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