Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Obama fumbles Yemen

July 25, 2011 Leave a comment

“By thwarting regime change in Yemen, the United States risks empowering al-Qaeda and alienating a nation,” my article at PJM:

Yemen is a complex country that has been under considerable turbulence. Yet understanding Yemen tells us a great deal about the contemporary Middle East, Obama administration foreign policy, and the direction of the “Arab Spring.”

While Americans may think that their government’s recent policies and leadership have made the United States more popular in the region, the truth — as polls show — is generally the opposite. Obama administration policy is to support the existing dictatorship or at most to back a relatively cosmetic change in the regime. Thus, the Yemeni opposition weekly al Sahwa asked, “Why is America silent about the use of `counter-terror’ forces against the Yemeni people?”

It’s a good question. Since February, youth protests in Yemen morphed into a nationwide and intergenerational revolution to overthrow President Ali Abdullah Saleh and all his relatives, after 33 years in office. Protesters said they wanted a civilian interim council to oversee a new constitution and fair elections, with the ultimate goal of achieving a civil democratic state. In response, state security forces have murdered nearly 1,000 citizens around the country.

Thomas Krajeski, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, summed up the policy as follows: “Ali Abdullah Saleh is our main conduit to everything we are trying to do in Yemen.” The U.S.’s primary goal in Yemen is to vanquish al-Qaeda. And the Obama administration believes that Saleh, or at least his apparatus, is best able to do that.

This is precisely the short-sighted approach that Obama has criticized when attributing it to predecessors’ policies in the Middle East. Under Saleh’s regime, torture is systemic, political kidnapping common, and artillery fire a frequent remedy to anti-regime sentiment. Economic opportunity, political power, and local authority are available only through access to Saleh and his family. Corruption and embezzlement of oil revenues and international aid mean a near absence of basic services. Water scarcity and hunger were already at critical levels, but as the economy ground nearly to a halt, things are even worse.

After snipers killed 58 demonstrators in March, much of the Saleh administration resigned, galvanizing the revolution. The unsavory General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, a powerful military commander and Saleh’s half brother, brought the First Armored Division to Sanaa to protect the protesters and offered to leave the country alongside Saleh. In May, after dozens sleeping in tents were burned to death by security forces, Sadiq al-Ahmar, paramount sheikh of Saleh’s powerful Hasid tribe, announced his support for the opposition, calling Saleh a butcher.

The opposition Joint Meeting of Parties (JMP) initially disavowed the national uprising in fear of regime reprisal and due to Western pressure, reinforcing the schism between the formal opposition and the revolutionary youth.

In June, an explosion rocked the presidential palace leaving President Saleh severely injured. Millions rejoiced when Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, assuming he would never return. However neither the Saudis nor the United States want too much change. Thus, the Obama administration endorsed Vice President Mansour Hadi as interim leader although Hadi refuses to assume the presidency as required by the Yemeni constitution.

The U.S. government opposes the protesters’ demand for a transitional council and instead supports a deeply flawed plan drafted by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC plan calls for Saleh to pick his successor and resign in return for immunity from prosecution. It proposes a unity government of the hegemonic ruling party and ineffective opposition parties, the JMP. This approach followed by quick elections would re-entrench the Saleh regime. Saleh agreed and reneged three times, using weeks of negotiations to empty the banks, smuggle oil, and reposition troops. The protesters were incensed.

With nearly half the government and military and most of the public calling for regime change, in March, Saleh’s pretense of legitimacy was bolstered by U.S. statements and especially the State Department’s urging dialog among political parties to resolve the “political crisis.”

In his Middle East speech in May, President Obama devoted one line to Yemen, calling on “our friend” Saleh to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. During a July visit, U.S. officials warned the JMP against escalating protests or recognizing a transitional council. Obama administration officials merely meekly urge Saleh to accept the GCC deal, which in fact signals tolerance toward the regime.

The hundreds of millions of dollars in counter-terror funding allocated to Yemen since 2006 ran through Saleh’s son and nephews (known locally as the Four Thugs) who head the security services, counter-terror units, and other forces. The aid is stolen by them and at times they even help al-Qaeda. Since February, the Four Thugs are too busy attacking the Yemeni public to take on al- Qaeda. After warning of an al-Qaeda takeover, the state withdrew forces from Abyan and al-Qaeda quickly moved in to occupy Zinjibar City. Yemenis rather uniformly assert coordination of the events, as the Saleh regime historically has had cordial relations with al-Qaeda.

Thus, American policy is aimed at defending an unpopular, corrupt, and repressive system on the grounds that it helps combat al-Qaeda. The problem is that the regime is not effective in doing so.

The Saudis, too, support the regime, seeing it as a bulwark against Shia rebels. The irony is that while al-Qaeda has very little popular support in Yemen, the U.S and Saudi policies, by destroying any political alternative and backing a government that doesn’t really fight al-Qaeda, may end by strengthening that group’s appeal and the territory it controls.

Aid Won’t Fix the Crisis in Yemen

July 27, 2009 2 comments

On July 17, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh celebrated the 31st anniversary of his ascension to power. The Sana’a regime, perverted by corruption, is largely unable to provide public services, including water, electricity, security, medical care and education. A third of Yemenis—7 million people—are malnourished. Police and military units act as enforcers for corrupt officials. The judiciary dispenses political retribution. Torture in Yemeni jails is systemic and brutal.

On his anniversary, Saleh published an essay calling for dialog and tolerance. The same week, 18 protesters were killed by police, a journalist sentenced to jail and an opposition party prevented from holding its conference. A four-year rebellion in the north and a two-year uprising in the south threaten to engulf the nation in violence. Known al Qaeda operatives roam the capital freely, and teenage suicide bombers routinely target elderly tourists.

Yemen’s donors believe stabilizing President Saleh’s regime will thwart the devolution of Yemen into a failed state and an al Qaeda safe haven. U.S. aid proposed for 2010 is at the highest levels in years. The Department of Defense allocated $66 million in military aid, mostly for patrol boats and armored pick-ups. Congress’ Foreign Operation Appropriation bill includes an additional $15 million in military aid and $40 million in development and economic aid. Other humanitarian aid is channeled through USAID. However, increased funding to Yemen is a questionable strategy that may escalate instability. Read more…

Categories: Opinion

Yemen’s Illogical Logic of Repression

February 12, 2008 Leave a comment

“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty,” Thomas Jefferson.

As Yemenis struggle toward freedom from tyranny, the Yemeni government uses all means at its disposal to thwart the growing democracy movement. The regime simultaneously creates a façade of reform for the benefit of the western donors, often with depressingly good results. Read more…

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Yemen’s Ruling Party Subverts Democracy

August 25, 2007 Leave a comment

Since Yemen’s presidential election, the nation is experiencing several areas of instability. Crisis areas include the fourth recurrence of the Sa’ada war in North Yemen, popular protests in the former South Yemen, hostile tribal posturing, and the resurgence of terror attacks directed at the state. One causal factor common to all these conflicts is institutionalized inequality or state discrimination. This inequality is also the foundation of massive corruption that is destroying Yemen. With elitism so engrained and corruption so pervasive, structural reform is nearly impossible. One solution may be to dissolve the national mechanisms that function to perpetuate inequality and enable corruption, starting with Yemen’s ruling party.
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From Nepotism to Jihad

March 27, 2007 Leave a comment

The upper levels of the Yemeni military, judiciary and intelligence services are inculcated with hard core Salafists, and many aspects of Yemeni state institutions support jihaddist campaigns all over the world, including Iraq. It is in this context that the Yemeni Ministry of Defense recently published a fatwa on its website authorizing and obligating the use of deadly force against the Believing Youth, a small band of Shiite Zaidi rebels that has been battling the government on and off since 2004. Essentially Yemen’s military leadership declared a jihad on the group.
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Democracy Without Minority Rights

October 26, 2006 Leave a comment

Yemen extracts benefits from the West, notably the US , in return for its cooperation in global anti-terror efforts. Likewise Yemen’s efforts at democratization, especially the improved conduct of September’s presidential election, should result in an increase in badly needed donor funds. However, in the aftermath of the election, the Yemeni regime has begun discrediting, arresting and harassing opposition leaders, activists and voters. In one bizarre case, the regime has alleged a human rights activist is linked to al-Qaeda, casting doubt on the sincerity of both Yemen’s democracy promotion and its efforts against terrorism.
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Yemen’s Natural Gas: Who Benefits?

August 7, 2006 1 comment

Freedom House recently noted Yemen as among the world’s most corrupt developing nations. With the personal interests of the ruling elite taking priority over national development, nearly half Yemeni children are malnourished and out of school. Unemployment is high and medical services scarce. A looming water crisis threatens to destabilize the country. Claims of development are little more than government propaganda with the gap between the extremely rich and the extremely poor widening and infant mortality remaining high year after year.
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The Presidential Drama in Yemen, Act Two

June 27, 2006 Leave a comment

Thursday could have been a historic day. That was when President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen refused to accept his party’s nomination for the presidency, declaring “I am not a taxi to hire for a ride.” It was a good line in a bad play.

Saleh had spent nearly a year indignantly insisting that his sincere intention was to relinquish power in the presidential elections scheduled for September. He had made the same pledge only to renege in the 1998 election. Late Saturday Saleh announced, to the surprise of no one, he would keep his old crown after all and the palace and the purse and the other accouterments of his monarchy.
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The Impossible is Possible in Yemen

March 27, 2006 Leave a comment

Motorcyclists denied their right to work in Yemen engaged in a symbolic funeral procession for the main Yemeni political parties. It may have been an apt analogy: the multi-party system may be dead. The democratic institutions established over fifteen years ago in Yemen may shrivel up and blow away without anyone noticing. The country may sink further into chaos as it slowly implodes and the oil runs out.
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A Fair Election in Yemen

August 19, 2005 Leave a comment

It is an unhappy designation to be among the poorest countries on earth, but for a society as dignified as Yemen’s, the label seems counter intuitive. Unfortunately, abuse of power in Yemen has been creeping for decades and is pervasive. It’s only the indomitable spirit of the Yemeni people that prevents an avalanche of corruption from engulfing the nation entirely.

According to the World Bank, 46 percent of Yemen’s five-year-old children suffer from malnutrition. Half of Yemen’s children never attend primary school. About 90 percent of Yemenis lack access to the necessary water. In rural areas, 70 percent of residents have no access to a doctor. Yemen’s children are nearly invisible in the global media, and they appear internationally only as statistics.
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Yemen’s Election: A Fraud in the Making

June 28, 2005 Leave a comment

Yemen is a country in trouble. Recently ranked the 12th most unstable nation in the world, ahead of Haiti, Afghanistan, and Rwanda by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Yemen is teetering on failure. Among the top indicators of Yemen’s instability are factionalized elites, uneven development, and delegitimization of the state. The concentration of power in the executive branch has fostered rampant corruption and widespread human rights abuses, including the imprisonment of young children as retribution. Yemen has slid into a painful anarchy and the only consistent law is the supremacy of the personal interests of the ruling elites. Those acting in the public interest do so at great risk to themselves. The threat to regional stability of a failed Yemen could not be greater.
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Ayatollah Sistani and the War in Yemen

May 27, 2005 1 comment

Now that Iraqi Shiites and Kurds are in power after decades of repression, perhaps some other regional governments will embrace the concepts of pluralism and equal rights. Recently the Shiite religious establishment in Najaf, Iraq, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said the Yemeni government is waging “a kind of war” against Yemeni Zaidis.
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Al-Qaeda in Broad Daylight

Recent public statements about Yemen paint a dire picture. Grand Ayatollah Ali and the religious establishment in Najaf, Iraq, said there is a “brutal massacre” of Shiites going on. A defecting Yemeni ambassador has stated that high-ranking members of the Yemeni government and military are affiliated with Al Qaeda. Putting together the massacre with the Al Qaeda, it’s like another 9/11 unfolding slowly in the mountains and cities of Yemen.

The Yemeni ambassador to Syria, Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani, is attempting to defect to the United Kingdom. He says that members of Al Qaeda are in the highest ranks of Yemen’s military and security forces. Al-Hasani says that it is very likely that President Ali Abdullah Saleh “knew in advance of the Cole explosion” which killed 17 United States servicemen. Indeed, Freedom House, an American-based nonprofit organization, in 2003 reported that Saleh refused to even investigate the Cole bombing until the United States threatened military action. Also in 2003, Al Qaeda praised President Saleh as the only Arab and Muslim leader who is not an agent for the West or the East.
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Justice in Yemen

March 28, 2005 Leave a comment

Perhaps the most sacred and solemn power granted to a state by its citizens is the power to imprison. It is an action that needs be done with scrupulous care so as not to undermine the rights of all citizens or even one citizen.

There are fundamental requirements necessary to insure justice for the state, the accused and the citizenry at large. One is proper application of the law. Another is the right of the accused to launch a defense. A third is the existence of an impartial judiciary acting in the interest of the nation by neutrally applying the law to a given situation. Justice should be blind to all but the facts and the law.
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Democracy and Unicorns in Yemen

March 27, 2005 1 comment

What a good con artist Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is. He had me fooled for quite a while. One of my earliest tip-offs came when he gave a beautiful speech about democracy being “the rescue ship of all regimes.” But he didn’t let the journalists into the democracy conference. Or the human rights groups.

The Children’s Parliament is an institution that I thought demonstrated Saleh’s commitment to educating young Yemenis about the institutions of democracy. But then I learned that the Adult Parliament has never initiated any legislation. The Parliament’s greatest accomplishment to date has been blocking a very few of Saleh’s proposed laws. The real lesson Saleh teaches children in Yemen is that even the adults have no power.
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Yemen’s Jihad

March 27, 2005 Leave a comment

The upper levels of the Yemeni military, judiciary and intelligence services are inculcated with hard core Salafism, and many aspects of Yemeni state institutions support jihaddist campaigns all over the world, including Iraq. It is in this context that the Yemeni Ministry of Defense recently published a fatwa on its website authorizing and obligating the use of deadly force against the Believing Youth, a small band of Shiite Zaidi rebels that has been battling the government on and off since 2004. Essentially Yemen ’s military leadership declared a jihad on the group.
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Yemen in the Spring

December 27, 2004 Leave a comment

Once elections take place in Iraq, the U.S. military may remain for a few years, but its likely Al-Qaeda won’t. Al-Qaeda’s goal in Iraq is to foment a civil war, empower Sunni extremists and create a Taliban style utopia. The false identity of “resistance” falls apart in the face of a legitimately elected government, even to those rooting for their success like Al-Jazeera and France.

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi has stated that once the Iraqi government “extends its control over the country, we will have to pack our bags and break camp for another land.” Facing increasingly democratic regimes in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and mounting pressure in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda may attempt to regroup in Yemen, one of the least developed countries in the world.
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