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Kamal Al-Solaylee and family (Kamal Al-Solaylee)
Kamal Al-Solaylee and family (Kamal Al-Solaylee)

A Yemeni memoir

From bikinis to burkas Add to ...

12:18 Kamal Al-Solaylee: Sorry, I meant to say NOT namesless, faceless.

12:18 Globe and Mail: Patrick, you've been in Yemen for more than one week. Can you give us a sense of what it's like there?

12:19 Globe and Mail: Patrick sent in his answer by e-mail:

I'm in Aden at the moment, one of the nicest months to visit, I'm told, and the hotels are empty. The place has a very depressed feeling about it. All a result of the current political tensions over al-Qaeda etc. It's also the case that the people of the South complain a lot about being marginalized. Unemployment is high, and people believe it's because of the capital Sanaa's preference for the northern people and tribes. In Sanaa, there's more activity, but people there feel put upon by the West and resent the idea that the United States has blamed them for its Christmas Day bombing attempt. Having said that, there is a feeling of unreality about this place. There's a lot that doesn't work here as it once did, and that's a recipe for tension between peoples and chaos that allows organizations such as al-Qaeda to take control of certain areas in the country (where journalists are forbidden to go.)

12:21 [Comment From Marion Richards]One question that sprang to mind when I read your article is, what prompted you to leave Yemen, and why were none of the rest of your family struck by the same idea? Especially for the women in your family, I wonder why they chose to stay in a country that would not allow them so many opportunities.

12:26 Kamal Al-Solaylee: Actually, my sisters do work for a living. But you also have to understand that, in that part of the world, men have options that women don't. I doubt it if any one of my sisters were to get up and say "I'm leaving for Canada." It's not an option. On a personal note, I didn't feel safe living there as a young gay man. I had a more urgent reason to move away from a culture that still punishes homosexual acts with 80 lashes. A number of readers commented on that, saying that I took the easy way out. Maybe, but I wanted to be who I am and live in dignity. Neither was possible in Yemen.

12:28 [Comment From Alex MacLean]Kamal and Patrick: I find often the Middle East is conflated into one narrative which tends to obscure regional and cultural diversity in the region. Having said that, and keeping in mind that Yemen is the topic here today, do you see any kind of broader shifts in the Islamic world that are a source of hope? Does what is happening in Iran represent a possibility of change for the region, or is that a unique circumstance based on the history of that nation state? Or is a more conservative Koranic reading going to remain the status quo for some time?

12:29 Globe and Mail: Here's Patrick's answer by e-mail:

I know what you mean, but there's good reason for the narrative. The Arab world is beset with two fundamental trends: the desire of the people for empowerment and betterment (often at the expense of autocratic leaders) and the Islamic trend that provides one avenue of achieving those goals. Within the Islamic trend, the bias remains one of conservtism, sometimes leading to extremism, and that's very much in evidence here in Yemen (as Kamal so wonderfully documented in his Focus piece. 99.9 per cent of women here are covered by burkas. That was not the case 20 years ago. And it wasn't even the case 10 years ago, I'm told. And that's just one indicator. In the capital, Sanaa, religiosity is very high. No husband would hold the hand of his wife in public, let alone hug or kiss her. In Aden, today, I saw some couples holding hands at sunset on the corniche. But is stunned me since i hadn't seen it anywhere else. The political goals here are torn between a secular-oriented government that bows to tribal pressure and a rising group of Wahhabis led by the general who is running the war against the Huthi (a Shia group) in the North. Some say the general has his eye on power.

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