Yemen: Free The Slaves And Stop The Killing

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: Defense Security Cooperation Agency

July 12, 2010: Hard times for Yemen. There is a fraying, five month old, ceasefire with rebel Shia tribes in the north. Then there are separatist groups in the south, and their increasingly violent demonstrations. Many of the southern tribes consider themselves independent, and act that way. The government keeps them in line with bribes of oil money or foreign aid. Al Qaeda used to have a protection deal with some tribes, but that has fallen apart as terrorist attacks kill more Yemenis. But the terrorists are now openly at war with the government, and offer an outlet for Yemenis who want to express their feelings with some lethal violence. Then there are the Somali (and some Yemeni) pirates off the coast.

There are more problems. While eight billion dollars of foreign aid has been pledged, it has been slow in coming because of the corruption (stealing the aid) in the government and among some 7,000 NGOs (non-government organizations, most of them Yemeni) clamoring for a share of the aid. The rampant corruption makes foreign investors reluctant to get involved.

In the last five days, police have arrested ten al Qaeda suspects, and one of them turned out to be a wanted Saudi Arabian terrorist (on a list of 85 being sought). Those arrested were plotting attacks on police and military bases. Weapons and suicide bomb materials were seized as well. Some of these arrests came after gun battles with police, and several police have been killed or wounded in these operations. The government is going after the al Qaeda support network, by closing religious schools that teach Islamic radicalism and raiding mosques believed to harbor Islamic radicals. Al Qaeda is fighting back with assassinations of police and army leaders, especially intelligence officials. The terrorists are also planning more large scale bombings, and the government is hustling to uncover those plots.

Local anti-slavery groups have forced the government to investigate families living in the countryside that are still keeping slaves. At least 500 Africans are believed to be enslaved, some of them recent migrants, others the descendents of slaves. Such slavery was outlawed in Arabia in the early 1960s, but that only eliminated the more obvious cases in urban areas. The practice continued in more remote areas. It's been going on for thousands of years, during which Arabs are believed to have enslaved up to 20 million Africans. As a result, up to twenty percent of the people in Arabia appear to have African ancestors.

The southern separatist movement continues to organize violent demonstrations in southern towns. These lead to some deaths, in one recent case, from an asthma attack. In the last few weeks, this violence has left at least twenty dead, hundreds injured and resulted in several thousand arrests. Injuries are usually  incurred while brawling with police, or other demonstrators. Most of those arrested are quickly released, and only a few hundred people are still jailed. The government is negotiating deals with tribal leaders, while refusing to make deals with separatists (who have some connections in tribal leadership). Al Qaeda is being actively hunted, and tribes are no longer willing to go to war to defend their lethal guests. But the terrorists still have their fans in the tribes, and the police usually encounter gunfire when they come close to making an arrest.

July 11, 2010: In the capital, a freelance journalist was kidnapped, apparently for reporting on how some tribes cooperated with al Qaeda. Yemenis tend to take bad press personally.  

July 8, 2010: Shia rebels in the north kidnapped five Yemeni oil workers. There was also an attempt to bomb an oil pipeline. Attacking oil facilities is how the tribes ask for a bigger share of the oil revenue. 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 weak. 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.

In the last week, three power plants have suffered damage from fires. There are believed to have been set by separatists portions of the port city of Aden have lost power as a result.

July 6, 2010:  A court sentenced two al Qaeda members to death for the 2009 killing of police and army officers. The two were captured last December.

July 4, 2010: In the north, Shia rebels fired on troops sent to halt fighting between the rebel tribes and neighboring pro-government tribes. The tribal fighting was triggered when the Shia set off a bomb near the home of a chief of a pro-government tribe. This killed three people, and led to a retaliatory raid.

 

 

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