Until recently, Arabia's poorest country; Yemen has often been overlooked by the west & out shadowed by its mighty Gulf neighbours. Seemingly, times have changed and now Yemen is once again at the forefront of western & regional priorities, the likes of Saudi Arabia have finally realised that to ensure their own security; they must also ensure that of Yemen's. Yemen's gradual progression into the 'lime-light' started at the turn of the century when the USS Cole was attacked at the now-ghostly port of Aden, killing 17 US Sailors. However, as the year 2010 has shown; Yemen time on the world stage is only going to increase, for example the Nigerian Boxing Day 'under-pants bomber' was trained in Yemen. With this in mind, my question is simple: Why is a country like Yemen; so rich in culture and identity, slowly turning into the 'next Afghanistan'?
In order to really understand modern Yemen and its implication upon the global community, one must take into consideration the huge complexities of this torn tribal nation. In a manner of speaking; you should of think of Yemen as a 'cake' that consists of a number of toxic layers , which, unite to form a potentially explosive equilibrium. Each and every one of these ingredients must not exceed or their specific allowance, or the fragile 'cake' will break out of it's squeezed baking tray. Meaning that Yemen, for all intents and purposes could become a 'failed state'. Creating a new regional hub for instability and extremism. Thus a failed Yemen is in no one's interest with the world biggest oil exporter next door and the US burnt by it's 'War on Terror'.
The unified Republic of Yemen created in 1990, was tasked with merger of the Arab-Nationalist North Yemen and the Marxist-oriented South Yemen, to create a modern state that was free from it's past colonial shackles (that being both British & Ottoman imperialism). Although, the Republic has made some progress in the integration of both former territories, the Republic has not lived-up to the promises it made at unification; that being an education for the young, a health service for the old and employment for all. Evidently, at present with figures of around $2900 Gross Domestic Product per head; the Republic has largely failed. Arguably, the country's leadership (President Saleh and the fellow clowns) have been more concerned with 'what their country can do for them (and their swiss bank balances) than what they can do for their country' (in a Kennedy-reversal). The Republic's lack of the time-consistent success has only furthered the general public consensus and mistrust in the 'corrupt' governmental-organs of the state.
Clearly, governing a country in such an ill-concerned manner has made Yemen a fertile ground for extremists in need of a 'new Afghanistan'. Thus, blame for the terrorist activities stemming from Yemen, is also largely lay at the feet at President Saleh's Government. Due to their economic, legal & social mismanagement of the country, its people and finances. Not to mention, that the international community as a whole, has been adequately distracted from this, considering recent events including; Iranian Nuclear threat, the Pakistani & Afghanistan resistance & the ever-stalling Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Which, have collectively opened the gateway for Yemen to become a key destination for any terrorist organisation in search of a relatively, 'safe' strategic operating base. Ergo, it has now become evident that Al Qaeda's active ongoings & efforts within Yemen and Yemen's 'stability cake' are now beyond the limits of Al Qaeda's allocated 'safe' zone and as such, Al Qaeda has thrown off the balance of Yemeni stability and in doing so; unleashing internal domestic chaos (and ultimate external chaos caused to the world outside world from threats within Yemen).
Not to credit all the attention to AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula); Anwar al-Awlaki (it's leader) has had some good luck. The Haufi rebel conflict in the north has placed great strain on Yemen's domestic fighting ability, while the Southern Separatist Movement has been a additional distraction to the Sanaa Government; allowing AQAP to operate rather freely in the mountains of Yemen's vast wilderness. Not mentioning, central government's lack of authority outside of major cities, caused by decades of Saudi Arabian policy to intervene and weaken what little control central government had, in-order to purposefully neutralise the Yemeni threat and undermine any potential Yemeni prosperity. Saudi Arabia has for a long-time played a dangerous game with Yemen; paying off tribal chiefs & covering the official government deficit year on year, essentially intervening in Yemen's domestic affairs to keep the Sanaa central government alive to maintain it's self but weak enough for it to ever attain real power or governance.
While, high unemployment & lack of opportunities for the young, pegged with a rising birth rate and dwindling oil reserves (of which make the majority of government's income) cause Yemen future to look at best bleak. Considering, that Yemen has more privately owned weapons per head, than any other country in the world, one might ask; how Yemen has survived this long?
The reason being why Yemen has managed to cope for so long is stemmed in a number of arguments; on the ground, Yemen's slow implementation of universal education has meant that Yemeni's know no better and have come to expect failure from the government. While, the people's casual addiction to the Qat Plant, has cemented what, if any, open eyelids rendering a country that hears but cannot see. Despite this, the growth of satellite TV in Yemeni homes in the last few years, caused by it's ever-decreasing price has created an 'information revolution', outside the remit of central government censorship. Yet, news that the Yemeni viewer will have seen on his/her tv, i.e. the likes of CNN, Al Jazeera & the BBC, will have probably been nothing to do with his/her country. Because, it's not a secret that prior to the Al-Qaeda threat and consequential recent events; Yemen has been of no interest to the international community. One would be hard-pressed not to point out that the recent doubling of US & British Aid is simply a case of 'too little, too late'? Lets not blame the international community for all this mess; after-all, President Salah hasn't helped himself by putting himself at the top of the weakest governmental stack of cards ever-seen. Salah has artificially kept his control over the country by 'renting' out the loyalty of tribal leaders with oil revenue.
Thus, a picture has formed of a 'wild' country where many on the outside of it, know little about. While, those inside it; live purely on a day-by-day basis. This is the reason, why Yemen has survived for so long on its own back. This year, in it's self, has shown how Yemen can no longer manage it's self sufficiently, in the eyes of the international community (as evident from the closure of direct flights between Sann'a and London). What is clear, that the trouble arising from Yemen has not happened over night, it has progressively gotten worse and worse, to the point now where Yemen can no longer hold it's self together. If only the world's television screens were more interested earlier, when the west could have aided Yemen in it's 1990's vision of the unified Yemen. Foreign intervention and support could have permanently sealed the minor holes in the Yemeni Cake, rather the temporarily 'plastering' them with Oil money, as Salah did.
The west must take time to understand Yemen's deep-rooted culture and must work in co-operation with a stable domestic Yemeni government; inorder to make 'Arabia Felix' or 'Happy Arabia" (the Roman name for Yemen) self-sufficient and 'happy', as it was once was. The task of all concerned parties is clear, as the old saying goes.. "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime".
Yemen, the ancestral home of all Arabs has for the majority of its recent history, been under-rated, unappreciated and forgotten. Yemen has survived this long, I wouldn't write out this amazing country so quickly.
This piece was originally written prior to the Arab Awakening in October 2010 and it appeared on http://www.britisharabguy.blogspot.com.