Yemen: Poor, Proud And Heavily Armed

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February 10, 2010:  The government dismissed al Qaeda calls for attacks on American targets, and closing the Red Sea, as just talk, and kept searching for Shia rebels in the north and al Qaeda all over the country.  What was more alarming was al Qaeda's Somali ally, al Shabaab, answering the call for attacks on Yemen and the Red Sea. Al Shabaab, despite growing factionalism, and resistance from local militias, controls much of southern Somalia and has carried out kidnappings, assassinations and suicide bombings. Worst of all, there are known al Shabaab sympathizers among the 200,000 or so Somali refugees that live in Yemen. Most of these survive in refugee camps, but many manage to get by outside the camps. Al Shabaab could slip operatives into Yemen via the hundred or so Somali refugees smuggled across the Gulf of Aden each day. But it appears that al Shabaab is too busy in Somalia for such adventures. Just to be on the safe side, the government has increased its intelligence efforts inside the Somali community (spreading more money and favors around to informants.)

Saudi Arabia continues to fire rockets and artillery at Shia rebel targets along the border, along with daily air strikes. There are several hundred casualties a week. Peace talks with the rebels are stuck on rebel insistence that they be able to continue fighting the Saudis. The Shia rebels appear eager for some kind of ceasefire, if only because food and other supplies are scarce up north, and people are going hungry. Moreover, the government is picking apart the network of suppliers and contacts who provide the Shia tribes with weapons, information and all manner of equipment. It's open season on anyone who has had dealings with the Shia tribes, and the government is taking advantage of it to round up the rebel helpers all over the country.  The Shia tribes understand that the government wants to sharply reduce the power of the tribes, by taking away a lot of the tribesmens' weapons, and permanently installing more police in the tribal territories. While some tribal leaders are willing to accept this, many are not, and this makes it difficult for a peace deal to be agreed to. If the tribes break into "Peace" and "Keep Fighting" factions, tribal power will be even more weakened in the end.

As much as many Yemenis in the north and south want to partition the country again, that is tempered by the realization that partition means a lot of tribal disputes that will only be resolved by constant fighting. Ending that violence was one of the reasons the country united in the 1990s. With partition, there is the fear that Yemen would turn into another Somalia, and no one wants that. The numerous Somali refugees are a constant source of horror stories about the chaos and violence across the Gulf of Aden. But the Yemeni tribes are still the law in many parts of the country. Indeed, the tribes like to think of themselves as tiny countries, with a foreign policy, armed forces and goals that conflict with the national government and neighboring tribes. The tribes are strong, because the central government has always been week. That weakness arises from poverty. Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world. While Somalis flee to Yemen, Yemenis flee to anywhere else.  The situation is getting worse. First, there are the falling oil revenues, which declined by fifty percent (to $2 billion) last year. The increased violence has cut off the flow of tourists. The terrorism has been hurting the tourist trade for years now, and the open rebellion has just about killed it. Plans to invest in the economy (especially by the wealthy Gulf oil states) are delayed by the violence and rebellion.

Islamic radical leader Anwar al Awlaki (who was involved in the last two terror attacks in the United States; the Christmas bombing attempt and the Fort Hood shootings) is still in hiding, but admitted to a journalist that he knew the men involved with the Christmas bombing attempt and the Fort Hood shootings, but did not tell them to commit violent acts. The Christmas bomber, a Nigerian, now says that al Awlaki was involved in the bombing attempt.

February 7, 2010: In the capital, police arrested the Islamic terrorist responsible for the closing of some foreign embassies last month. The arrested man appeared to be in touch with the Shia rebels as well.

February 6, 2010: Lack of donor support has caused the UN to cut food rations 20 percent (to 1,700 calories a day) for the million people being fed in Yemen. This includes over 100,000 Somali refugees and 250,000 refugees from the tribal rebellion in the north. Many of these people fled to escape Saudi and government artillery and air attacks. If rebels are spotted in a village or compound, an air or artillery attack will soon follow. The rebels will hide among women and children if possible, because dead civilians get media attention, and more public support. But at the moment, the Shia rebels have little support outside the Shia north.

February 5, 2010: Peace talks with the Shia rebels hit a snag and fighting broke out in Saada (the capital of the northern province where the rebellion is centered). Nearly fifty people were killed, half of them civilians, and most of the remainder rebels. At least a dozen soldiers were killed. Things eventually calmed down, and negotiations continued.

February 4, 2010: The ban on carrying weapons, and increase use of roadblocks and patrols, led to the seizure of over 13,000 weapons last month. The ancient custom of adult male Yemenis constantly carrying a weapon (pistol, large knife, rifle or assault rifle) has been the cause of much violence and crime. The ban was believed impossible to enforce, and likely to cause more rebellion. But it worked, at least in areas where there were police or soldiers.

 

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