Yemen: Defusing the Saada Time Bomb
Crisis Group Middle East Report N°86, 27 May 2009Page 34
rebel movement, civil society and international donor community. Priority development projects – health, education, water sanitation and transportation – should be aimed at improving civilian lives. Longer-term development could be supported by incentives for private investment, notably in the labour-intensive agricultural sector. Although the promise of assistance for the most part should encourage the parties to reach a durable settlement, some funding could begin immediately, both to alleviate hardships and to demonstrate concretely the benefits that can accrue with enhanced stability.
Regionally, there are lessons to be learned from the well-meaning Qatari experience. Because it ran afoul of Saudi Arabia’s perceived interests, some inside the Kingdom’s leadership allegedly undermined the effort – even though this imperilled Yemen’s stability, and all Arabian peninsula states have an interest in such stability given large Yemeni migrant communities in their midst and potential spillover effects from the country’s disintegration. The early 2009 merger of al-Qaeda’s Saudi and Yemeni branches (giving rise to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, whose leaders are in hiding in Yemen) is yet another indication of the interdependence of regional security.219 Gulf countries ought to act collectively, most likely via the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Yemen aspires to be a member.220 As in the case of Western governments, its intervention should aim at fostering an environment favourable to negotiations by encouraging dialogue while backing reconstruction, reconciliation and development. 221
219 Al-Jazeera International website, 28 January 2009.
220 Crisis Group interview, Arab diplomat, Sanaa, January 2009. Debate around Yemen’s integration in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been ongoing for years. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia traditionally opposed it in apparent retaliation for Yemen’s refusal during the 1990-1991 Gulf War to condemn Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Since 2007, however, their positions appear to have evolved, and the secretariat and member states now seem to support Yemen’s integration. Such a move would not become effective until 2017, however, and is contingent on structural political and economic reforms by the government. Gregory Johnsen, “Yemen: Empty Economic Reforms Slow Bid to Join the GCC”, Arab Reform Bulletin, vol. 5, no. 1 (2007).
221 Amounts officially deemed necessary for Saada’s reconstruction and development ($700 million for 2009-2012, according to the Yemeni government) are not particularly significant and, in a civil society activist’s words, “represent mere pocket change for the Gulf states”. Crisis Group interview, Sanaa, 8 January 2009.
Since unification of North and South in May 1990, Yemen has been confronted with serious challenges that have undermined the state’s capacity to govern. While a failed-state scenario is much feared and often discussed,222 including by Yemeni officials,223 the regime so far has preserved both its rule and the country’s overall stability. The Saada war potentially is of a different sort for – together with other negative trends, including the economic crisis, resource depletion (of both oil and water) and renewed and rising resentment among residents of the former South Yemen – it threatens the state’s capacity to cope and survive.
The Saada war has long been ignored by civil society, the opposition, general public and international community. Yet, the officially-declared peace notwithstanding, the situation remains extremely fragile. Underlying grievances remain unaddressed. The roots of the conflict – social, political and religious – should be tackled head-on by all.
Primary responsibility falls on local actors, whether independent or associated with either the government or the rebels. They are the ones who must take the steps to lessen sectarian tensions, help reabsorb the alienated Huthis, release war-related prisoners and stop playing the dangerous card of tribal allegiances. But the international community also has a significant role to play. This it can do by using its political leverage and the promise of increased aid for reconstruction and development in order to promote an environment more conducive to sustained peace.
Sanaa/Brussels, 27 May 2009
222 Jeremy Sharp, “Where is the stability tipping point?”, Arab Reform Bulletin, July 2008.
223 For instance, in March 2009, Abd-al-Karim al-Arhabi, Yemen’s vice-prime minister and planning minister, asserted that if Yemen was to escape a Somalia-like fate, it needed greater international involvement: “Look at the Somalis – a few million people, and they are creating problems for the world. Yemenis are 24 million, and they are tough warriors. And they have nothing to lose, like the Somalis”. Agence France-Presse, 13 March 2009.