Yemen: How To Create A Little Hell On Earth


October 31, 2013: Western donor nations are pressuring the government to implement economic and political reforms or see aid cut. Such reforms are not a high priority in Yemen because of all the violence and unrest. Civil war in Yemen is something of a permanent condition. Supporters of former president Saleh are still demonstrating (mainly for the jobs many of them have just lost to more powerful political parties) and the various Islamic terror groups are depleted but not defeated. Bombings and assassinations continue, mainly by the Islamic terrorists trying to get the security forces to back off. In the south the tribal separatists are still active, and in the north the Shia tribes are still ready to fight to get their old autonomy back.

In addition to its own economic and political problems, Yemen is also stuck with over a million refugees from Africa, many of them brought over by Yemeni smugglers (most get to Yemen via Somali and other African smugglers). About half the refugees are from Somalia. Hosting all these people is an economic burden, even if foreign aid is used to supply most of the refugee needs. But with worsening water shortages and growing unemployment, even the foreign aid does not solve all the problems the refugees cause. Yemen has been unable to get other countries to provide more help, in part because a lot of the aid is stolen by Yemenis.

Yemen has also asked international refugee organizations for help in dealing with several hundred Yemenis forced from Saudi Arabia recently as the Saudis cracked down on some two million illegal migrant workers in the country. The Saudis want to put more of their own citizens to work, but that is difficult with so many illegal foreign workers willing to do jobs for less. Many of the expelled Yemenis were born in Saudi Arabia as were, in some cases, their parents.

Many officials in the new government are stressing that most of Yemen’s problems are basically economic and that most of that stems from the culture of corruption that cripples economic growth. International surveys list Yemen as one of the most corrupt nations on the planet. This starts early in life, as can be seen by the extraordinary measures now taken to prevent cheating on the exams high school students must take to graduate (and get into college). Bribes are often paid to get the test answers, but in some cases the students come armed, in a group, and make threats to those objecting to their cheating. The basic problem is that many, if not most, students believe they have a right to cheat. While there have been more official efforts to eliminate corruption since the Saleh government was overthrown two years ago, many powerful Yemenis resist being held accountable and continue with their corrupt ways of doing business.

There are still many Yemenis who have a grudge against the government. Most of this can be traced back to the civil war that ended, sort of, in 1994. That war was caused by the fact that, when the British left Yemen in 1967, their former colony in Aden became one of two countries called Yemen. The two parts of Yemen finally united in 1990, but a civil war in 1994 was needed to seal the deal. That fix didn't really take and the north and south are pulling apart again. This comes back to the fact that Yemen has always been a region, not a country. Like most of the rest of the Persian Gulf and Horn of Africa region, the normal form of government, until the last century or so, were wealthier coastal city states, nervously coexisting with interior tribes that got by on herding or farming (or a little of both). This whole "nation" idea is still looked on with some suspicion by many in the region. This is why the most common forms of government are the more familiar ones of antiquity (kingdom, emirate, or modern variation in the form of a hereditary dictatorship).

Many southerners feel they got shortchanged by the 1990 unification deal and were harshly put down in 1994, when they rebelled. The southern separatists are disunited and unable to mount a strong resistance to government control. The government keeps the peace by paying off (what it hopes is) enough southern dissidents to prevent another civil war.

Then there is al Qaeda, which has support among the many Islamic conservative Yemenis. Al Qaeda is not a large presence in the country. Perhaps a few hundred full time members and a few thousand part-time supporters. Nothing like Iraq or Pakistan, or even Somalia. Al Qaeda has found refuge in parts of Yemen largely because of the culture of corruption. Although some Yemenis, especially in the south, agree with al Qaeda, what really makes al Qaeda welcome is bribes (or “gifts”) paid to tribes who will host the terrorists. Most Yemenis want al Qaeda gone, if only because their mayhem and attempts to turn the country into a religious dictatorship make matters worse for all Yemenis. So despite the assassinations and bribes, the army and police continue to hunt for remaining al Qaeda members, most of them now hiding out in the south. The government does not want to start more tribal wars by going after al Qaeda, who are living in remote villages, protected by sympathetic tribesmen. But the airports are scrutinizing people headed in, or out, more carefully and detaining al Qaeda suspects. The navy is trying to keep Somalis out, but these are brought across the Gulf of Aden by Yemeni and Somali smugglers, who have 400 kilometers of coastline to land on. Moreover, the navy has been renting itself out to protect ships, moving through the Gulf, from pirates. While stopping al Qaeda terrorists from getting into the country is important, money talks louder. In any event, the Somali Islamic radicals pledge to send aid to their al Qaeda brethren in Yemen appears to be more bluster than real. Al Qaeda isn't doing so well in Somalia either. In Yemen al Qaeda is the primary target for American counter-terror forces (who are contributing intelligence collection, training, and $150 million in cash). Al Qaeda has issued a lot of threats lately to attack targets in Yemen, the United States, and the West in general. But unless they plan on getting out of the country via smuggling boats to Somalia (which usually head that way nearly empty), the threats are just that, threats by al Qaeda members stuck, and hunted, in Yemen.

Taking advantage of the military’s preoccupation with al Qaeda in the south, the northern Shia tribes have quietly driven many government officials out of three provinces and established a degree of autonomy. This has angered the Sunni tribes up there and created growing pressure from northern Sunni tribes to move some troops from the south to the north, to push back this Shia control. Although Iran denies supporting the Shia tribes, the mood up there is very pro-Iran. The tribesmen shout the same anti-American and anti-Israel slogans the Iranians are so fond of. The government has caught smugglers trying to deliver Iranian weapons to the northern tribes and it’s no secret that the Shia tribes are getting lots of cash from somewhere. The most likely source is Iran. The Shia tribes renounce any Iranian connection because they are caught between a Sunni majority to the south and a Sunni (and very anti-Iran) Saudi Arabia to the north. Just across the border are related Shia tribes in Saudi Arabia, who have long since learned to keep quiet and enjoy the slice of Saudi oil wealth they receive from the government.

October 30, 2013: In the north Shia rebels fired rockets at a Mosque, killing four pro-government tribesmen. The Sunni tribes in the north have been fighting the Shia tribes for generations.

In the south (Hadramout province) two demonstrators were killed and four wounded during a protest by separatist tribesmen.

October 29, 2013: In the southeast (Hadramawt province) police, acting on a tip, found and arrested an al Qaeda leader wanted for planning and directing assassination attacks.

October 27, 2013: In the southeast (al Bayda province) gunmen opened fire at a checkpoint with assault rifles and RPGs and killed three soldiers and wounded four.

October 24, 2013: In the south (Abyan province) the air force bombed an al Qaeda camp killing six, including three terrorists leader who were there for a meeting.

In the capital gunmen killed an intelligence officer as he left his home.

October 22, 2013: In the capital several hundred al Qaeda prisoners attempted to break out of a prison, but only three prisoners escaped before the breakout was halted.  

October 18, 2013: In the south (Hadramout province) a senior police commander and his bodyguard were shot dead at a restaurant. Elsewhere in the south (Abyan province) Islamic terrorists attacked an army camp with a suicide car bomb, gunfire, and RPGs. Twelve soldiers were killed and 15 wounded, but the attackers were unable to get into the camp. In the United States (New York) a local convert to Islam was arrested for planning to go to Yemen and join al Qaeda. The arrested man was part of a small group of young Moslems who supported al Qaeda.  

October 17, 2013: In the southeast (al Bayda province) al Qaeda attacked an army camp, killing 8 soldiers and wounding over 20.

October 15, 2013: In the south (Lahj province) al Qaeda attacked an army base killing 3 soldiers and wounding 4. Elsewhere in the south (Hadramawt province) a policeman was shot dead by gunmen on a motorcycle.

October 12, 2013: In the southern port city of Aden thousands demonstrated in favor of a separate southern state.

October 11, 2013: In the south (Lahj province) a suicide bomber attacked a market place and wounded four people. The attack was apparently directed at southern separatists. 




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