The worst moments in the siege of Dammaj came in late November and early December of last year. During those weeks, the villagers in this little-visited, extraordinarily pious settlement in the northwest corner of Yemen had no access to the only hospital in the region, and dwindling supplies of food. Meanwhile, from day to day, snipers in the hills picked off the citizens as they walked to their mosque. The origins of this conflict lie in the age-old Sunni-Shia split. The attacking army is made up of fighters who adhere to a tradition within Shia Islam known as Zaydism.
On a Tuesday morning in September, three buses full of Libyan tribesmen milled around the gilded lobby of the Ritz Carlton hotel in Doha, the shimmering glass capital of Qatar. The tribesmen were dressed in a mixture of suits and ties and sweeping white robes, and they had come to personally thank the emir for helping them to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi. Yusef Mansoori, a member of the delegation, told me earnestly, “We would like to thank him very, very much for everything he has done for us.” Certainly, the Libyans had plenty to be grateful for.
Or, better yet, “my ass.” The Arab Spring has been with us for nearly three quarters of a year. This is not a long time as history goes. But the annual flowers of the spare land have long ago vanished into the crude, mostly gritty sand that is the Middle East. It’s not, though, as if it is at all back to “normal” in the Arab world. And, frankly, we haven’t the slightest about what normal in the Arab world is or will be. The Muslims and the Jews and the increasingly scarce but differentiated Christians who constituted the region lived (and live) recreant lives.
Many Damascenes these days prefer to watch the government-run TV stations. Elsewhere, the news is bad. The local channels, with local announcers, speaking in proper Syrian Arabic, are often sweet. Often the broadcasters on these stations are beautiful young women. They smile a lot. Their channels say that in some outlying districts, vandals and religious fanatics have moved in, and have had to be removed by the army. But now all is back to normal. One cannot trade one’s Syrian pounds for dollars in Damascus anymore.
The Pirates Of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World By Jay Bahadur (Pantheon, 300 pp., $26.95) The monsoon winds are dying down and the Indian Ocean is getting smooth again. This happens at the end of every summer, and September marks a new season: pirate season. Somalia’s wily, indefatigable buccaneers are just coming off their summer break.
Four months after American submarines began launching missiles and U.S. pilots began flying sorties, does anyone, perhaps even including President Obama, really know what we are trying to do in Libya? It is true that, compared to Afghanistan, a major war whose outcome is generally agreed to hang in the balance, and to Iraq, from which we have not yet completely withdrawn, and even to Somalia and Yemen, where the tempo of our counterinsurgency operations have been steadily increasing, both directly and by proxy, Libya may seem minor.
The U.S. ship in the successor flotilla aiming to break the Israeli embargo of the Gaza Strip has been named The Audacity of Hope. It is a bad joke that Barack Obama deserves. His proven coldness toward Israel has emboldened these foolish and meretricious people (including the uproariously silly Alice Walker) to open yet another front against the Jewish state. Of course, their campaign is not really about the embargo. It is about the very existence of Israel. It is not genocide, but it is politicide, and this is also a crime against humanity.
With Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh holed up in a Saudi hospital, Yemen has settled into a relative calm. But the situation is not so much improved as it is temporarily pacified by uncertainty. Saleh’s aides are insisting that he will return to Yemen soon; meanwhile, diplomats from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, the United States, and the European Union have swooped in to pressure Saleh, even in his hospital bed, to officially resign.
On Friday, hundreds of tribesmen armed with anti-aircraft mortars, rockets, machine guns, and grenades launched a prolonged attack on the presidential palace in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, wounding Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s president of thirty-three years. It’s a fitting cap on what has amounted to nearly two weeks of horrendous violence across Yemen, distilled in recent news into a confusing smear of images featuring billowing black smoke, tanks rumbling through urban centers, and men in fluttering keffiyehs firing machine guns from broken windows.
Mahdi Mohammed didn’t sound like himself. He didn’t sound like the smiling young father I’d met among a throng of anti-government protesters in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, in February. And he didn’t sound like the earnest activist who promised me, when I was deported from Yemen in March, that he’d welcome me back to a “free Yemen” in April. The Mahdi I spoke to early Tuesday morning sounded—along with the rest of the Yemeni protesters I spoke to this week—like he was at the end of his rope.