Yemen: The Great Pretender


December 16, 2010:  The Shia rebels in the north are now fighting among themselves over who shall lead the fight against the government. There is growing unrest because of the seemingly endless war with the government. This has caused a lot of disruption to lives, and there are factions proposing different solutions (make peace or continue fighting.) In the south, demonstrations continue. Last weekend, separatist rebels kidnapped seven soldiers (and later released them) to protest the death sentence for a southern tribesmen accused of carrying out a bombing attack.

Tribal politics is a curse in Yemen, creating political and personal divisions that make it very difficult for a central government to do much more than deal with foreigners and act as an occasional arbitrator for tribal disputes. There are other problems, as it's easy to rent tribal leaders with gifts. These payments can't really be called bribes, because they are part of the traditional customs of exchanging gifts. For example, the Saudi Arabian king (not the country of Saudi Arabia) gives cash and favors to the leadership of most Yemeni tribes. The Yemeni government has long protested this practice, but the Saudis refuse to back off, because what they get back from the tribes is information. The Saudis rarely ask the tribal leaders to do much more than be on good terms with the House of Saud. There's a dark side to this, as for decades, Saudi charities have also built mosques and supported conservative clerics to run them and teach the kids to be hard core Moslems. This led to al Qaeda, among other things (like too many religion majors in Arab colleges, and not enough business, engineering or medical majors).

The Saudi gifts have come in handy in providing some good information about the size and intentions of al Qaeda factions. Not precise enough info for a missile attack, but a general picture of what is going on. The Yemeni tribal leaders don't want to lose their Saudi gifts, but don't want to incur the murderous wrath of the al Qaeda who live in their neighborhood. Yemen is, in many ways, a perfect place for al Qaeda to hide out. The place is full of heavily armed tribes that keep police or soldiers out. Plus, the gun culture makes it easy for al Qaeda men to go about heavily armed. The large number of Islamic conservatives among the tribes makes it easier for al Qaeda to obtain some local allies. But the tribes prevent Yemen from being a country. Yemen can only pretend it is a nation.

Meanwhile, the Saudi king is angry with his generals, because last year the Saudi military, with all its expensive weapons and technology, took three months to clear out a much smaller force of Yemeni Shia rebels from the border area. The problem, of course, is the corruption and lack of accountability in the Saudi (and most Arab) militaries. The governments involved tend to look the other way as they goes on, despite the fact that these bad practices will result in poor performance is you actually ask the military to fight.

December 15, 2010: In the capital, a Jordanian al Qaeda member was caught after a bomb went off (without injuring anyone.) The target was foreign tourists. Further south, in Abyan province, al Qaeda ambushed a military patrol and killed five soldiers using a roadside bomb.

December 12, 2010: For the second time in the last three months, al Qaeda attacked a senior intelligence officer. While the October attack killed an intel colonel, the one today, using a roadside bomb, failed.



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