'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

A tale of two Arabian cities

Yemenis sit in the old city of Sanaa as the mi...

The old city of Sana'a is like a fairy tale -- unless you start knocking on doors. (Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife)

It’s March 2010 and the clang of metal rings out down a dusty street in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Soldiers in blue camouflage hold oiled assault rifles, standing among a gathering crowd. One of the city’s dispensaries for cooking gas has just received a shipment. There’s a shortage of fuel all around the city, which is groaning under the twin strains of governmental dysfunction and an influx of refugees from the north. A jet streaks high above us, presumably en route to the border with Saudi Arabia, where the Yemeni military is targeting anti-government Houthi rebels and alleged cells of al Qa’eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Some in the West have begun to call Yemen a failed state, but at least they’re calling it something.

I have come to Sana’a with my wife – who is on assignment for American public radio – from our base in Riyadh, a historical friend to its southern neighbor. People say that Yemenis built Saudi Arabia – and it’s true that big companies of Yemeni origin, such as the massive Bin Laden Group, were responsible for a lot of the early contracts to build roads and infrastructure in the Kingdom.

But warm relations between the two countries soured in 1990 and 1991, when Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power since 1978 and at that point presiding over a united north and south Yemen, joined Cuba in voting against a United Nations resolution authorizing force to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Saudi Arabia was outraged by the decision and began deporting Yemeni guest workers. Nearly a million were eventually removed. The absence of dollar infusions from Saudi’s booming oil economy – and the loss of millions in US and European support, likewise rescinded in response to that UN vote – didn’t help things for Yemen, which faced dwindling petroleum revenues that are expected to slow to a stop soon.

Coming from the comparative wealth and restrictions of Riyadh, I am eager to see Sana’a, which I’ve read is poorer in cash and resources, but richer in less quantifiable terms. Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Al Qaeda, Israel, Oil, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, War, World, Yemen, , , , , , ,

Yemen blew my mind

The old city of Sanaa

Some of the old quarter's so-called mud skyscrapers date back 2,000 years. (Image via Wikipedia)

Sorry for my absence around here. I just got back from a week in the heartbreaking city of Sanaa, the current capital of the fragile Republic of Yemen.

During my short visit, I feel like I saw as many hawks as pigeons, and as many fighter jets as hawks. And there were guns and daggers everywhere.

I’ll be back in full effect in the coming days. Thanks for your patience.

Filed under: Middle East, World, Yemen, , , ,

I dream of war

John McCain waits to deliver speech in Denver,...

Image via Wikipedia

Woke up early this morning with John McCain slapping me on the back. I was in fatigues, standing among fellow soldiers for some sort of honor guard ceremony. I leaned uninjured against crutches, trying to fake my way out of fighting. McCain, his big scarred face a plastic mask of fellowship, slapped me on my back again and nearly knocked me over. Then a towering, super-buff Latino General — of higher rank somehow than McCain — came over and laid his crushing, buff arm over my head. This Latino General regarded the field of soldiers, the gleaming guns, the spectators in the stands. How was I lucky/unlucky enough to have the two important guys on either side of me? Then I realized the Latino General thought McCain was a bullshit pussy, and I — with my glasses and touch-typing fingers — was someone just as bad.

“Nerds better be giving up on robots,” the Latino General said, crushing my head and making my fake crutches crumble. He looked at McCain and sneered. “This war is among men.”

***

Surrounded by war these days: Saudi with Yemen, America in Afghanistan, and maybe soon, Israel versus Lebanon, and my oldest friend heads to an Iraq FOB this summer. Feels like there’s no refuge, especially late at night.

Follow me on Twitter.

Filed under: Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Military, War, World, Yemen, , , , , ,

Reporting Live From the Saudi-Yemen Border

Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nasser bin Abdul Azi...

A prince surveys the front, where more than 100 Saudi soldiers have died. (Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife)

Straight from the field:

Dying camel in road. Sprawling tent city. Shops closed. There actually was a war here. Victory march likely.

Kelly McEvers is on a Saudi military C130 right now, headed for the country’s southern border with Yemen, where fighting has raged off and on for several months. En route to a base near the Saudi city of Jizan, she’s traveling with an undisclosed number of other journalists, who have all been invited by Saudi officials to get an on-the-ground update on the military situation. This is in the wake, yesterday, of a reported peace deal on offer from Houthi rebel leader Abdul Malik. More than 100 Saudi soldiers have reportedly died in fighting so far.

She’ll be text messaging me all day, and I’ll be posting live updates here, and on her Twitter feed @kellymcevers.

UPDATES, from newest to oldest:

Junket over. At least we can finally write about this war.

Correction: Oasis of cars belongs to soldiers, not refugees

Khaled bin Sultan: #Saudi will only agree to cease fire if Houthis stop sending snipers over the border and return 6 Saudi prisoners

Prince to review troops, spread good news.

‘They did not withdraw. We destroyed them.’ Then why are we hearing shells and gunfire?

Journo in heels just fainted. It’s hot up here. And still not clear if the war is over.

Gunner nests dug in side of mountain. Flag at summit suggests happy speech imminent.

Jackknifing up mountain on newly cut road in heart of combat zone.

Dying camel in road. Sprawling tent city. Oasis of cars that once belonged to refugees. Shops closed. There actually was a war here. Victory march likely.

Now in convoy of sand-covered Nissans on way to #Saudi southern command HQ

– Landed in Jizan, herded into carpeted splendor. War zone? Maybe.

– Today should yield #Saudi response to #Houthi truce offer

– On a fancy C130. Apparently “five star” means “tricked out in the 80s.” Heading to #Saudi-#Yemen border.

UDPATE: And here‘s the story she filed for NPR.

Filed under: Al Qaeda, Islam, Journalism, Kelly McEvers, Media, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Shiites, Sunnis, War, Yemen, , , , ,

Will you care about Yemen in a week?

Saudi security forces on parade

Saudi military might. (Image by Al Jazeera English via Flickr)

Stories datelined Sana are flying over the wires. The U.S. Embassy shut down. Then France and Britain closed their offices. Evidence links the suspected airline bomber to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is allegedly based out of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. And individuals traveling from those two countries to the U.S. are now among the countries the TSA flags for immediate screening.

I’m currently winding down a trip to the States. But I can’t wait to get back to Riyadh, where my wife and I will be following this story closely.

How long will the average American care? Most likely, the intense scrutiny will only last a few more days. (I’ve seen CNN repeat the same vague story five times in the last couple hours; without fresh news, the eyes of viewers will roam.)

For now and for the newly interested, below is a reposting of a primer piece I posted last month. My points concern the war between Saudi Arabia and rebels in the north of Yemen. No attempt to understand Yemen and the future of western efforts to quell violence there are complete without looking at Saudi foreign policy. How long will your attention last?

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Al Qaeda, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, , , , ,

What you don't know about Saudi's Yemen war

Saudi security forces on parade

Saudi military might. (Image by Al Jazeera English via Flickr)

Look: You probably don’t understand Saudi Arabia. I barely do, and I live here. And that war with rebels in Yemen?

1. It’s not a proxy war with Iran. (Yet.)

2. It’s not evidence that Hezbollah is schooling rebels in Yemen. (Not intentionally, at least.)

3. It’s not an effort to root out “Al Qaeda.” (Riyadh is not D.C.)

Saudi Arabia is a wonderfully bizarre and surprising place. People drink Starbucks here, kids use iPhones, and the information minister has Facebook friends. Geopolitically, the big guys trade words with Tom Friedman and the military has expensive planes and big bombs. And when Saudi goes to war, just like when anyone does, there are refugees.

But the camps that house Saudi refugees, as my wife Kelly McEvers reports this morning on Morning Edition, aren’t what you’d expect.

Check out her NPR story. It turns out a Saudi refugee camp has air-conditioned tents, three hot squares, a freshly laid parking lot for residents’ SUVs, and pens for their goats.

Follow me on Twitter.

Filed under: Kelly McEvers, NPR, Saudi Arabia, War, World, Yemen, , , , , ,

Wife witnesses Yemen, Saudi bureaucrats foiling refugee aid

Third Saudi State (present day) (Saudi Arabia)

Image via Wikipedia

I don’t have anything particularly enlightening to add to the discussion, which has included theories that Yemen is the new hotbed for Al Qaeda. That said, I do want to point out with some pride that one of the journalists mentioned in this story, from the Saudi-Yemen border, is my wife! She’s the best.

ALB, Saudi Arabia — Yemen and Saudi officials stopped a UN aid shipment destined for refugees from fighting between Yemen troops and Shiite rebels on Saturday, unable to agree on border procedures.

Three trucks laden with tents, mattresses, soap and other necessities were halted by a dispute over how to transfer the goods from Saudi trucks to Yemeni trucks at the border.

This delayed for at least another day the delivery of much-needed humanitarian supplies for 3,000 hard-struck Yemenis sandwiched between the Saudi border and the centre of fighting further in to Saada province.

The aborted delivery, witnessed by journalists traveling with the convoy, underscored how local distrust and bureaucratic inertia can prolong the suffering of people who have lost homes and face food shortages in war-torn northwest Yemen.

Wife travels with convoy; husband writes about it. More importantly — if there is a point — is a reminder that the people behind all these weird stories from far-off lands are just that: people, with husbands. Yessir.

via AFP: Yemen, Saudi bureaucrats foil refugee aid shipment.

Filed under: Al Qaeda, Politics, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, , , , ,