead at his workplace in Sana'a.

Some news reports have combined these two incidents, giving the impression that they might be in some way connected. However, the killing of the Frenchman seems unrelated to terrorism. The NewsYemen website says he was shot by one of the company's guards following a dispute with him the previous day. The guard has reportedly been arrested.

Yesterday's attack on the embassy vehicle was the second in recent months. On April 26, a suicide bomber attacked the British ambassador's convoy. The ambassador was unhurt, though three passers-by were injured. (In July, there was also a reported attack on the British embassy though the embassy promptly denied this, saying it was merely an altercation between two Yemeni guards in which shots were fired.)

Two attacks on British diplomats travelling in Sanaa less than six months apart raise the question: why Britain?

Writing for the BBC website, Ginny Hill (a Yemen expert at Chatham House) offers some suggestions.

One is opportunity. The British ambassador has to travel across town by car from his residence to the embassy every day, as do other staff. The US ambassador, however, lives in the embassy compound – which makes him less vulnerable to attacks on predictable journeys.

The British embassy itself is a more difficult target than travelling diplomats, even those using armour-plated cars. The current 
embassy building in Sana'a was constructed about three years ago with security very much in mind. It was the first to be built following a security review of British embassies worldwide (and, incidentally, it won an architectural award).

As far as motives are concerned, apart from hostility to Britain's role as America's closest ally, "British military trainers have been working closely with the Yemeni government for several years, supporting both the coastguard and the counter-terrorism unit," Hill writes.

In addition to that, Britain has a central role in the international Friends of Yemen group which was set up in January to coordinate aid and promote security. Its initial meeting was convened in London by Gordon Brown, the British prime minister at the time.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 7 October 2010. Comment

Free speech for some?

"Web tastes freedom inside Syria, and it's bitter" – that was the headline on a recent article by New York Times journalist Robert Worth. It tells the story of a video posted on Facebook which showed Syrian teachers beating their students, and goes on to talk about the restrictions on journalists and bloggers – including the case of the 19-year-old female blogger, Tal al-Mallohi, who has been in jail since last year.

"Other Arab countries regularly jail journalists who express dissident views," Worth writes, "but Syria may be the most restrictive of all."

Well, Syria is certainly a contender for the title but, as The Angry Arab blog points out: "What about Tunisia, Bahrain, Oman, UAE, and Saudi Arabia? Wait. I forgot. Pro-US dictatorships don't count ..."

The problem here, though, is not just the double standards of the New York Times (along with other sections of the western media) in focusing more heavily on the abuses of regimes that are deemed to be hostile towards the US (and Israel); there are also double standards when it comes to freedom of speech.

When a female teenage blogger – the sort of person Americans can easily relate to – gets locked up, it's further evidence of the Syrian regime's tyranny. But when a bearded cleric is jailed for his remarks on TV, it's seen less as a restriction on his freedom of speech than as a sign that the Syrian regime is getting tough on religious extremism.

The arabicpress blog comments:

To highlight the predominant narrative of western news outlets, take for example the case of Shaykh Kuki – a conservative Syrian cleric who was arrested by Syrian authorities after appearing on al-Jazeera defending the niqab while his opponent fired insults at Bashar al-Asad. (See here.) 

Shaykh Kuki has since been released from prison, but his story – unlike the Syrian blogger currently in jail or the heroic Facebook user – did not possess the elements deemed attractive by most western news outlets, even though it could clearly be classified as a violation of "freedom of speech". 

Instead, Kuki’s story exists somewhere outside the narrative of political salvation through media and somewhere inside the other much-reported paradigm of the Syrian "crackdown" on "Islamists". (Also reported by the NY Times.)

Syria is not the only example. In Egypt, too, crackdowns on Islamists fit one paradigm while crackdowns on the "nice" people fit another. Similarly, nobody (apart from those affected) seems much concerned about the suppression of "unauthorised" fatwas in Saudi Arabia, and the resulting closures of websites. But they ought to be concerned.

Freedom of expression is too important a principle to be used for political point-scoring. There may be lines to be drawn on hate speech and incitement to violence but if you believe in the principle it has to be applied consistently. That means defending the rights of those you dislike and disagree with as much as those you like and agree with.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 6 October 2010. Comment

Kareem's story

A small story of life in Egypt, from the Rebel With A Cause blog:

A young boy, Kareem (16 years old), was walking by in downtown area, Cairo. He was followed by four guys who were shouting insults to the young boy calling him a faggot. The boy just ignored their insults and kept going, the thing that seemed to provoke them, so they chased him until they caught him and started slapping and beating him violently (they were older and much stronger). It's not very clear why they decided to be that violent and abusive; although it seems to be basically driven by homophobia as Kareem's appearance looked “different”. Kareem screamed and ran towards police informers nearby but they didn’t bother to help the boy.

Appalled by what they saw, a group of friends sitting at a downtown caf้ decided to intervene and help Kareem from the brutal attack. The one who stepped in first, Mohamed, was met by violence and he was slapped and hit too. He was told by the perpetrators “Why do you want to help him? Are you a faggot too?”

Since the fight started to involve more people, the police finally started to take action and step in. They automatically took the side of the perpetrators because the victim seemed to be a homosexual. They wanted to take Kareem and Mohamed (who only wanted to help) to the police station. The police seemed reluctant to arrest the perpetrators, but finally decided to take the main perpetrator for investigations.

What followed was even worse. The police tortured Kareem and decided to perform a rectal examination to determine if he was a homosexual! This was done using violence and in front of the perpetrator! Mohamed was met by sarcasm and ridicule. Police informers harassed him. The only thing that might have saved Mohamed from further humiliation was that he had an American passport.

Finally, the police decided that the rectal exam didn’t prove Kareem to be a homosexual! (This kind of exam is based on old and false medical knowledge). Then, the police suggested a reconciliation deal with the perpetrator. Desperate to leave and end the awful experience, both Mohamed and Kareem agreed so they can get out of the terrifying police station. A police report was issued and it had a completely different story from what happened.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 5 October 2010. Comment

Despotic benevolence

A report from Human Rights Watch last week noted some 
modest but positive developments in Saudi Arabia during the five years of rule by King Abdullah.

"Today, Saudis are freer than they were five years ago," it said. "Saudi women are less subject to rigid sex segregation in public places, citizens have greater latitude to criticise their government, and reform in the justice system may bring more transparency and fairness in judicial procedures."

So far, so good – though as The Economist points out, the reforms are still pretty tentative. But what worries Human Rights Watch is that these changes are mostly due to personal interventions by the king. "Should his enthusiasm for reform wane, or successors tread more conservative paths," the report warns, "his legacy would be one of a brief respite of fresh air, but not one of institutional reform."

It continues: "The monarch, in his mid-eighties, has shied away from adopting the often-simple measures needed to entrench rights, build capacity to enforce them, and generate the political will to hold rights violators accountable. As a result, these newly gained freedoms are, for the most part, neither extensive nor firmly grounded."

Based on experience elsewhere in the Middle East, these fears are well justified. We have seen the governments of Syria, Jordan, Yemen and Bahrain, for example, loosen the reins for a while – only to tighten them again.

Human Rights Watch suggests that enshrining Saudi Arabia's recent changes in the law would help to institutionalise them. Up to a point, it might. But the real problem is paternalistic rule: whatever freedoms people have are granted through the benevolence of an absolute monarch rather than being treated as an intrinsic right.

As The Economist puts it: "Saudis have heard barely a whisper of one day setting the pace of change themselves."

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 5 October 2010. Comment

Moroccan magazine to close

Another Moroccan magazine bites the dust. Following the closure of Le Journal Hebdomadaire earlier this year – driven out of business by an advertisers' boycott and crippling libel fines – the publishers of Nichane (the first weekly magazine in colloquial Arabic) have announced that it, too, is to close. Le Monde reports the story (in French).

Once again, the publishers are blaming "a sustained advertising boycott initiated by the royal holding company ONA/SNI [which] spread to many state, para-state advertisers and those close to the regime".

Writing in The Arabist blog, Issandr El Amrani says:

It's mind-boggling that the Moroccan regime, which has banked so much on an image of democratisation both domestically and abroad for the past decade, is acting so aggressively towards independent media. And the growth of other supposedly independent magazines that tow the line, such as Actuel and Le Temps, or even the taming of Rachid Nini and his (admittedly horrible) al-Massae, is making for a soporific, cheerleading media scene where there used to be vibrancy. 

But the damage may be even worse than merely press freedom: the closure of magazines is beginning to look like a direct consequence of the all-devouring appetite of the monarchy in the business sphere ...

It's a damning statement on the dominant, even atrophying, role that the king's business interests are playing in the economic and political field. After all, a magazine is not just part of the fourth estate, it's also a business that employs people, buys services, and can help deliver a clearer picture of an emerging economy. 

It's already a bad thing to be a country with no freedom of the press, but it is an altogether worse thing to be a country with no transparency on its economic governance where the population is beholden to artificial monopolies. In the Nichane case, you have the combination of both.

"Soft censorship" of critical publications – which includes judicial harassment and economic strangulation – was discussed in some detail at the Arab Free Press Forum in Beirut last June. It's a common problem in Arab countries but the Moroccan government seems to have honed it into an art form.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 3 October 2010. Comment

'Imminent danger' from multimedia

There are many in Saudi Arabia who still hanker after the days when the government could control almost everything that people said or heard.

Last month came the announcement that bloggers would have to register with the authorities – which in the face of uproar from the blogosphere was subsequently denied (apparently they will merely be encouraged to register).

But another announcement, last week, has received less attention. This is the decision by the royally-appointed Shura Council "to further study ways to ensure a sense of morality can remain in the kingdom’s mass media".

Arab News quotes the council's assistant secretary-general as saying: "The council is aware of the imminent danger of the multimedia and mass media … and their implications on the cultural, social and economic life of people in the kingdom."

The paper says members of the council have "suggested creating a central body to codify the moral and social content of the mass media, which includes mobile phones, TVs, the internet, radio and other electronic devices that can be misused".

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 3 October 2010. Comment

Reading between the red lines

Even the most unlikely Arab countries hold book fairs nowadays, many of them with the cachet "International" attached to their title. They are generally promoted as a sign of modernity, progress and cultural development – though I still find it hard to take most of them seriously. Far too often they reflect what the regimes consider to be fit for public consumption rather than what the brightest Arab writers are actually saying. Imagine, for example, the kind of items that would be chosen by the Tunisian ministry of culture for the Damascus International Book Fair.

In an article for al-Ahram Weekly, Mohammad Shoair discusses a list of 120 Egyptian titles banned from this month's Kuwait International Book Fair. While noting that the Cairo fair is not averse to such practices either, and that Egyptian publishers have been banned en bloc for the Algerian book fair (apparently because of continuing anger over the football riots last year), Shoair says:

"The list of banned books [at the Kuwait fair] is reasonably representative of Egyptian literature, covering the entire spectrum from most of the work of the veteran political analyst Mohammad Hassanin Heikal, through novels by Gamal El-Ghitani, Khairy Shalaby, the late Abdel-Hakim Qassim, Ibrahim Aslan, Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid, Youssef El-Qa'id, Mohammad El-Mansi Qandil, Ahdaf Soweif, everything by Alaa El-Aswany (one bookshop [in Kuwait] was shut down last year after displaying his novel Chicago) as well as Galal Amin's autobiography, Fahmy Howeidi and Mohammad Emara."

The list, Shoair says, shows no sign "of an underlying principle or logic" – though he finds this less less surprising than the reaction of publishers who, perhaps because they are so accustomed to this sort of thing happening, do not appear concerned about it.

In Yemen, meanwhile, a group of writers and intellectuals have been boycotting the Sana'a Book Fair (run by the ministry of culture), which ends on Tuesday. They complained about the exclusion of fiction, the absence of "well-known publishing houses" and the inclusion of large numbers of takfiri-type religious books.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 3 October 2010. Comment

Previous blog posts




October 2010

Yemen and the parcel bombs

Jail and flogging for power-cuts protest

Campus security dispute rumbles on

Al-Jazeera suspended in Morocco

'Hong Kong solution' in the West Bank?

Saudi religious police cool off (a bit)

Qatar 'less corrupt' than UK and US

Money talks in Marrakesh

Vote-buying charges in Jordan

Jailed for 'disobeying' father

Yemen, the US and child soldiers

Saudi 'morality queen'

Yemen strikes tribal alliance against al-Qaeda

The politics of Egyptian statistics

Maid faces execution in Saudi Arabia

Police ordered out of universities

Destination: gay Beirut?

Murder by motorbike

President for ever?

Another bad year for Arab press freedom

Prosecutor questions Kuwaiti royals

Saudi silence over murder case

Fracas at Kuwaiti TV station

The Middle East gender gap

'Al-Qaeda financier' arrested in Yemen

The Chilean way, and the Arab way

Al-Qaeda plans 'army'  in southern Yemen

Sectarian tensions in Egypt

Ya Memri!

Egypt cracks down on text messages

'Hit-list' officer shot dead in Yemen

Tackling poverty – by deportation

Battle of the fatwas

Saudi marriage official's child bride

Yemen and the GCC

Diplomats under threat

Diplomats attacked in Yemen

Free speech for some?

Kareem's story

Despotic benevolence

Moroccan magazine to close

'Imminent danger' from multimedia

Reading between the red lines


Blog archive

All blog posts

General topics

Saudi Arabia 


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What's Really Wrong with the Middle East  
Brian Whitaker, 2009



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Last revised on 15 October, 2010