A Yemeni view

Calm analysis of Yemen's problems, by Yemenis from inside the country, is rather scarce but Abdullah al-Faqih, Professor of Political Science at Sana’a University, provides exactly that in an articleheaded "The challenges of dealing with Yemen’s deep crises".

It's a clear and concise review of the main problems facing Yemen, and how they came about: the war in the north, the southern secessionist movement, al-Qaeda and the economy. It doesn't say anything very new but for anyone wanting to catch up on the current situation this would be an excellent starting point.

Faqih's views on what should be done are also interesting and I'll quote his conclusion in full:

President Saleh’s foremost concern is to retain total economic and political power in his own hands as long as he lives, and to hand it down to his son afterwards. The US and the international community are concerned about the threat al-Qaeda poses to regional and international peace and many educated Yemenis are concerned about the potential for tension between Saleh’s goal and that of the international community.

Of all his enemies in the south and north, al-Qaeda appears to be the least dangerous and less of a threat to what he values most. In fact, he has had it on his side on at least few occasions. Saleh might not be using al-Qaeda or the Houthis to blackmail neighbouring and friendly countries, as some of his critics often suggest, but it is obvious that he lacks a strong incentive to be rid of al-Qaeda once and for all or to reach a settlement with the Houthis. With Saleh and his country’s future depending largely on what the outside world says and does, al-Qaeda is an insurance policy for dancer and stage, but can also become an accelerator for the collapse of both of them.

The international community’s options in Yemen are very limited. On the one hand, it cannot turn its back on Yemen without risking disastrous consequences; on the other, it cannot rally behind Saleh against his opponents either in the north or south or even against al-Qaeda alone while leaving the other two for Saleh to handle alone. 

Any sound strategy to tackle Yemen’s complexities should meet several conditions: (1) it should be comprehensive in scope and inclusive of political, economic and security issues; (2) it should aim as its priority to dismantle the ongoing political conflicts in the north and south –the Saudis, in particular, should immediately stop paying the bills of the war in the north and direct the money instead towards development and reconstruction; and (3) the international community should fully engage Saleh using a combination of incentives and disincentives.

Containing the secessionist movement in the south and preventing Yemen from degenerating into a Somalia-like state will require restructuring and strengthening the Yemeni state and political system in ways that will allow meaningful power-sharing, accountability, the de-personalisation of power and the rule of law. Parliamentarianism, deep decentralisation, bicameralism, proportional representation and free media are all key components to any viable solution to Yemen’s current myriad problems. 

The separation of south and north is almost impossible and if allowed could lead to the breakdown of the country as a whole into warring tribes, sects, regions and ideological orientations. As in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and elsewhere, only extremist groups focusing on passion and advocating terror can gain advantage in the event of a split.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 6 February 2010.