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Started by slumbermonger on Dec 17, 2014 10:18:42 AM
Yemen's in deep shit - that's a problem for us all

The Houthi takeover of Sana'a and advance south has scuppered any lingering hopes for the political transition under Hadi and now risks morphing into a sectarian conflict in the of the country and turning Yemen into a new Saudi-Iran proxy war.

Yemen shares a long, porous border with Saudi Arabia, which is the world's top oil exporter, and it holds one side of the Bab al-Mandab strait between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean that is a major shipping route for goods including crude. On the other side of Bab al-Mandab is Somalia. And Yemen's al-Qaeda wing - AQAP - is the one that's worked hardest at taking out international airliners and has the movement's most talented bombmaker, Saudi national Ibrahim al-Asiri.

slumbermonger - 17 Dec 2014 10:19:08 (#1 of 340)

Al-Qaeda and allied militant groups in the south and east stand to benefit from the increased chaos and sectarian sentiment, which gives them more opportunity to infest central areas. They're already so well established in Shabwa, Abyan and Hadramawt that the army has proven incapable of eradicating them there.

US drone strikes are just making things worse by taking out too many civilians, thereby raising support for al-Qaeda and triggering tribal blood feuds against both Washington and its allied government in Sana'a.

Ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh is using his extensive influence to try and muck up the political transition, apparently in order to trigger a political crisis that would allow him to return and resume his pillaging of state finances. The army is utterly split between forces loyal to him and those loyal to General Ali Mohsen, who is allied to the Muslim Brotherhood's Islah Party.

Meanwhile the southern separatist movement appears to be gaining momentum - although until it manages to get a coherent leadership it won't be able to achieve much. Meanwhile it is stoking increasing anger in the south at the corruption/ineffectiveness of northern governance and making it harder for Sana'a to maintain control.

The poorest Arab state is just getting poorer. Most of its citizens live under the poverty line and a full blown humanitarian crisis will be triggered by any escalation in fighting. After the Houthis took over Sana'a the Saudis and other donors pulled the plug on aid, and the Central Bank probably only has enough reserves to pay public wages for another couple of weeks.

its oil and gas exports keep getting screwed by attacks by bandits, tribesmen and militants on pipelines and production facilities, further depriving the government of revenue.

Hell, handcart etc

1MELSM - 17 Dec 2014 10:20:44 (#2 of 340)

It's hard being an oil and gas trader.

slumbermonger - 17 Dec 2014 10:22:13 (#3 of 340)

I personally find it particularly sad because I spent a very happy year in Yemen in the late 90s and found it one of the most beautiful and hospitable places on earth. Travelporn pics here:

slumbermonger - 17 Dec 2014 10:22:56 (#4 of 340)

It's hard being an oil and gas trader.

Yemen doesn't really have that much oil/gas. It's been declining since the early 2000s. But the little it does have is important for maintaining government revenues.

Sunfish - 17 Dec 2014 10:30:16 (#5 of 340)

Beautiful photographs Slumbermonger.

MrNatural - 17 Dec 2014 11:56:07 (#6 of 340)

More of Slumbermonger's photos of Yemen, part way down page 40 of his Flickr pages,

Beautiful choice of subjects, Slumbermonger. To have seen all that. Wow!

slumbermonger - 17 Dec 2014 12:02:11 (#7 of 340)

Sorry - just to clarify - those aren't my pictures of Yemen, just the nicest ones I saw by googling. My own pictures from the late 90s aren't quite as pretty and aren't online. But there are lots of other lovely images around. It's one of the most stunning countries I've ever visited.

brooklyn - 17 Dec 2014 22:31:54 (#8 of 340)

the architecture is often striking -- as are the people. as to the landscape, I prefer green spaces and lakes to arid desert and bleak mountains. even that part likewise is striking, though.

slumbermonger - 12 Jan 2015 07:20:10 (#9 of 340)

At least one of the Paris attackers trained in Yemen. And early on the day of the shooting around 35 people were killed by an AQAP carbomb in Sana'a as they waited in line to enlist with the police.

gallivanter - 12 Jan 2015 08:46:12 (#10 of 340)

Doesn't Yemen waste some absurd quantity of its own fresh water supplies each year to grow khat, one of the thirstiest of all cash crops? Perhaps they should desist from that.

slumbermonger - 12 Jan 2015 08:49:30 (#11 of 340)

Qat is a problem, yes, not only because of the high level of water use but also because of the impact such high use of the drug has on productivity and family income.

But it's the sort of problem you get to after trying to hold the country together, reinstate some sort of basic security and rule of law, build a government with widespread legitimacy and end the multiple armed insurgencies against the central state.

Post by deleted user
slumbermonger - 02 Feb 2015 06:42:25 (#13 of 340)

So... over the past three weeks things have deteriorated still further.

President Hadi tried to introduce a new constitution. It was based on the National Dialogue process between Yemen's many regional, religious, tribal and political factions that was the key feature of the 2012 transition plan aimed at allowing ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

The new constitution proposed splitting Yemen into six federal regions that would have autonomy, but it was opposed by both the Houthis and the southern separatists, who both just wanted a straight north/south split based on the pre-unification states. The Houthis thought a two-region plan would allow them to dominate the whole of the north, and have access to the Hodeida seaport, instead of just controlling the one or two of the six proposed inland provinces where most of their supporters live.

So they abducted Hadi's chief of staff on his way to the declaration of the new constitution and then overran the presidential palace and the private homes of both the president and prime minister - warning that they would not accept the new constitution.

Hadi then announced his resignation in a bid to get the Houthis to either stand down or take formal control of the country - and the group has now imposed a deadline of Wednesday for other political groups to work out a plan or it will "impose its own solution".

If the southern movement was united, it would have seceeded by now.

Meanwhile, in all that chaos, al Qaeda and its local ally the Ansar al-Sharia is making hay. Picking up support among Sunni tribes who are worried about the Houthis and taking advantage of the disunity to plan attacks on the fragmented, dispirited armed forces.

Yemen still hasn't become a proper theatre of the blood-soaked Saudi-Iranian rivalry in the Middle East like Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. But much more of this and it's at great risk of going down that road.

slumbermonger - 02 Feb 2015 07:41:40 (#14 of 340)

brooklyn - 02 Feb 2015 14:34:56 (#15 of 340)

I can't imagine a better example of a poverty-stricken dust bowl that we should leave to its own devices. we can't be everywhere, and if the Saudis can't handle their own backyard we can't either.

gallivanter - 12 Feb 2015 08:47:35 (#16 of 340)

Well, it looks like the Yemenis got what they wanted, and successfully drove out the US and other western embassies. Not sure why they desired that particular outcome so much, though. Will it really be of much profit to them?

fjordrage - 12 Feb 2015 09:53:54 (#17 of 340)

And where may Iran fit in.

This is hardly the first time that US equipment in the country may have fallen into the wrong hands. Earlier this month, an unnamed US defense official told The Guardian that the US had only a limited ability to perform end-use checks on the $400 million worth of equipment and other military aid Washington has sent to Yemen since 2006.

The US's failure to keep track of nearly a half-billion dollars worth of military aid is apparently reflected in Yemen's notoriously open weapons market

Read more:

slumbermonger - 12 Feb 2015 12:19:46 (#18 of 340)

Not what "the Yemenis wanted", but what the Houthis wanted. As ever with the Houthis, it's not quite clear how far their move yesterday was part of a clearly planned strategy or was simply what happens when tribesmen take control of a city and a big facility is abandoned. I wonder whether those fighters have ever heard the phrase "diplomatic protocol".

A few SUVs and assault rifles aren't going to represent more than a drop in the ocean of Yemeni weaponry. When I lived there in the late 90s, you could go to an arms suq just out of Sanaa where they sold everything from hand grenades to artillery.

But it's a worrying step on the part of the Houthis. They're still riding a wave of success and (in my opinion very shallow-based) popular support and haven't had to trim their sails yet. I worry they're not going to learn to do that and this constant overreaching is just going to land Yemen in far more trouble.

Being so cavalier with the Americans (and other diplomats) fits into the revolutionary narrative they've borrowed (slogans and all) from Tehran, but it's going to make it far harder for them to borrow cash, which they need. The Saudis have already stopped aid. Are the Houthis now going to go hat in hand to the Iranians? Tehran is already financially squeezed because of the oil price slump, so what, are they going to divert more money from their own economy to support a foreign adventure, but this time in Yemen which has always been only tangential to their wider Middle East strategy?

Houthi overreach is also obvious in their push south and towards the Red Sea coast, where their Zaydi stuff plays badly and risks pushing local Sunni tribes into the armys of al Qaeda - something that's already been happening around Dhamar and Radaa.

There's only so many bridges you can burn.

gallivanter - 20 Feb 2015 21:27:53 (#19 of 340)

Well I think when a group of blokes gather specifically to shout "Death to America," they are fairly clear on their stance regarding the presence of a US embassy! And they'd surely know by implication and past history that expelling the Yank embassy would mean punting away quite a few other western facilities, too.

slumbermonger - 23 Feb 2015 04:59:26 (#20 of 340)

So Hadi now appears to be the ex-ex-president after escaping Houthi house arrest (one story has it he got out dressed as a woman) and fled to his home town of Aden before announcing he was rescinding his resignation and remains Yemen's legitimat president.

No word yet from the Houthis.

It's all starting to look a bit 1994. Or maybe a bit 1986. The tribes around Ma'rib have already called on Hadi to announce the capital has been moved to Aden. This looks like it could be another tumbling pebble at the start of a landslide into civil war.

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