From the Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), a major German language Swiss daily newspaper based in Zürich known as the Swiss newspaper of record. (This is a translation from the German to English, with thanks to the very nice Marcus.) Its wonderful:
From the Living Room, A Government Much Nervous
A housewife from New Jersey interferes in Yemen
If a newspaper in Yemen wants to sell more copies, it publishes a picture of Jane Novak. The 46 year old American housewife and mother of two children has reached surprising popularity in the southern Arabic country. All because of her Internet Blog. For the Yemeni government she has become something like enemy of the state number one.
The descriptions and names of Jane Novak are diverse: A member of al-kaida, an American secret agent, a Shiite monarchist, a Zionist – that’s what representatives from the Yemeni Government have called the women on different occasions. A women which sits some thousand kilometers away on a different continent, in front of her a Laptop-Computer blogging, assumed her children are in school and she has time at the moment.
The 46 year old housewife out of the American state of New Jersey openly admits to have known almost nothing about Yemen just a few years ago. In the meantime she is known in Yemen by her given name “Jane”. Also she possibly is the best known foreigner in the country even though the opinions about her greatly differ. Already the name and the graphical design of her Website, in the colors of the American flag ought to be enough to get the blood of Islamists and Arabic governments rushing through their veins.
Everything began with a petition
Everything began in the year 2004 with a petition to free the Yemenite journalist Karim al-Khaiwani. Khaiwani had attracted his governments anger, because he dared to write about a rebellion in the north of the country. He was charged with high treason and theoretically he has to fear the death penalty.
Out of the simple appeal on the Internet developed a Blog, which stood at the beginning of a campaign whose momentum holds steadily. The Website has developed into a kind of bulletin board for Journalists which are particular near to the countries opposition and oppositional politicians. They send emails which provide new information and make the blog into more than the hobby of a dilettante. One thing lead to another: But mainly the Yemeni government made the mistake to created the concept of the enemy “Jane” which made her an icon. By now Novak also publishes in the English “Yemen Times”. Her articles show a considerable knowledge of the inner workings.
Talk guest on “al-Jazira”
2005 Novak was a first time guest in a discussion on the arabic television station al-Jazeeza. When it was the speaker of the Yemeni governments turn he began with a tirade against Novak: “You do not speak Arabic, you never were in Yemen and you aren’t even a journalist. Everything you have is a website you are using to smear Yemen.”
No “normal” activist
Reading her biography the 46 year old doesn’t really fit the picture of an activist who fights for the rights of people in an exotic country. According to “The New York Times” she was working as sales manager for a textile company before she became a mother. When a Yemeni Minister visited Washington last year he offered to meet “Jane”. She refused because the trip to Washington was too expensive and the complications in securing the supervision for her children.
Through her campaign Novak was sucked into one of the least known and most complex conflicts in the middle east. In the southern Arabic country, which formerly was divided into Northern and Southern Yemen, a rebellion of tribes in the north west has existed for years. The rebels which are located near the border to Saudi Arabia are fighting against the central government who accuses the rebels of being supported by Iran. The death toll is located in the thousands. The Journalist Karim al-Khaiwani whom Novak supports wrote, in spite of an official embargo, about the conflict on his website. This was the reason for the charge against him.
The Yemeni government accuses him of being a supporter of the “Terrorists”, which is the government’s portrayal of the rebels. According to Novak this is a bitter irony because the stance of the regime on this subject has to be called ambivalent. Numerous prisoners which were incarcerated because there existed the suspicion of ties to al-Kaida have been freed in spite of protests from the West. The twilight of the global terror networks also lies on the small country on the southern tip of the Arabic peninsula. The definition of friend and foe is seldom definite.
Novak is convinced that al-Khaiwani is on the right side . The two have never met but are still corresponding by email. By the way, it took Novak months until Novak confessed to her protégé that she isn’t a Journalist but a housewife with a Laptop at home.