Just back from Yemen - and probably just in time given the bombing raids across parts of the country aimed at alleged Al-Qaeda training camps and the revelations about the plot to blow up a US airliner. Ironically my hotel was actually located on Al-Qaida Street!
The first raid while I was there sparked some street demonstrations in the regions after it became clear there were women and children killed and that the US government had provided intelligence and possible weapons for the attack.
But I was lucky I also got to see another side of Yemen and in particular the Yemeni people - they were warm, generous and when we walked in the souq or visited the magnificent old city of Sana'a there was only a wish to engage, never a hostility. It is those people who we must remember when the demonisation of the country starts and the threat of more widespread bombing campaigns becomes a reality.
I went to Yemen on behalf of the International Federation of Journalists to help run a series of seminars/workshops on collective bargaining and trade union organisation as part of a solidarity programme with the Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate.
The union is vibrant and one of the most active in the Middle East. Like Yemen itself it has its internal divides - the political Islamists, the socialists and those who back the western-supported government - and the media in Yemen in largely government owned and run. Despite this the union doesn't shy away from speaking out on the human rights abuses and attacks on media, including the closure of a number of independent media and the arrest of 'opposition' journalists.
The workshops were fascinating. The union reps from across Yemen who attended were nothing if not passionate with at times 8 people on their feet trying to speak over the guy with the microphone! It's a union with lots of external problems and internal issues to resolve but from the little I saw it is a union with a fantastic spirit and committed reps which has the potential build its strength and be one of the leading journalists' unions in the region. It needs to develop its democratic procedures, involve its activists more in the running of the union and sort out its communications but it is a young union, developing and no-one can impose a particular way of working on it, it needs to be supported in finding its own path to building the union. But I was pleased to have the chance to help contribute to that process and hope to be able to help in that work again in the future.
I flew from the sun of Sana'a to the snow of Scotland. Now that's a culture shock!
Happy new year to everyone. Thanks as ever to all the union's reps and activists who have been magnificent in a really tough year and never get enough thanks for all the work they do for the union's members. Thank you.