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Yemen Dancing on the Heads of Snakes Victoria Clark

Publication date:
01 Mar 2010
Yale University Press
328 pages: 235 x 156 x 21mm
15 illus.
Sales territories:

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Yemen is the dark horse of the Middle East. Every so often it enters the headlines for one alarming reason or another—links with al-Qaeda, kidnapped Westerners, explosive population growth—then sinks into obscurity again. But, as Victoria Clark argues in this riveting book, we ignore Yemen at our peril. The poorest state in the Arab world, it is still dominated by its tribal makeup and has become a perfect breeding ground for insurgent and terrorist movements.

Clark returns to the country where she was born to discover a perilously fragile state that deserves more of our understanding and attention. On a series of visits to Yemen between 2004 and 2009, she meets politicians, influential tribesmen, oil workers and jihadists as well as ordinary Yemenis. Untangling Yemen’s history before examining the country’s role in both al-Qaeda and the wider jihadist movement today, Clark presents a lively, clear, and up-to-date account of a little-known state whose chronic instability is increasingly engaging the general reader.


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Victoria Clark is a former correspondent and Moscow bureau chief for the Observer. She now works as a freelance journalist and writer, contributing to the Independent, Prospect magazine, and the Tablet.

"Before Nato sends in troops or America orders a bombing campaign, the West would do well to take one precaution and read Victoria Clark’s excellent new book on the country, part history and part travelogue. Clark leads the reader through Yemen’s turbulent past with humour and perception …The country is still evidently under her skin." Richard Beeston, The Times

"For the armchair commentators at Fox News and similar organizations, this book ought to be required reading. It is easily the best and most readable account of Yemen’s current problems and their daunting complexity … Clark wonders how much longer Yemen’s president can keep up his dance before the snakes finally get the better of him." Brian Whitaker, The Guardian

"The most telling interview is with Tariq al-Fadhli, sometimes cited as the country’s top jihadist … His progress from scion of a powerful tribe to Afghan jihadist, then back to collaborator with Mr Saleh and now, in all probability, a leading formenter of southern secession is one of Ms Clark’s brilliant lessons in Yemeni history. This book is compulsory reading for anyone who wants to get to grips with Yemen’s pit of slithery serpents." The Economist

"Clark shows very well how everyone has drawn a blank in Yemen … Sensibly Clark concludes by recommending that the West simply pay the Saudis to deal with it, rather than getting dragged into yet another interminable front in the ‘war on terror.'" Michael Burleigh, Literary Review

"An experienced foreign correspondent casts a timely light on the complex fissiparous, impoverished country now seen as a haven for Al-Qaeda." -Harry Eyres, Financial Times

"Untangling Yemen’s history before examining the country’s role in both Al Qaeda and the wider jihadist movement today, [Victoria Clark] presents an up-to-date account of a state that ought to be better known."—Fred Rhodes, Middle East

"Clark's command of her subject allows her to write in a serious but fluid style that acts to invite readers from all backgrounds to delve into her world of Yemen."—The Majalla

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