[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Saturday, May 26, 2007

1. Yemen is a poor country. With a population of 22 million, it is as populous as Saudi Arabia but occupying a much smaller area and producing much less oil. For many years, it was divided by civil war and revolution. The south, Aden and the Hadhramaut, was British and connected by the trade network to Singapore. The north was an arena of contest for influence by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Finally, seventeen years ago, the country was reunited. However, many problems remain and there is still a rebellion in the north. Last year, the elections were judged to be free and fair by international observers. With peace now and friendly relations with all its neighbours, Yemen is concentrating on economic development.

Photo credit: "The Graves of Tarim - Genealogy and Mobility across the Indian Ocean" Prof Ho Eng Seng/Harvard University

2. Unlike Libya, the purpose of my visit to Yemen is principally cultural. The great majority of Arabs living in Southeast Asia are of Yemeni origin, mostly Hadrami. With our renewed interest in the Middle East, this is a good time to revive our cultural links to Yemen. Like Libya, I am the first Singapore minister to visit Yemen. I brought along a delegation from Singapore's Arab Association and a group of grassroots leaders from Aljunied GRC. Why Aljunied? Because Omar Aljunied was a Yemeni who gave our GRC its name. On the day of my arrival at the capital, Sana'a, the Arab Association signed two Memorandum of Intents, one with the Immigrants Ministry, the other with the Culture Ministry. The Yemeni Government is happy to help us revitalise the Arab heritage in Singapore.

3. Sana'a is one of the world oldest cities. Legend has it that it was the city of Sem, the son of Noah. This was also the land of the Queen of Sheba. Because of its rich heritage, UNESCO has designated the entire old city of Sana'a as a world heritiage site. It is also the home of an early branch of Shiite Islam, the Zaydis. The Foreign Minister, Al-Qirbi, is a fine man whom I first met at the UN in New York last year. He is a medical doctor. He told me that his ministry would soon be moving to a beautiful new building donated by Beijing. The Chinese had offered to do a project which the Yemeni Government decided should be the Foreign Ministry.

Leptis Magna


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