Yemen: So Much To Die For


February 1, 2011: Like most Arab countries, Yemen has suffered several weeks of larger and larger anti-government demonstrations. This is more smoke than fire. Unlike Tunisia, and even Egypt, Yemen is less urban, literate and democratic. Yemen is more a tribal coalition, with people more loyal to their tribe than to the national government. The large demonstrations in the capital are more media theater than political threat. The major tribes, especially the Shia coalition in the north, are not keen on upsetting current arrangements. Each tribe, and its unemployed young men, have their own demands, with few protestors willing to give up a lot (Khat production, water rights, a share of oil revenue) for the national good. In addition to the tribal loyalties, there are religious animosities. Sunni religious radicals in the south, encouraged by al Qaeda, seek war on the "heretical" Shia tribes in the north. This keeps the Shia tribes focused on survival, not political change in the capital. Meanwhile, in the capital, there have been clashing demonstrations where supporters, and opponents, of the government went after each other.

Despite the demonstrations, the war against al Qaeda continues, with police searching for dozens of individuals wanted for membership in Islamic radical groups. Half a dozen major suspects have been arrested in the last two weeks. Al Qaeda has not been able to persuade a lot of tribesmen to join them, partly because most Yemenis have more pressing problems, and partly because the Shia are 46 percent of the population, heavily armed and willing to fight to defend themselves.

January 31, 2011: In response to the demonstrations, the government announced raises for the lowest paid government workers and soldiers, and new programs to provide jobs for the young (over a third of the under-30 men are unemployed). This won't have much impact, as the tribal leaders and their families grab most of the money, which is how power and money is handled in Yemen. Inflation will erode the raises, but it gives the government some good will for a while. The tribal leaders feel safe with the demonstrations against the government, since a new batch of national leaders will still have to deal with the tribes.

January 29, 2011: Al Qaeda leaders are demanding that Yemeni Sunni Moslems (barely a majority, at 52 percent,  of the population) to make war on the Shia (46 percent) minority. Few Sunnis are eager to go fight the Shia up north, as those northerners have a fierce reputation. Unless you are feeling suicidal, you leave the northerners alone.

January 27, 2011: In the south, al Qaeda gunmen ambushed a government official, but only wounded two of the target's children. Al Qaeda has several death squads that continually go after officials seen as most hostile to Islamic radical groups.

January 26, 2011:  In the south, gunmen (believed to be al Qaeda) robbed a government payroll and killed four soldiers and an official. Some $50,000 was taken, and this was seen as another effort to raise money for Islamic terrorist activities.


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