July 19, 2010: The government has agreed to change the law to allow more political parties, and to do it before the national elections next April. Currently, the GPC (General People's Congress) monopolizes national power via laws that make it difficult to form new parties, and makes it illegal to form parties based on tribes or other local groups. All parties must be "national." The GPC has agreed to scrap most of the current restrictions, and take the risk of losing power. But this move is expected to prevent opposition groups from uniting and overthrowing the GPC by force. In effect, the GPC is offering to share the wealth from oil and customs revenues (and other sources), in order to avoid losing power completely.
One important, but unpublicized, source of income are the foreign aid groups that support nearly 180,000 refugees living in Yemen. Some 4-5,000 refugees are smuggled into Yemen each month. About 30 percent of them are Somalis, who are allowed to stay as refugees. All the others (from a number of African nations, mainly Ethiopia and Eritrea) can be returned. But many of these try to avoid getting caught by promptly moving on. Some succeed, some don't. But the camps bring in over $100 million in foreign spending each year. Bribes and extortion diverts some of the money to the government.
Al Qaeda in Yemen is fighting for its very existence in Arabia. The government is hunting down al Qaeda members, and having some success. The most dangerous al Qaeda members in Yemen are organized into independent cells, organized to carry out terror attacks or assassinations. Only a few of the dozen or so members know anyone from another cell. The cells contain a mix of Yemenis and foreigners, and they often live outside their tribal areas (the better to carrying out their attacks), and that makes them easier to spot. Al Qaeda has a lot of supporters in Yemen, but also a lot of opponents, who are willing to tip off the police. The government has also convinced some of the tribes to stop sheltering al Qaeda members, and this has led to more than 30 arrests.
Al Qaeda gives the impression that it is powerful in Yemen. It isn't. Al Qaeda has been trying to use Yemen as a base and refuge. Many of the al Qaeda personnel in Yemen are trainees or older (some ill or injured) terrorists who are not in good shape for any operations. Over the last few years, al Qaeda has announced a growing presence in Yemen, as well as declaring Yemen their headquarters for operations in Arabia. As long as this bunch can send email, the mass media will be unable to resist reporting about "al Qaeda in Yemen." The government believes that numerous ground and air raids in the last six months have put the remaining Islamic terrorists on the run, forcing them to constantly move about to avoid security forces or air strikes. The Islamic terrorists in Yemen are desperate to carry out some kind of spectacular, media-attracting, attack. But at the moment, avoiding arrest has a higher priority. In the last year, the government has imposed increasingly strict controls at airports and ports. This makes it much more difficult for al Qaeda members to get in, or out, of the country. Many have fled north, into Saudi Arabia, where counter-terrorism had caused over a hundred known al Qaeda members to flee to Yemen over the last few years. But so oppressive is the situation in Yemen now, Saudi Arabia looks like a safer place to be. Going from the fire into the frying pan, so to speak.
Then there is the cell phone, which has become increasingly cheaper, and popular, in Yemen during the last decade. Al Qaeda quickly learned that the U.S. could eavesdrop on cell phone calls, and quickly pinpoint the location of cell phone users. This limited terrorist use of cell phones. But for Yemenis who did not like al Qaeda, the cell phone made it easy to call the police, and easy for the police to quickly organize a raid to catch the terrorist.
July 15, 2010: In the north, soldiers ambushed Shia rebels, killing three and wounding five. The army said this was in retaliation for yesterday's Shia rebel ambush on a convoy carrying food supplies, in which eight pro-government tribesmen and three soldiers were killed.
The U.S. has added Yemeni Islamic radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki (an American citizen of Yemeni descent who has been connected with many recent Islamic terror attacks in the West) to a terrorist blacklist. This makes it possible for American officials to seize any Awlaki assets they can, and makes it difficult for others to support Awlaki financially. The U.S. wants Awlaki, dead or alive, and put him on a hit list earlier this year. Awlaki has been using the Internet, and any other media he can get on, to call for terror attacks on Western, and especially American, targets.
July 14, 2010: In the southern town of Abyan, al Qaeda gunmen attacked two buildings used by military intelligence. The attackers were driven off, but not before killing ten and wounding 13 intel personnel. Last month, security forces fought with pro-separatist tribesmen in Abyan, an operation that killed five and wounded 18. Thus al Qaeda had supporters in Abyan, who could help get the al Qaeda attack force into, and out of, the town.
July 13, 2010: In the south, armed men kidnapped a judge in broad daylight. Nearby civilians who tried to interfere were driven back by gunfire. The judge had angered local tribal leaders with some recent rulings. The day before, a journalist was kidnapped in the capital, apparently for reporting tribal disputes in a way that offended one of the tribal factions.