Bomb maker still at large after Yemen prison break is sign of al Qaida’s strength
McClatchy via Sacramento Bee — 20 February 2014
A week after suspected al Qaida militants blew a hole in the wall of Sanaa’s central prison, Shawish remains at large, one of 19 al Qaida suspects among the 29 prisoners who managed to escape during the mayhem. Only one has been recaptured, and none of the al Qaida members. Their crimes, according to a statement from the Yemeni Ministry of the Interior, ranged from attempting to assassinate the country’s current president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to fighting with al Qaida-affiliated insurgents in southern Abyan province. Their sentences ranged from six years to death. Of the group, Shawish stands apart, say Yemeni officials, who call him the most dangerous of last week’s escapees and another example of why Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula continues to grow, despite concerted efforts by the government and a persistent U.S. drone campaign that strikes alleged militants on a regular basis. By his own admission, Shawish had a significant role in attacks on military checkpoints, army bases and oil installations in the provinces of Marib and Hadramawt, his home province and the place where he was caught.
A new source of anger
Economist — 19 February 2014
IN 2011, Tawakol Karman led street protests calling for the ouster of then-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Ever since, the prominent Yemeni activist, joint winner of the Nobel peace prize in 2011, has shifted her attention to foreign companies that Yemenis believe benefited from corrupt deals made by the former president. Popular pressure helped to force the current government to cancel a controversial Saleh-era concession that gave Dubai Ports World, an Emirati port operator, control of the southern Yemeni port of Aden. Now, activists have shifted their focus to a 2005 deal that they believe allowed a handful of foreign oil and gas companies to purchase Yemen’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) at rates below market value.
Women’s Challenges, and Opportunities, in Yemen
Council on Foreign Relations — 19 February 2014
The NDC’s recommendation to set the age of marriage for boys and girls at eighteen will also be challenging to make a reality. Yemen has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world – an estimated 52 percent of girls in Yemen are married before the age of eighteen, and 14 percent before age fifteen. Islah, the influential Islamist party, has opposed setting a legal age for marriage in the past (in 1999, Islah was instrumental in abolishing the existing age of marriage – which was then fifteen – on the grounds that it contravened Sharia). But after the conclusion of the NDC, Islah members acknowledged the recommendation on setting the age of marriage at eighteen and stated that the party would not oppose such legislation. Continue reading
Money up in the air? Corruption in Yemen’s gas sector
Transparency International — 13 February 2014
Hundreds of Yemenis protested on the streets of Sanaa against the government’s ongoing negotiations with French oil company Total about the pricing of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is one of the main sources of the country’s wealth. Protestors claimed that Yemenis have lost hundreds of millions of dollars of potential earnings from the country’s resource wealth, which could have been injected into the state’s budget to provide basic services. Current gas market prices hover around US$14 per million metric British thermal units (MMBtu), yet Total, as part of an international consortium that has a 39.6 per cent stake in the US$4.5 billion LNG plant located on the strategic Gulf of Aden, has been buying LNG at the much lower rate of US$1.50/MMBtu. The 20-year sales contracts with Total, Kogas and GDF Suez were signed in 2005 under the leadership of deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh at prices below the global standards.
West grows wary of Yemen’s Houthis as Shia group’s profile increases
Financial Times — 13 February 2014
Washington and Sana’a are convinced the Houthis are backed by Iran. Ali al-Bokhaiti, a spokesman for the group, pointed out that the nature of Zaydi Shia, which is in many ways closer to Sunni than the Twelver Shia practised in Iran, make the Houthis and Iranians natural rivals. According to Mr Bokhaiti, the Houthis are defending themselves against militias backed by rival tribes, which are exploiting sectarian divisions, and Islah, Yemen’s main Sunni Islamist party, both of which formed an integral part of Mr Saleh’s former power base before splitting from the regime in 2011. “The traditional powers fear the spread of Houthi ideology,” said Mr Bokhaiti, countering that the group’s Sunni rivals are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many analysts in Yemen agree. Domestic tensions, “including the post-uprising political power struggle between Houthis and their various adversaries” are behind the fighting, said April Longley Alley, an analyst at International Crisis Group. Part of the Houthis’ success has been their ability to take advantage of longstanding divisions between neglected tribes, she added.
Process Lessons Learned in Yemen’s National Dialogue
United States Institute of Peace — 7 February 2014
While the extension of the transition process presents some risks, it was likely the best course available. Forcing a constitutional referendum and new round of elections with so many critical issues left unresolved would have been a recipe for renewed conflict. The ability of the Yemeni actors to adjust the timeline and process but largely stay on track has so far been the major strength of the Yemeni transition process. In fact, though the focus of comparative discussions has been on the NDC, the more patient timeline of the Yemeni transition may be the aspect worth modeling. Whereas other countries (such as Egypt and Tunisia) moved rapidly into elections, a new regular government, and constitution, this rapid progress was soon undone as the results became contested, in some cases violently. The slower, more deliberative model in Yemen might be a better way to work through the complex political and structural conflicts inherent in transition. Continue reading
Power Struggle in Yemen’s North
Foreign Policy — 5 February 2014
The Houthis’ ability to take on scores of powerful tribal leaders in their own home turf isn’t simply a sign of their rising strength: It’s also a result of longstanding tensions within Yemen’s tribal system. During his three decades in power, Saleh actively aimed to coopt the power of tribal notables, incorporating them into a vast patronage system. As sheikhs grew wealthy and spent increasing amounts of time in Sanaa, their grasp over their constituency — traditionally cemented by face to face interaction through mediating or arbitrating disputes — waned. Many Yemenis complain that tribal sheikhs have increasingly maintained their positions of leadership through their ties to the government, rather than through keeping the respect of the tribes, focusing on their own interests, rather than the interests of those they theoretically represent. Weakened loyalties granted the Houthis an opening. The group has managed to gain the backing of a number of traditionally less influential, but locally based, tribal leaders in areas across northern Yemen; to an even greater extent, they’ve reaped the benefits as many tribesmen have proven reluctant to fight to defend their theoretical leaders who have come to blows with the group. Notably, the Houthis’ invocations of the Zaidi doctrine of khuruj — the right and duty to revolt against an unjust ruler — have targeted tribal leaders with ties to Sanaa in addition to the government itself.
Will Decentralization in Yemen Marginalize Citizens?
Atlantic Council — 29 January 2014
The NDC succeeded in creating the basis for a decentralized state in Yemen and redistributing powers away from the center. Yet, the closest administrative units to the citizen with any constitutional authority now lies with the states, creating a fourth level of government (the district-level) whose authorities and responsibilities will be determined by regional laws. A four-level system is more complex and costly than a three-level system. Nonetheless, due to the political realities on the ground, Yemen will now have to adapt to a four-level system. The question that the constitution-drafting committee will have to address is whether to include a fourth-level of government in the constitution and grant this fourth-level constitutional authority and power, or whether to leave it up to each region to decide on the structure, authorities, and responsibilities of its fourth-level of government. The end result will have significant impact on defining the relationship between the new federal Yemen and its citizens.
Yemen faces fresh challenges as National Dialogue ends
BBC News — 28 January 2014
Despite ongoing security problems plaguing the country, Yemenis should be proud that they managed a genuinely inclusive dialogue process with 565 delegates representing established political parties, newly emergent political movements, youth activists, women leaders, and civil society organisations. The culmination of the National Dialogue was a final report with approximately 1,400 recommendations; now Yemen’s leaders must start the even more difficult process of translating it into meaningful action and incorporating the principles into a new constitution. Continue reading
The United States’ bloody messes in Yemen
Washington Post — 14 January 2014
Our president may reassure the United States of his support for drone strikes but the reality is that no leader can legitimately approve the extrajudicial killing of his own citizens. Moreover, he does so in the face of Yemeni consensus. This August, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference — which President Obama has praised — decided by a 90 percent majority that the use of drones in Yemen should be criminalised. Yemeni legislators are aware that the drone war is deeply unpopular. Since the Dec,. 12 strike, our parliament has unanimously voted to ban drone flights in Yemeni airspace, declaring them a “grave breach” of the country’s sovereignty. For a country so often divided, this unanimity from Yemen’s most representative bodies testifies to the strength of opinion against drones. But their calls have thus far met only with more bombings from the skies. How can the people of Yemen build trust in their fledgling democracy when our collective will is ignored by democracy’s greatest exponent?
Violence in Yemen overshadows National Dialogue
Al-Monitor — 13 January 2014
To many, the proposed solution’s most dangerous element is that it is officially acknowledged that there is one unified southern identity versus a northern one — something that isn’t completely true. Some southern provinces — al-Dhale, for example — are as tribal as provinces in the north. By contrast, the “northern” city of Taiz is far less tribally oriented than most of the south. Furthermore, the proposal divides legislative and executive powers evenly between the south and north — something that many northerners see as inherently undemocratic and contradicting justice, since the north has 75% of Yemen’s population. The president and international community are aiming to bring the Conference of National Dialogue to a belated end through the proposal, but there are many hurdles to arriving at a concrete solution.
Critics say 2014 budget not in line with country’s trajectory
Yemen Times — 16 January 2014
Yemen’s Parliament this week approved a budget of YR2.88 trillion ($13.4 billion) for 2014, about a four percent increase from the 2013’s budget plan, according to the Ministry of Finance. The new budget plan projected an estimated income, from oil revenues and taxes, at around YR2.2 trillion ($10.2 billion), along with a deficit of around YR6.8 billion ($3.16 billion). Other highlights of the budget include the government’s plan to pay YR 2.4 billion ($11.3 million) to the Tribes’ Affairs Authority (monthly salaries for tribal leaders) in 2014. In comparison, the budget projected for Yemen’s Coast Guard Authority is YR 1.6 billion ($7.2 million). Some of are highly critical of the budget seemingly overlooking an institution like the Coast Guard. Yemen has around 2,000 km. of coastline and often serves as a transit country for smugglers bringing migrants, drugs and weapons into the region. Continue reading
Tribes attack Yemen pipeline twice in two days
Reuters — 7 January 2014
Tribesmen in the eastern Yemen province of Hadramawt have blown up an oil pipeline for the second time in two days, disrupting an important source of revenue for the impoverished state. The attacks targeted a pipeline with a capacity of 120,000 barrels a day carrying crude from the Masila field, the most important in Yemen, local and tribal officials said. Tuesday’s blast, which caused a fireball that could be seen from several kilometers away, struck in the Wadi Urf area, while Monday’s attack on the same pipeline was in the Sah area. Tensions between tribes in Hadramawt and the government have been running high since early December, when an important chief was killed in a shooting at an army checkpoint, local media have reported.
Yemen: “Historic” document to resolve Southern Issue signed
Asharq Al-Awsat — 9 January 2014
Yemen took a significant step towards a comprehensive settlement on the Southern Issue on Wednesday with the signing of an agreement on political power-sharing between the country’s Northern and Southern regions. During a session attended by Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, representatives of the two regions at the National Dialogue signed a “Just Solution” document, which aims to resolve ongoing issues in the complex and fractious relationship between North and South Yemen. Dr. Mohamed Ali Abu Lahoum, a senior member of the “8+8 Commission” at the National Dialogue’s Southern Issue Working Group, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “It is important to promote trust between all negotiating parties,” confirming that “the ‘Just Solution’ seeks to create trust and confidence between the negotiating parties in Yemen.” While actual details about the document remain scarce, Abu Lahoum said: “There are a number of key points. Over the next five years, the document affirms that there will be a complete 50–50 sharing of power and wealth between the Northerners and Southerners in order to restore trust.”
Former Ruling Party Signs NDC Document
Yemen Times — 9 January 2014
The General People’s Congress (GPC), Yemen’s former ruling party, and the Al-Rashad Union, the Salafi political party, signed the Southern Issue Solution Document on Wednesday following two weeks of negotiations, according to Yasser Al-Ruainee, the deputy secretary general of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). The GPC initially refused to sign the document, saying it jeopardized the nation’s unity and placed Yemen under unwanted international influence. Continue reading
Government Sits Idle as Dammaj Conflict Widens
Yemen Times — 26 December 2013
As ongoing clashes in Dammaj in Sa’ada governorate between the Houthis and the Salafis enter their third month, the expansion of the conflict into surrounding areas is worrying to both the central government and locals. While tension between the Houthis, who are Zaidi Shiites, and the Salafis, who are conservative Sunnis, first began to emerge late last summer, at the end of October intense fighting between the groups picked up, with casualties on both sides being hard to track. Estimates have been as high as in the hundreds. Due to roadblocks and lack of security, the assistance of aid organizations in the area has been extremely limited.
Yemen wastes time
Al-Monitor — 23 December 2013
According to the best estimates and personal experience, Yemeni government employees waste three hours a day (out of the seven-hour work day, according to the civil service laws). So public offices are effectively open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., minus the time for breakfast, of course. With no accurate statistics about the number of state employees, there are deep administrative imbalances. Many think it is about one million for the civil and military corps. Given that the annual working days per employee number 302 — after excluding weekly, national and religious holidays — about 906 million work hours are wasted annually in the Yemeni government sector. There are also no criteria for evaluating worker performance, except for teachers, who have specific lecture schedules. Business hours are uncontrolled. A worker requires one signature for showing up and one for leaving, but both are often signed at the same time.
There is no common GCC vision on Yemen
Asharq Al-Awsat — 26 December 2013
The most effective way to help Yemen’s economy would be to allow Yemenis to work in the GCC. Unfortunately, the GCC appears to be adopting the reverse policy because it seeks to create employment opportunities for its own citizens. GCC citizens, however, will never take up the lowly jobs that Yemenis occupy. The present policy of expelling Yemenis will create more suffering and frustration in Yemen and lead to the exacerbation of an already dire situation. It is urgent that the GCC sees its own fate as being linked to that of Yemen—before a rude awakening takes place when Yemen implodes and proceeds to export its problems to its neighbors. Continue reading
The Red Wedding
Foreign Policy — 18 December 2013
Whatever happened on Dec. 12, it was not a “targeted killing” — the language President Barack Obama’s administration often uses to describe drone strikes — nor was it consistent with the White House’s claim that the strikes are only carried out when civilians will not be caught in the crossfire. It’s not just a matter of the morality of the drone program: The confirmed deaths of noncombatants in this strike will set back anti-al Qaeda efforts everywhere in Yemen, and its effects will only be exacerbated by the restive area where it occurred. The strike was followed, as always, by silence from Washington, which has acknowledged carrying out drone strikes in Yemen but never publicly comments on individual attacks. The Yemeni government, however, released a statement the following day that said the strike targeted al Qaeda militants, but neglected to mention either the country that carried out the attack or the apparent civilian casualties. The actions taking place behind the scenes, though, painted a vastly different picture: Al-Baydah’s governor was dispatched to mediate between the government and the families of the dead, while Yemeni officials that were previously supportive of the drone strikes cast the attack as a tragic error.
Yemen’s harrowing transition
Al-Monitor — 14 December 2013
Most importantly, some intelligence cooperation with the Yemeni authorities could have prevented the morning headlines from reading “air strike kills 15 at wedding.” The US drone operation on Dec. 13 came a week after Yemen’s national tragedy in Sanaa had shaken perceptions of safety and security. This attack further weakened an already fragile situation and drew attention to the multiplicity of actors in Yemen’s security arena. Death in Yemen is now more imminent by the hands of al-Qaeda or the United States.
Yemen’s Parliament Approves Non-Binding Ban On Drone Strikes
International Business Tribune — 16 December 2013
Sunday’s proposal, which follows reports of a deadly drone strike earlier in the week on a wedding party, is seen as a recommendation to Yemen’s president who holds veto power. Lawmakers voted to “prevent drones in the skies of Yemen, stressing the importance of protecting innocent citizens as well as the preservation of the rule of Yemeni territory,” Yemen’s official Saba news agency said. Continue reading