Arabia Incognita

Dispatches from Yemen and the Gulf
Edited by Sheila Carapico

Yemen is surely the most strategically important country to be so studiedly ignored in the West, and this volume gathering up incisive essays on its contemporary history and politics is essential reading.Prof. Juan Cole, University of Michigan

Arabia Incognita

In 2011, millions of Yemenis calling themselves the Peaceful Youth joyfully joined the “Arab Spring.” Four years later, popular aspirations for social justice and a serious attempt at national dialogue were thwarted by deadly domestic power struggles. When the pro-Saudi, US-supported government fled to Riyadh in April 2015, the Kingdom led a multinational military intervention inside Yemen. By December, daily bombardment had killed thousands of fighters and civilians, injured and displaced hundreds of thousands, and decimated homes and infrastructure. A naval blockade cut off access to fuel, medicine, and food for millions. In addition to this humanitarian catastrophe, the ensuing chaos emboldened al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and led the group ISIS to expand there.

Perfect for understanding the political economy, geopolitics and social relations of the region.Prof. Laleh Khalili, University of London, SOAS

Arabia Incognita helps readers understand this tragic misadventure by tracing the Arabian Peninsula’s modern history from Yemen’s strong anti-imperial movement of the 1960s through the present series of conflicts. The majority of the essays focus on Yemen’s colorful and complex internal socio-political dynamics; others draw attention to parallel, often inter-connected disharmonies inside the Gulf’s petro-kingdoms; wider regional upheavals and movements; and America’s deep, vast and very problematic security involvement in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula.

Political cartoons by the Yemeni artist Samer Al-Shameeri, like the one below of a Yemeni man under bombardment being prevented from reaching aid, provide insightful visuals to complement the text.

The dispatches and illustrations in this anthology were originally published in Middle East Report. They were selected by renowned Yemen expert Dr. Sheila Carapico and are accompanied by her Introduction. Arabia Incognita is published in collaboration with the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), which has published Middle East Report since 1971.

Editor’s Note

1: The Arabian Peninsula, 1958–85
The Gulf between Two Revolutions, 1958–79—Fred Halliday
Insurrection at Mecca—Jim Paul
Prospects for the Gulf—Joe Stork

2: Cold War and Unification in Two Yemens
North Yemen Today—Fred Halliday
Catastrophe in South Yemen: A Preliminary Assessment—Fred Halliday
A Tale of Two Families: Change in North Yemen, 1977–89—Sheila Carapico and Cynthia Myntti
The Economic Dimension of Yemeni Unity—Sheila Carapico

3: Yemen After Unification: Elections and Civil War
Yemen: Unification and the Gulf War—Sheila Carapico
Yemeni Workers Come Home: Reabsorbing One Million Migrants—Thomas Stevenson
Elections and Mass Politics—Sheila Carapico
The Yemeni Elections Up Close—Renaud Detalle
From Ballot Box to Battlefield: The War of the Two ‘Alis—Sheila Carapico

4: Modern Political Islam in the Arabian Peninsula

Islam and the Theology of Power: Wahhabism and Salafism—Khaled Abou El Fadl
A Clash of Fundamentalisms: Wahhabism in Yemen—Shelagh Weir
Yemen and the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army—Sheila Carapico
Understanding Political Dissent in Saudi Arabia—Gwenn Okruhlik
Local Conflict, Global Spin: An Uprising in the Yemeni Highlands—Iris Glosemeyer
The Iraq Effect in Saudi Arabia—Toby Jones
The Shi’a of Saudi Arabia at a Crossroads—Toby Matthiesen

5: Water, Oil and Workers
The Ghosts of American Camp—Robert Vitalis
Speaking of Water—George R. Trumbull IV
Saudi Alchemy: Water into Oil, Oil into Water—Toby Jones
Water Conflict and Cooperation in Yemen—Gerhard Lichtenthaeler
Yemenis on Mars—Engseng Ho

6: The Roots and Course of the 2011 Uprisings
Foreboding about the Future in Yemen—Sarah Phillips
The Snake with a Thousand Heads: The Southern Cause in Yemen—Susanne Dahlgren
No Pink Slip for Salih What Yemen’s Protests Do (and Do Not) Mean—Stacey Philbrick Yadav
No Exit: Yemen’s Existential Crisis—Sheila Carapico
Tawakkul Karman as Cause and Effect—Stacey Philbrick Yadav
Looking for Revolution in Kuwait—Mary Ann Tétreault
Ansar al-Shari’a—Sheila Carapico
Collective Frustration, but No Collective Action, in Qatar—Justin Gengler
Demonstrators, Dialogues, Drones and Dialectics—Sheila Carapico

7: America’s Deep Engagement

America’s Sawt al-Saud—Al Miskin
Investigating the Cole Bombing—Charles Schmitz
Washington’s New Arms Bazaar—Sean L. Yom
Embracing Crisis in the Gulf—Toby Jones
Rules of Engagement—Sheila Carapico
Secret US Bases?—Sheila Carapico
Of Dangling Bodies—Al Miskin
Stuck (or Not) in a “Special Relationship”—Toby Jones
Romancing the Throne—Sheila Carapico
What About ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Awlaqi? —Lisa Hajjar
Obama’s Firing Range in Arabia —Chris Toensing

8: Yemen’s Implosions, 2014

Explosions and Ill Omens: On the Stage at World Theater Day in Yemen—Katherine Hennessey
Southern Yemeni Activists Prepare for Nationwide Rally—Susanne Dahlgren
Chanting for Southern Independence—Anne-Linda Amira Augustin
A Poor People’s Revolution: The Southern Movement Heads toward Independence from Yemen—Susanne Dahlgren
Yemen’s (Super-)Imposed Federal Boundaries—Tobias Thiel
The Breakdown of the GCC Initiative—Stacey Philbrick Yadav and Sheila Carapico

9: Saudi-Led, American-Backed Military Intervention, 2015

Operation Decisive Storm and the Expanding Counterrevolution—John M. Willis
A Grim New Phase in Yemen’s Migration History—Marina de Regt
Two Resolutions, a Draft Constitution (and Late Developments)—Sheila Carapico
The Moral Economy of Distance in the Yemeni Crisis—Jillian Schwedler and Stacey Philbrick Yadav
Yemen Talks in Geneva—Gabriele vom Bruck (2015)
The Multiple Wars in Yemen—Susanne Dahlgren and Anne-Linda Amira Augustin
The GCC Needs a Successful Strategy for Yemen, Not Failed Tactics—James Spencer

About the Editor

Sheila Carapico and MERIP Reports have been central voices in informing the public about the realities of the Middle East, beyond the glib talking points of politicians and pundits. Yemen is surely the most strategically important country to be so studiedly ignored in the West, and this volume gathering up incisive essays on its contemporary history and politics is essential reading.
–Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan
Sheila Carapico’s masterful compilation of selected Middle East Research and Information Project reports is required reading for anyone seeking to understand the Yemen catastrophe and its Middle East-wide implications. Many are responsible for the disaster, first and foremost Yemen’s political elites whose promising national dialogue failed. At the same time, abject failures of analysis keep the United States and Saudi Arabia from looking beyond their respective preoccupations with killing terrorists and confronting Iran. Until they do, “Arabia” will remain “Incognita” at unacceptable human and strategic cost for all concerned.
–Charles Dunbar, US Ambassador to Yemen, 1988−91
This richly varied compendium of articles by foremost scholars of Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula brings together some of the most incisive, thoughtful, cant-free, and trenchant analysis of this misunderstood region. Perfect for understanding the political economy, geopolitics and social relations of the region, these scholars cut through ideology and myth to provide a lucid picture of how Arabian Peninsula works.
–Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics, Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London
Unfortunately, Yemen remains deeply undercovered and misunderstood, despite the gravity of its recent crises and the deep regional and global implications of its slide into civil war. Thus, a volume like this—composed of a diverse array of takes on key issues by some of the most respected experts on the country—represents a deeply valuable addition to the literature available on Yemen. It is a must read to understand the larger picture of what’s happening in Yemen.
–Farea al-Muslimi, Chairman of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies
Sheila Carapico’s Arabia Incognita is essential reading – it explores the sinews of power and paranoia that emanate from Saudi Arabia, ensnaring the smaller emirates and creating mayhem in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. Thoughtful and well-informed scholars write with compassion about the Arabian Peninsula, which is well-known only as cliché but not considered as a real place, where real people live.
–Vijay Prashad, author of The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution
An indispensable guide for students, Arabia Incognita combines a thoughtful introduction, well-chosen excerpts from former Middle East Report articles and other relevant sources, as well as incisive cartoons from local newspapers to illuminate how the oil-producing absolute monarchies of the Gulf have sought to control, and now pacify through direct war, the restive, poorer inhabitants of the more populous, politically vibrant southwest corner of the Peninsula. Attending to cold war dynamics, the ongoing effects of U.S. imperialism, and competing regional forms of solidarity, Arabia Incognita is a valuable contribution about a world of which most Americans know little, despite its centrality to US and North Atlantic security interests.
–Lisa Wedeen, Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory at the University of Chicago

Arabia Incognita is available in Paperback ($24.99)


304 pages, 6″ X 9″
Published May 2016
ISBN 9781682570036