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Letter

About Yemen

, February 19, 2007

Re: Yemen's President Reneges on Democracy

To the Editor:

I read with great interest Jane Novak's June 28, 2006 article on Yemen's President Saleh. While I am not in a position to dispute the information she provides, it struck me that her approach was extraordinarily one-sided.

She makes no mention of the fact, even in passing, that Yemen has been and continues to be an extremely difficult country to govern, regardless of the political and social standing of her inhabitants. President Saleh must appease a wide range of players, including whole tribes whose views are often at odds with those of the central government. One of these tribal groups, in the north of the country, consists of over one million members. Large areas of Yemen, controlled by hostile groups, are "off limits" to foreigners and natives alike.

Ms. Novak's article appears to relate only to the political scene in Sanaa and perhaps a few other cities. This is a misleading tactic since it ignores the vital consideration of Yemen's historical — and extant — arrangement of tribes, clans and families that is especially prevalent outside the major settlements. This aspect is probably of greater importance in understanding the country's problems than the less intractable vagaries of secular politics.

There is no such thing as a natural democracy in a Muslim country. That President Saleh has managed to nurse the country through two civil wars and varying sources of internal strife — not all of which is related to legitimate opposition — deserves some mention in an article like Ms. Novak's.

The media continues to prevent it being known that Yemen is one of the earth's most beautiful and fascinating places. I wish her people well.

Dylan Hannon
California

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