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Yemen’s winning World Press Photo

18 Feb
Samuel Aranda’s winning photo beat off competition from more than 100,000 other entries.
Samuel Aranda’s winning photo beat off competition from more than 100,000 other entries.

Fatima Al-Qaws, is the veiled woman cradling her wounded son after an anti-government demonstration in October. She is also one of the subjects in Samuel Aranda’s winning World Press photo.

Al-Qaws, who is from Ba’dan district in Ibb governorate but lives in Sana’a, explained that she only found out about the photo after her niece phoned from the UAE – though she still did not realize the significance of the picture.

“I thought that the photo people were talking about was actually my appearance in an interview on Suhail TV and Al-Jazeera some months ago, so I did not pay much attention to it,” she said, but her niece insisted it was her and her son.

Al-Qaws explained that she first saw the photo on her son’s mobile phone and recalled the day of October 15 on Al-Zubairy Street – a conflict line between anti-regime protesters and security forces at the time.

“It was after an attack against demonstrators on Al-Zubairy Street,” she said. “I went to the field hospital and did not see my son among the dead or wounded protesters. I checked the place again and saw my son lying on the ground suffocated with tear gas,” she explained. “So I embraced him and [Aranda] must have taken the photo at that moment.”

Her son, Zayed Al-Qawas, 18, said he thought it was a joke until more people called to tell him about Aranda’s picture.

“I did not expect this photo to win among thousands of pictures and it is a real support to the revolution,” he said. “It demonstrates that Yemenis are not extremists.”

Helping Yemen

The Spanish photographer’s photo, which was taken while on assignment for the New York Times, beat off competition from more than 100,000 entries to win one of the most prestigious photography awards on Friday.

The New York Times’ Lens Blog wrote that after hearing the news, Aranda called his mother in Spain, who cried for 45 minutes. He said that “while conversations might revolve around composition and form”, he hopes it will help the people of Yemen. He also commented on the help he received from Yemeni photographers – specifically mentioning Mohamed Al-Sayaghi of Reuters.

Aranda, who now lives in Tunisia, covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. In December, he presented a selection of Arab Spring photos at the Spanish Embassy in Sana’a, alongside freelance photographer Lindsay Mackenzie.

‘An intimate moment’

Koyo Kouoh, one of the jury members on the World Press photo board, said: “It is a photo that speaks for the entire region. It stands for Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria, for all that happened in the Arab Spring.

“But it shows a private, intimate side of what went on. And it shows the role that women played, not only as care-givers, but as active people in the movement.”

Nina Berman, another World Press judge, added, “In the Western media, we seldom see veiled women in this way, at such an intimate moment. It is as if all of the events of the Arab Spring resulted in this single moment – in moments like this.”

Yemeni photographers are also proud of Aranda’s achievement. “We feel proud of this photo because it is very important for the world to have a new impression of Yemen,” Nadia Abdulla, a freelance Yemeni photographer, said.

“The foreign media has been presenting Yemenis as terrorists but this is the first time Yemen’s beautiful and expressive side has been shown,” she added.

Setting the standard

The 2011 World Press Photo award is the 55th annual contest in what is universally recognized as the world’s leading photojournalism prize, setting the standard for the profession.

The contest draws entries by professional press photographers, photojournalists and documentary photographers from across the world, with 5,247 photographers from 124 countries participating this year and 101,254 pictures judged.

The jury awarded prizes to 57 photographers in nine themed categories, with the Arab Spring and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami both making a big impact.

All entries are presented and judged anonymously by 19 internationally recognized professionals over two weeks before the winners are announced.

Aranda will officially receive his World Press award in Amsterdam on Saturday, April. 21, 2012. The award also carries a cash prize of €10,000 and a Canon EOS Digital SLR Camera and lens kit.

An exhibition of the award-winning images will be open to the public at the Oude Kerk, Oudekerksplein, in Amsterdam on Friday, April 20, until June 17.

A worldwide tour of the exhibition will also be launched, covering a record 105 venues in 45 countries. Combined with a yearbook, distributed internationally in seven languages, the winning images will reach a worldwide audience of millions in the course of the year


Fireworks in Yemen: a day-to-day routine

19 Jan

Malak Shaher
Yemen Times

Yemen has been witnessing a lot of changes and 2011 was an unforgettable year for many. During the Yemeni youth revolution, gunfire and blasts were heard on an almost daily basis as clashes erupted between pro-government and pro-revolution forces – and sometimes also in celebration.

But since July 2011, it hasn’t just been gunfire and shelling that has echoed across the city; fireworks can be seen and heard almost every night.

It was ten at night on July 7 when all of a sudden, Nadia Ahmad, 23, of Sana’a heard huge blasts and gunfire. Her father called her and the rest of the family to hide under a big table in the living room of their house so that no one got hurt.

“I thought it was the war,” she said. “We did not know what was going on until my cousin called us saying that we should not be scared because the blasts were actually fireworks.”

For her, that day marked the beginning of fireworks becoming a “day-to-day” routine. In her neighborhood, people are allying Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was in power for 33 years before signing a deal to step down in November.

“It turned out that they were happy when they found out that he survived the attack against the Al-Nahdain mosque where he was praying, and were celebrating,” she said.

Ahmad said that men in her neighborhood light fireworks simply when they “feel bored”.

However, fireworks began to spread across the city a month before exploding over Nadia Ahmad’s home. On June 4, when President Saleh left for Saudi Arabia for treatment after being injured in the mosque attack, fireworks were set off in Change Square.

A month and three days later, army forces and government supporters shot bullets into the air and set off fireworks in almost all Yemeni provinces on hearing the news that the President would survive, according to state television.

“Fireworks cover the skies of the capital Sana’a and other Yemeni governorates to celebrate the successful surgery of President Saleh,” Yemen official television channel reported, according to Xinhua news agency.

Before the crisis, the Ministry of Interior was the authority buying fireworks to set them off on national days. However, during the uprising, “things fell out of the hands of the state and people were not held accountable if they bought fireworks or even firing bullets into the open air,” according to Riyadh Al-Zubair, a secretary in the minister’s office.

Al-Zubair added that the ministry used to give permission, with limitations, for those who wanted to buy fireworks.

“The problem in Yemen now is gunfire, which is more dangerous. If some set fireworks off, others shoot at weddings or whenever they just feel happy.”

Children are terrified

Mahmoud Mohammad, a husband and a father of four, says the sound of fireworks terrifies his children and that they shout “war, war!” when they hear them. Sometimes, they awake late at night when they hear blasts. He added that the setting off of fireworks is not a new problem, but through 2011, it became a much bigger issue.

In Mohammad’s village in Taiz, women sometimes burn the remains of papers to light a fire in the stove. He said that one day a woman found a cardboard box and assuming it was empty, used it as fuel. “It was for fireworks and there were some material remaining. She put it and left it, causing a big blast,” he said. “But luckily, she was away when the stove exploded.”

According to a worker at one of the certified shops selling fireworks, who preferred not to be named, they only sell fireworks to those who show them invitations for weddings.

“We only sell to those who live outside the city of Sana’a. But there are other uncertified places who smuggle fireworks and sell them to people for less money,” he said.

A box of fireworks is sold at their shop for YR 2,500 or USD 12 while it costs half that at a shop not certified by the Ministry of Interior.

“People are using the insecurity in the country to do whatever they want. They set off fireworks and even sometimes start fires,” said Mohammad Al-Qaedi from the Ministry of Interior.

Death of Osama bin Laden expected to have little effect on al-Qaida, experts say

3 May


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

By Mark Roth and Malak Shaher, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the long run, Osama bin Laden’s death Sunday at the hands of an American military assault will have little impact on the strength and actions of al-Qaida.

That was the consensus of several counterterrorism experts interviewed Monday in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death.

Kathleen Carley, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who studies the social networks formed by terrorists, said bin Laden’s influence in al-Qaida had been waning in recent years anyway, and the organization has evolved into an amalgamation of fairly autonomous cells around the world.

In today’s al-Qaida, “things don’t happen because some central leader says ‘You go do this,’ and so as a result, the removal of any one leader does not break up the activities of the cells,” she said.

“If [President George W.] Bush had killed bin Laden in 2002, the impact would have been much, much greater,” added Victor Asal, a terrorism expert at the State University of New York’s University at Albany. “But al-Qaida’s been under tremendous pressure for years, and so there’s been a level of decentralization” that significantly lessened bin Laden’s importance.

Even though the experts felt there would be little long-term effect from bin Laden’s killing, they agreed there may be immediate attempts to retaliate against the United States.

“There will be a lot of pressure on al-Qaida to prove that it’s still alive and exists,” said John Horgan, director of the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Penn State University.

But Mr. Horgan also speculated that those attacks are more likely to occur against U.S. embassies or troop emplacements outside America, because the level of security inside the country’s borders is at a high level now.

“There’s no question his death will have a short-term unifying effect,” Mr. Horgan added. “He’s going to be this generation’s Che Guevara. We’ll see him on posters and on T-shirts. He has said for many years he wanted to die in martyrdom and now he’s achieved that.”

On the other hand, the recent pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the Middle East and North Africa will blunt the impact of his killing, the experts said.

“The uprisings that have occurred in Bahrain and Yemen and Egypt and Libya,” Ms. Carley said, “mean that there is a lot of other stuff going on now and he hasn’t been in the news as much. He will still look like a martyr to some people, but it won’t be as strong an effect as it would have been years ago.”

Ironically, bin Laden’s success as a charismatic leader may have sown some of the seeds of al-Qaida’s current weakness, the researchers said.

The evolution of autonomous al-Qaida cells in other countries led to such leaders as the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, who became infamous in America for his beheadings of kidnapped Westerners, and sowed controversy among Muslims with such assaults as a suicide bombing attack in Jordan that killed many members of a Muslim wedding party.

That weakened al-Qaida’s image and hurt the reputation of bin Laden’s chief strategist, Ayman al-Zawahiri, said Mr. Horgan.

While he is officially second in command of al-Qaida, Mr.Zawahiri “doesn’t have an ounce of the charisma of bin Laden himself,” he said. “He’s a very divisive figure.”

In fact, if there is anyone poised to assume bin Laden’s leadership role in the future, several experts said, it is Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, head of al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula.

Born in the United States, Mr. Awlaki is fluent in English, a charismatic preacher and makes heavy use of the Web to spread his message, said Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent who teaches counterterrorism at the University of Southern California.

“Do I think he’s going to immediately ascend to the throne?” Mr. Southers asked. “No. But do I think he can be ignored? Not at all. He looks like the next-generation leader.”

Not everyone thinks the Yemen-based al-Qaida operation is powerful, though.

Sa’eed Obaid, a Yemeni specialist in al-Qaida affairs, said Monday that the group in Yemen has relatively few members, and they have carried out only one successful attack — the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 in the port of Aden.

And the recent mass demonstrations against Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, have pulled attention away from al-Qaida, he said.

“This has been the strongest hit against al-Qaida,” Mr. Obaid said, “because people proved that they can demand what they want peacefully without doing suicidal attacks and killing innocents.”

Ali Saeed, a reporter at the Yemen Times newspaper, said al-Qaida traditionally recruits its members from those who are “young and poor.”

“However, I believe that these young people are now calling for freedom peacefully, which paralyzes al-Qaida.”

In the end, bin Laden’s death “is really a story about terrorist psychology,” said Mr. Horgan. “The man is dead but his ideas live on, and we’re seeing how his ideas have given rise to action all over the globe.

“But when the dust settles … I think we’ll find that his death has really not changed the situation that much.”

Malak Shaher: or 412-263-1944.

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