Weekly News Update 20 June 2014

Highlights:
Unable to balance the books
Economist — 17 June 2014
In the midst of a 36-hour blackout the day after, young men set up roadblocks, first in the backstreets and then on the city’s main roads and squares, bringing activity to a halt. “We are here because there is no fuel, no electricity, no water, everything is expensive, there are no jobs and the government does nothing to help us,” says 24-year-old Muhammad Saleh. “Something needs to change.” Abd Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, Yemen’s president, responded with a government reshuffle and announced that more fuel would be brought into the capital from the western port of Hodeidah. The protesters left the streets, but they are likely to return. Government officials gloomily predict worsening shortages—and unrest—in the coming months. The simple fact, they admit, is that Yemen is running out of cash.

How Gulf Initiative has worsened Yemen’s crisis
Al-Monitor — 2 June 2014
The transitional phase in Yemen has made people look positively to the days of former President Saleh. Today, the economic situation has worsened and the armed conflict has increased. Government corruption is spreading because government jobs are handed out on a partisan basis. This raises questions about the legitimacy of the governing parties, especially with the extension of the transitional period without taking it to the people in a referendum, and in the absence of a representative parliament or even a timetable for the transitional phase. That phase has been extended for one year and is subject to further renewal under the pretext that the power-transition process is not finished in Yemen according to the Gulf Initiative.

Yemen’s Torture Camps
Human Rights Watch — 26 May 2014
For decades, migrants from Africa have passed through Yemen to seek work in Saudi Arabia. Since 2010, more than 337,000 migrants and refugees have landed on Yemen’s coastline from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Their numbers rose significantly, and then dipped in July 2013, most likely due to a Saudi crackdown on undocumented migrant workers, only to rise again in March 2014. A multi-million-dollar trafficking and extortion racket has developed in Yemen based on the migrants’ passage. Its locus is the hot and dry northern Yemeni border town of Haradh, where one government official estimated that trafficking and smuggling make up about 80 percent of the economy. Continue reading

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Weekly News Update 23 May 2014

Highlights:
Drone Strike Success in Yemen May Actually Be Failure
Atlantic Council — 19 May 2014
Observers may cheer from afar when the body count of extremists is rising, but given the lack of transparency and disclosure, it is hard to know if the drone strikes are actually achieving US security goals. To begin with, the recent uptick in the number of drone strikes and civilian deaths calls into question the very premise of President Obama’s speech outlining his counterterrorism policy at the National Defense University in May 2013—that a drone strike would only be deployed when the target presents an imminent danger to US lives, where they cannot be captured by local security forces, and where there is near certainty that civilians will not be hit. Recent reports indicate that this threshold is not being upheld, and without the increased disclosure that the president pledged in his speech, there is no way to know if the attacks are even hitting the right targets.

Simmering discontent
Economist — 22 May 2014
THE anniversary of Yemeni unity on May 22nd usually passes quietly in Sana’a, the capital. But this year the government Abd Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, the president, is keen to build on patriotic sentiment fired up by a recent military campaign against al-Qaeda. Fairy lights adorn the central bank and roads are lined with bunting in the red, black and white of the Yemeni flag. The celebrations are due to culminate in a fireworks display. The sentiment is not shared across Yemen. A day earlier, on May 21st, thousands of people took to the streets in Aden, a port town that was once the capital of the separate southern state, to demand independence (pictured above). “Twenty years of repression and resistance,” they chanted.

US Cluster Bombs Keep Killing Civilians in Yemen
VICE — 16 May 2014
The continued presence of hundreds if not thousands of bomblets in the area has devastated the largely agricultural economy. “We are afraid to go to our farms, to take our sheep out to graze,” Mohammed says. “We can’t work because we are afraid of this. I lost my father and my brother. What if I come across another bomb?”Gabish says that the affected farmland is reverting back to wilderness because farmers are afraid to return. In March, he says, a shepherd in the north of the province became the latest victim of a cluster bomb, more than four years after the Saudi planes first crossed into Sa’dah. Cluster bombs are often used as “denial weapons,” which make the areas on which they’re dropped inaccessible, and it is possible that Saudi Arabia dropped them where they did in part to seal the border with Houthi-controlled Sa’dah. That would mean the Saudi Air Force effectively targeted civilians — a possible violation of human rights law. Continue reading

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Weekly News Update 16 May 2014

Highlights:
Qaeda Affiliate Steps Up Video Propaganda Push
New York Times — 12 May 2014
After years of Western condemnation for the civilian casualties of terrorist attacks, Al Qaeda’s affiliate here is trying to turn the tables in a stream of online videos arguing that Washington and its Yemeni Army allies are the ones carelessly killing innocent bystanders in their drone attacks and military campaigns targeting suspected militants. The videos, Al Qaeda’s latest response to the drone assassinations of many of its leaders, seek to capitalize on growing anger over the killings of an undisclosed number of noncombatants in drone strikes. But the campaign has now taken on new resonance here since the disclosure last week that an American commando and a spy killed two armed Yemenis who had tried to kidnap them while the Americans were in a barbershop in Sana, the capital. The Americans were later whisked out of the country with the blessing of the Yemeni government.

Aden region could serve as basis for a thriving Yemen
As-Safir via Al-Monitor — 11 May 2014
The Aden region boasts the qualifications of a full state. Previously the capital of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, the city of Aden has all the facilities and infrastructure necessary to build a state government, not just a regional government. Therefore, it will not suffer the potential ailments of some other regions in terms of lack of facilities needed by their governments. The region has the required development resources in industry, trade, tourism, agriculture and fisheries. At the level of foreign trade, throughout its history, Aden has been open to the foreign world. When Capt. S.B. Haines occupied the Port of Aden in February 1839, most of its traders had been foreigners. The city preserved its commercial standing during the rule of the British administration. The first chamber of commerce in the Arabian Peninsula was established in Aden in August 1886. After the expansion of Tawahi Port in the early 1950s, Aden became the most important economic region in the Middle East. Its port was ranked second most important port in the world after New York, and the third most important port in terms of loading and unloading among Commonwealth countries, after London and Liverpool. The Yemeni unification took place on May 22, 1990, and at that time the people of Aden hoped their city would regain the commercial standing it had lost during the period of 1967-1990 when the state in the south monopolized foreign trade.

Despite new era, anti-corruption agenda struggles in Yemen
IRIN — 29 April 2014
The 2011 street revolts that drove Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh from office and spurred an internationally-monitored democratic political transition were considered a boon for anti-corruption activists, who had spent the past decade trying to foster good governance reforms in a prevailing system of graft to little effect. But more than two years into the process and despite the impetus given to the new democratization era by interim President Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi, the anti-corruption agenda is still grappling with a culture of impunity in which people are reluctant to blow the whistle out of fear of losing their jobs, donor funding or worse. Continue reading

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Weekly News Update 25 April 2014

Highlights:
Of Transitology and Counter-Terror Targeting in Yemen
Muftah — 22 April 2014
Notably, however, professional transitologists avoid portraying the GCC Initiative as a blueprint for democratization, much less revolution, in the Peninsula. To the contrary, the Gulf monarchies and their Western allies, especially the United States, are applauded for their vigilance in bringing ‘stability’ to southwest Arabia. According to the technocratic think-tank blueprint for Yemen, an ill-defined stable transition trumps liberalization or popular democracy. ‘Stability’ is assumed to be the most, and perhaps the best, we can expect. Poor President Hadi is given another year or two to get Yemen on track. Gulf and Western donors will be generous, as long as benchmarks for progress are met. There are, however, two problems with this framing. First, it fundamentally contradicts the vision held by Yemen’s peaceful youth who demonstrated for almost all of 2011, and pays scant attention to the social justice aspirations of the most populous nation on the Peninsula. The GCC monarchies, most notably the dominant power Saudi Arabia, are inimically and intractably fearful of popular democracy. The Saudi kingdom outlaws and represses almost all forms of political expression. The second and more profound problem with these external narratives is their tendency to portray Yemen’s problems as purely endogenous self-inflicted wounds.

Hadhramaut: Rebellion, Federalism or Independence in Yemen?
Muftah — 23 April 2014
The private fortunes being made by Yemeni generals from oil companies may be a key reason why violence in Hadhramaut has ramped up tremendously since 2012. It is no coincidence that, in implementing government restructuring of the military, President Hadi has replaced a number of army and security leaders in Hadhramaut’s oil regions. It would be unrealistic to think that these military leaders, who were suddenly deprived of millions of dollars in monthly payments, would not react or resist in some way. Indeed, many Hadhrami commentators have asserted that many of the shadowy acts of violence and relentless series of assassinations of military leaders in Hadhramaut are in reality intra-military conflicts and leadership struggles among army leaders competing for lucrative oil company security contracts.

Yemen latest front line in Saudi-Qatari feud
Al-Monitor — 23 April 2014
Saudi Arabia informally supports tribal and religious forces in Yemen, either through its embassy in Sanaa or directly through Riyadh. But changes in the regional power balance have moved Islah from Saudi’s circle of allies and beneficiaries to the circle of enemies. The relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Yemeni tribes on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia on the other, is fateful. This relationship has deep and complex interests and Riyadh used to be able to tip the power balance in its favor. But Doha is meddling in Saudi Arabia’s hypersensitive files in Yemen, including the issue of Yemeni labor. Riyadh deported tens of thousands of Yemeni expatriates after adopting a new labor law that was passed in November 2013. More are being deported: as many as 12,500 expatriates through the airport in Sanaa alone in January-March. Qatar, however, has announced that it will open its doors to Yemeni labor and ordered that Yemenis residing on Qatari soil be treated like Qatari citizens in terms of access to education and health. Whatever the justifications, Riyadh’s actions have earned it widespread popular anger in Yemen because the actions happened at a time when Yemen is in a critical state. Continue reading

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Weekly News Update 18 April 2014

Highlights:
The Repercussions of the GCC Tension in Yemen
Sada — 8 April 2014
Although patron-client relations have always shaped Yemen’s political arena, the post-Arab Spring context of uncertainty has ignited a fierce competition between the country’s plethora of elite factions, not only over control of the state but also over external sources of legitimacy and support. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been able to buy the loyalty of local actors with ease, aided by Yemen’s endemic state weakness, scarcity of natural resources, and its regional, sectarian, and tribal fragmentation. Saudi Arabia has a long history of intervention and political investment in Yemen, which grants it more leverage over domestic actors, but also greater room for creating enemies. For instance, the Saudi support in granting blanket immunity from prosecution to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has angered Yemen’s revolutionary forces. Conversely, Qatar’s track record in Yemen has been less problematic. It acted, for example, as a mediator in the Houthi conflict and the southern movement issue and therefore has less baggage in Yemen.

Death From Above: How American Drone Strikes Are Devastating Yemen
Rolling Stone — 14 April 2014
In February, at the Khaled Ibn Al Walid School in Khawlan, a district some 45 kilometers from the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, Principal Jameel Al-Qawly anxiously hovers by the door, scolding any young boys dawdling in the sandy courtyard. Moments earlier, he noticed a sticker on the outside window of one of his classrooms: an image of a black flag with the words of the Muslim shahada, which translates to “There is no god but God and Mohamed is His messenger.” The flag and slogan constitute a symbol often associated with militant Islamist groups, including Al Qaeda. “I have to keep close watch,” Al-Qawly admits, “not to allow just anyone from outside talk to the children.”

Yemen’s ‘Muwaladeen': The struggle for equal citizenship
Al-Jazeera — 5 April 2014
Despite the long history of Yemeni traders travelling abroad, immigrating, and forming cross-cultural families, the term “Muwalad” is still used today to describe children born to one parent of another nationality. The term itself is defined in an Arabic dictionary as “an Arab who is not purely Arab.” While the term applies to children of Yemeni-Russian, Yemeni-Vietnamese, or Yemeni-Egyptian couples, it is most often used for children of an African parent or a parent with African descent. According to an article by activist Hussein Musleh this term is used for humiliation, as a way to remind the person that he/she is not “pure” Yemeni. Such attitudes are exacerbated by today’s obsession with light or white skin in the Arab region, which is in sharp contrast to the famous poetry and music where artists and poets wrote and sang about tan women. Continue reading

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Weekly News Update 4 April 2014

Highlights:
After Dialogue, a Daunting Challenge for Yemen
Asharq Al-Awsat — 3 April 2014
Despite the grim economic outlook, pervasive insecurity and political instability, prominent figures of the NDC remain moderately optimistic about the future. Ahmed Abu Bakr Bazara, the chair of the dialogue’s Comprehensive Development Working Group, told Asharq Al-Awsat that there is little doubt the recommendations made in the group’s final report “will have a positive impact” on the efforts to address Yemen’s economic problems, although he adds, “Of course, this will take time.” Those recommendations, some of which will be part of the new Yemeni constitution, include an emphasis on freedom of economic activity, social justice, the plurality of ownership in the different sectors of the economy (including through the avoidance of monopolies), and public–private sector partnerships. The decisions of the NDC’s Good Governance Working Group are also expected to contribute to a more favorable business environment, as its vice-chair, Dr. Ahmed Al-Asbahi, explained to Asharq Al-Awsat. The group’s “305 decisions and recommendations” focus on “accountability, transparency and responsiveness, justice, efficiency and effectiveness, the supremacy of law, and the fight against corruption,” Asbahi said.

Yemen aid work ever more risky
IRIN — 2 April 2014
The 25 March kidnapping and release of two UN workers has underlined the risks aid workers in Yemen face. Humanitarians can find themselves caught up in outbreaks of violence by Zaydi Shia Houthi militants in the north, southern separatists, al-Qaeda-inspired groups, tribal groups, or common criminals, and the new UN sanctions regime could make matters worse for them.

Internet Cafes Close Down Amid Ongoing Energy Crisis
Yemen Times — 3 April 2014
The main power station and electricity infrastructure in Marib governorate sustained over 400 attacks and acts of sabotage from 2010 until June of last year, according to Al-Absi. He said that the power plant in Marib is a major electricity supplier to the rest of the country, with the capacity to generate 400 megawatts. Majed Al-Bashiri, a supervisor at the Hizaiz substation in Sana’a, which generates 40 megawatts, said there are several substations in Sana’a which together contribute 146 megawatts, but these stations only generate half of the capital city’s electricity requirements. The six major power plants across the country are only operating at 70 percent capacity at best due to technical difficulties and attacks, added Al-Bashiri. Continue reading

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Weekly News Update 28 March 2014

Highlights:
Taiz’s Freedom Square: past its expiration date?
Yemen Times — 27 March 2014
Taiz’s Freedom Square was an epicenter of the 2011 revolution and a fount of national change. But, following the success of the National Dialogue Conference, there have been calls to evict protesters from the square, as has happened in other governorates. Abdulrahman Mohammed Ali, a welder at a workshop near Freedom Square, said, “I have been working here for 15 years but I lost most of my customers following the 2011 revolution. I owe the landlord YR800,000 ($3,720) as well as YR200,000 ($930) for electricity and water bills. I had to lay off six employees because we don’t have enough work.” “I wonder why this square hasn’t been evacuated yet like other squares across the country. What is the benefit of [the protesters] staying here?” asked Ali.

Where Yemen is at: Donor pledges vs. government action
Yemen Times — 25 March 2014
In 2012, Yemen requested assistance from the donor community to cover a deficit of $11.7 billion to fund the Transitional Program for Stability and Development (TPSD) for the years 2012-2014. The same year donors pledged $7.9 billion for the years 2012-2015, more than half coming from GCC countries, to help cover this funding gap. By Jan. 30, 2014 more than 90 percent of these pledges have been allocated, which means they have been reserved by the donors to specific projects in the TPSD. However, it goes downhill from there. Less than 60 percent of the pledged money has been approved by donors to begin the implementation of projects, and only around 35 percent has actually been disbursed.

Districts prefer to join Tehama region
Yemen Times — 25 March 2014
Three districts in Dhammar, 100 km south of the capital, Sana’a, have held several marches to protest their inclusion in the Azal district as decided by the Regions Defining Committee on Feb. 10. The three districts are Ottoma, Wesab Al-Ali, and Wesab Al-Safel. The latter two districts are of called Wesabain, or “two Wesabs”. The Regions Defining Committee created a federal state of six regions, four in the north and two in the south. The demonstrations have been held in Sana’a and Hodeida city. Because there are no direct routes to Dhammar city from any of the three districts, which are in a heavily mountainous area of the country, residents who need legal or other services from the governorate must first travel through Hodeida to get to Dhammar city. Some residents must travel through Hodeida and Ibb governorates, before making it back to Dhammar. Continue reading

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