Starving and Broke: Yemen's Renewed 'War on Terror'
by Ramzy Baroud
May 31, 2012
Yemeni forces continue to push against fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Their major victories come on the heels of the inauguration of Abd Rabbuh
Mansur al-Hadi, who is now entrusted with the task of leading the country
through a peaceful transition. A new constitution and presidential elections
are expected by 2014.
Faced with the most strenuous of circumstances-the unyielding ruling family,
the US-led war on al-Qaeda, sectarian tension, unsettled political divides
between south and north, and unforgiving poverty-the youth of Yemen
successfully managed to introduce a hopeful chapter to an otherwise gloomy
modern history. While they should be proud of this, they must also remain
wary of the challenges awaiting them in the next two years.
The next phase will be a decisive one for Yemen. It will either take the
country a step forward towards real reforms-which should resolve some of the
country's most protracted regional strife and confront the rampant
inequality-or leave it to suffer a worse fate than that under Saleh's
family. The early signs are worrisome, compelling regional experts to warn
that Yemen may be heading the same route as Somalia.
"With two conflicts carrying on simultaneously, that of the Houthi Shia in
the north and the secessionist movement in the south, the militarization of
Yemen and the primary US focus on it as another battlefield in which to
engage al-Qaeda, is only set to continue," wrote David Hearst in The
Guardian on May 25.
The US has much unfinished business in Yemen. Like other US military
adventures, the focus often stays solely on military targets, without taking
much notice of the larger social and political challenges in the country.
Needless to say, from a Yemeni viewpoint the US must be the least attractive
foreign power engaging their government. During the popular revolt against
Abdullah Saleh last year, Yemenis were irritated by US support of their
discredited president. They were also unhappy with the US's constant
meddling in Yemeni affairs, and its unrelenting war on various militant
groups. The current open coordination between the Yemeni president and the
US is sure to prove costly to both parties in the long run. A recent Al
Jazeera report claimed that, "Washington has stepped up drone attacks in
Yemen since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office in February, and
the Pentagon said it had recently resumed sending military trainers to the
Arab state" (May 24). This kind of reporting is hardly helpful to the image
of the new president who many hope will lead the country to independence.
The fighting is intensifying against militants affiliated with al-Qaeda in
the Arabian Peninsula, as many have reportedly been killed in the city of
Zinjibar, the town of Jaar, and also in other areas in the south. The
foolishness of engaging in traditional warfare against a decentralized
network of fighters-whether directly affiliated with or inspired by
al-Qaeda-without paying much attention to the underpinnings of violence in a
devastatingly poor country like Yemen, cannot be overstated. The strength of
such militant groups is often driven by two main factors: their successful
appeal to disfranchised, angry youth in marginalized and impoverished
communities, and their physical maneuverability. Such groups can strike
anywhere, anytime, with minimal means.
Even if one could accept that the central government of Yemen, with US
support, might successfully route out militants from their southern
strongholds, this will certainly lead to the spreading out of terror acts to
far beyond Yemeni borders. The May 21 suicide bombing during a military
parade, which was readily claimed by al-Qaeda, leaves no doubt that
reclaiming a few towns in the south will not rid Yemen of its chronic
violence. In fact, a US-assisted war against mostly poor communities can
only lead to more recruits for militant groups, and turn a traditional
warfare, demarcated by tribal lines, into a violent mayhem that will
complicate an already chaotic battleground.
The Yemeni government should know well that violence compounds, rather than
resolves problems. This has been the norm since Yemen's independence from
the Ottoman Empire in 1918, and from British colonial rule in the south in
1967. Violence throughout the tumultuous years since either widened
conflicts, or created new ones. Yet, the new 'transitional' government is
playing into US hands by embarking on yet another unwinnable 'war on
terror.' The issue is not that terror should not be fought, but how
successful can such a fight be while recreating and augmenting the very
circumstances that led to its inception?
Yemen is poor. Entire communities teeter between mere survival and complete
and utter despair. The United Nations' Human Development Index-which is
measured based on life expectancy, level of education, and standard of
living-ranked Yemen in one of the most dismal spots, 154th out of 177
countries. Now, due to the revolution, the regime's insistence on holding
onto power, the US war on al-Qaeda, and the latter's unprecedented-and
expected-growth, the situation is getting much worse. "More than 10 million
people-almost one in two men, women and children-in Yemen- are facing a
looming catastrophe. Families are surviving, but only just. Food and fuel
price spikes, coupled with political instability, have left Yemen's economy
in tatters," wrote Kelly Gilbride of Oxfam, in a heart-wrenching piece on
CNN.com (May 24). She further asserted that "[a]lmost half of Yemenis do not
have enough to eat today and Yemen is entering its hunger season. The world
can bring Yemen back from the brink of catastrophe-but only if it acts now".
But acting 'now' should not just translate into a few donation pledges here
and there. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is largely rooted in the fact
that the country is an open field of competing interests, making it
susceptible to corruption, exploitation and terror. To be spared hunger,
Yemen must regain its independence-not through a new flag and national
anthem, but through an inclusive national program that reaches out to all
sectors of Yemeni society: the disfranchised, neglected south, the
war-scarred north, and the rest of the country with its chronic inequality.
Schools, hospitals and factories must replace military encampments. Large
chunks of the budget-especially of the newly pledged 4 billion dollars from
neighboring Arab countries- should help feed people, rebuild destroyed
homes, and create job opportunities. Effectively all the changes should
contribute to more stable social horizons.
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Thu May 31 2012 - 17:54:04 EDT