Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Yemen: The West’s Next Problem?

April 3, 2012
By Paul Shea
Yemen is by most analysts definition ‘a failed state’. The country is currently in the midst of one of the more violent Arab Spring movements that having driven its president out in February shows no sign of stopping any time soon. The country is facing infighting among several groups internally and is home to one of the most active wings of Al Qaeda.
The country remains one of the region’s poorest and the only attention it gets from Western powers these days is the occasional, but regular, drone strike aiming at a terrorist training camp or other institution deemed a national security threat. With poverty running rampant, and in the current chaos getting worse, and the bonds of state, never too strong, getting weaker the entire Yemeni society has become a threat to the national security of the United States.
43 alleged Al Qaeda militants were killed in Yemen today after a three day siege with Yemeni forces. In Yemen the group is not simply a series of barely connected splinter groups but an institution willing to hold its own against government force.
To step away from the threat from international terrorism for the moment let’s look at the Yemeni state and how it has been handling the situation inside its country for the last turbulent twelve months. When the ‘Arab Spring’ is mentioned the countries linked to it are usually Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria and even some of those have faded from memory leaving mainly the media blanketing Syria on people’s consciousnesses. Yemen had its revolution directly after Tunisia’s and at the same time as Egypt’s (fomenting in the country as early as January 2012although we did note problems). The country is virtually unknown to most westerners and so apart from a couple of stories the media had to forgo it in favor of the more familiar north African conflicts.Yemen’s civil disobedience resulted in deportations for several journalists meaning the picture inside the country was even less clear. In February of this year after a full year of turmoil the country elected its former Vice President as its new President.
The ‘Arab Spring’ ended similarly in Tunisia and Egypt, allowing the old structures to continue. The only different outcome was in Libya where the state was entirely dismantled and has to built anew. Whether that will work better or worse remains to be seen. Yemen faces distinct problems of its own and has done for years. A civil war in 1994 between north and south has left a strong voice still in the south calling for secession. Another area in the north seeks to secede on the basis of religious difference, that part of the country has a large Shia population. The transitional state of the government after the 2011 risings coupled with a double insurgency from north and south, both seeking to secede, leave a weakened Yemeni state as one of the United States most pivotal allies in the battle to suppress Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda has been active in Yemen for a long time and its active insurgency is only one part of its attack on the country. With a poverty wracked population, an oppressive government and a strong belief in Islam, the country’s youth, 46% are under 15 now, is a ripe harvesting ground for Al Qaeda recruiters.
The lack of governmental control of wide areas of its country leave much room for training camps and the other infrastructure the terrorist organisation needs to carry out its work. The underwear bomber was a Nigerian who traveled to Yemen in order to receive his training to carry out that attack. In September of last year, a day that should go down in history and be remembered, Islamist and United States citizen Anwar Al Awlaki was killed by a drone strike in Yemen. He was part Yemeni and was touted as a possible successor to Bin Laden after his death earlier in 2011. Bin Laden himself wrote, in documents that were uncovered after his assassination, that AQAB, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group thought to be heavily based in Yemen was the future of the organisation.
The United States is facing serious trouble from a new Al Qaeda operating out of Yemen and growing stronger as that country faces many challenges. The white house said yesterday that it would stay out of any internal conflict in Yemen that did not involve al Qaeda leaving the Yemenis to figure it out for themselves. While the US new direction in foreign policy refuses to strengthen nations that are valuable in attacking America’s only dangerous enemy that enemy is recovering and learning.
The Yemeni government won the battle this morning but it is unclear whether they have the strength or leadership to win the war. Meanwhile the country sits at the thinnest part of the red sea and a serious disruption insecurity could cause difficulties in the transport of oil and other goods around the world.

Grip of tribalism on Yemeni society

People may continue to be proud of their tribal roots if they choose to, but they will gradually shed their blind loyalty
By Qais Ghanem, Special to Gulf News
April 3, 20
Let us start with the definition of “tribe”. This usually means a social group comprising numerous families, clans, or generations, together with dependents, or adopted and accepted strangers, often joining through marriage or as spoils of war. It is a precondition for members of a tribe to possess a strong feeling of identity and loyalty for a true tribal society to form. Tribal peoples saw only the members of their own tribe as worthy, and denigrated all others as something less.
Through my Ottawa radio show, Dialogue with Diversity, I learnt that the word “Inuit” for the indigenous inhabitants of the frozen northern parts of Canada simply meant “people”. But at school I had learnt that such people were called “Eskimos”, a word which is easily remembered. But then I learnt from my Inuit guests that the word actually meant “eaters of raw meat!” The term therefore represents the denigration and dehumanisation of another “tribe”, which once dehumanised could be exploited or harmed or even killed with impunity.
The concept goes back thousands of years, and has been documented in ancient Rome where political divisions of the Roman people represented three original distinct tribes. The hold of the tribe is extremely strong, which makes it very difficult to leave the tribe or to marry across the tribal boundaries, as Shakespeare depicted in the story of the ill-fated Romeo and Juliet, when they dared to love across the Montague-Capulet “tribal” divide.
Tribalism is used to preserve the characteristics and way of life of the tribe. At one point in time, it was the norm which protected human and material resources, such as water and pasture, thus maintaining society, including in the Arab world. Today, the term is chiefly derogatory, characterised by a tendency to form groups, or by strong and often blind group loyalty.
The tribal system has nothing to do with Islam; indeed, if anything, Islam tended to diminish tribalism by demanding a greater and more absolute loyalty to Allah and Islam itself. Thus, whereas Bani Umayyah, and Bani Quraish, the Prophet Mohammad’s(PBUH) own tribe, were Muslim, the Ghassanids were Christian and Bani Aws were Jewish.
Today in Yemen, both south and north, there are dozens of major tribes that wield a lot power and can muster quick support and ready loyalty of its members. To name a few, we have the well known names of Hashed and Bakeel in the north and the Awaleq and Maharah in the south. During socialist rule of the south, tribal labels were quite effectively discouraged, but the tendency seems to be returning since the unity of the two Yemens.
By contrast, in my own city of Aden, there was no tribe or talk of the tribe. Yes, I knew that my forefathers came to Aden from Hugariyyah, and before that from Makkah, but it was only a matter of curiosity, not loyalty. I did go to our very small village after the age of 50, and it was good to see our humble beginnings, but that was all. Will Yemeni society ever discard tribalism?
Modern democracies have managed to rid themselves of tribalism as a result of one or more factors. Amongst these is the emergence of a very strong and omnipotent leader or dictator, such as Benito Mussolini in Italy or Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia. Another is the occurrence of world war, where atrocities and catastrophes proved to be blind to tribal barriers. A third is the slow process of education, which, for example, narrowed the differences between Scottish clans, after they had come under central rule by the English Crown.
But the most important factor, in my opinion, is the establishment of citizen equality and the rule of law, whereby the citizen no longer needs his tribe to protect his rights, and literally fight the transgressor for those rights; because they would already be guaranteed to him by the constitution, which in turn is written and modified by parliament, which in turn is elected by the citizens — all citizens from all tribes and non-tribes.
Therefore, what Yemenis need to do over the next five years or so is to start by forming committees of learned legal experts and academics, who have had exposure to English law, French law, as well as Sharia law, and to copy some of the relevant and applicable work already done in other Arab and Muslim countries such as Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey.
At the same time, a one-man-one-vote genuine and internationally monitored democratic system should be fast tracked, in order to assure citizens that they have equal rights to influence government and the very members of parliament who are supposed to stand on guard for those rights.
Yemenis may continue to be proud of their tribal roots if they choose to, but they will gradually shed their blind loyalty to the Hashed, or Awaleq or Maharah tribes, just as the Scots shed it to the MacDonald, MacKenzie and MacTavish clans.
Dr Qais Ghanem is a retired neurologist, radio show host, poet and novelist. His two novels are Final Flight from Sana'a and Two Boys from Aden College. He lives in Canada.

Yemeni airstrikes kill 43 al-Qaida militants

April 3, 2012
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni officials say the latest government airstrikes in the country's south have killed 43 al-Qaida militants.
Military officials say government forces on Tuesday took control over a mountainous area of al-Rahha in the southern province of Lahj, after pounding al-Qaida hideouts there for the past three days. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The offensive followed a surprise attack by militants on a Yemeni army base in the area earlier in the weekend.
Al-Qaida-linked militants have taken advantage of a year of internal political turmoil to expand their gains in south Yemen.

Yemen militants claim second revenge pipeline bombing

Apr 03, 2012
Islamist militants have claimed responsibility for blowing up an oil pipeline in Yemen late on Monday, the second such attack in four days launched in revenge for a US drone strike that killed five suspected al Qaeda militants.
Monday's blast set fire to a pipeline that transports oil from the southern province of Shabwa to the Bir Ali terminal on the Gulf of Aden, an industry official said. Friday's explosion, which, shut the Yemen LNG terminal at the nearby Balhaf port, came hours after the missile strike on the militants' car.
Ansar al-Sharia, an armed group affiliated to Qaeda, said in a text message on Tuesday that the latest pipeline explosion was part of "a chain of attacks" planned in response to the US strike.
Yemen's oil and gas pipelines have been repeatedly sabotaged since anti-government protests last year created a power vacuum that militants have exploited. Al Qaeda has strengthened its hold on southern areas of the country after the uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Yemen is only a small crude oil producer but it has the capacity to supply up to 6.7 million tonne of LNG a year. Yemen LNG, one of the world's top 20 liquefied gas suppliers, shipped most of its production to Asia the latest available data shows, with the rest going to the Americas and Europe. The company delivers under long term contracts to GDF Suez, Total and Korea Gas Corp.
In the capital, Sanaa, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi on Tuesday met with a military committee tasked with restructuring the armed forces, which is riven with divisions between units controlled by Saleh's relatives, those of a rebel general, and tribal militias in the capital.
The committee has struggled to enforce the dismantling of checkpoints erected in Sanaa by renegade general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and pro-Saleh troops and open fighting broke out in the capital last year between armed factions.
"The committee still has certain tasks that it has to fulfill to achieve stability, open roads that are being closed and protect power plants and oil and gas pipelines," Hadi said on Tuesday, according to state news agency, Saba.
In a separate incident, security forces defused a bomb near a police station in Aden's Mansoura neighbourhood, a security official told Reuters, without giving further details.

4000 killed in Yemen over last two years

By Fatik al-Rodaini
SANA'A, April 3, 2012- Yemen's Interior Minister said that widespread access to weapons across the country led to the killing of more than 4000 people, including children and women, and the wounding of an estimated 27441 civilians  in 2010 and 2011.
The Interior's ministry's website reported that an urgent priority of the ministry was to prevent the carrying of weapons inside Yemen's provinces, limited the possibility of accidents. "Preventing the circulation of weapons inside Yemen's provinces is a national issue demanding unifying efforts in the exceptional stage of the country preventing Yemen from moving forward,'' the statement read.
The ministry called on citizens in the country to stop carrying weapons because he warned it was preventing the country from moving forward, perpetuating a state of insecurity which was hindering economic recovery and investors' confidence.
''Widespread weapons in the country as we have seen threaten security and stability in the society, and it would help in increasing the crimes within the country such as killing, kidnapping, looting, blocking roads, armed robbery, stealing, and revenge,'' it read.
''Holding and owning weapons have a negative impact on development, investment, and tourism,'' the statement stressed.
Widespread weapons in main cities in Yemen have increased after more than a year of protests.
The Yemeni government has taken significant positive steps - since 2007 in particular - to curtail weapons carrying in urban areas and reduce the domestic arms market but the same policy hindered in the last two years.
Social violence in the impoverished republic is exacerbated by the widespread ownership of weapons. The oft-cited statistic claiming that there are 60 million guns in Yemen has been repeatedly debunked, but this report’s more realistic estimate of 11 million weapons, in a country of 23 million, nevertheless represents one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world.
Two thousand Yemenis die every year in ethnic conflicts, according to government figures, and gun-related crime keeps growing.

More than a dozen militants killed in Yemen

April 3, 2012
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni officials say 14 al-Qaida-linked militants have been killed in government artillery shelling and air raids on their hideouts in the south.
The shelling near al-Rahha in the southern province of Lahj Monday left eight militants dead. It followed a surprise attack by militants on a Yemeni army base in the area this weekend.
A local Abyan province official said six militants, including a Somali, were killed in another raid on a hideout in Zinjibar late Sunday.
Al-Qaida-linked militants have taken advantage of a year of internal political turmoil to solidify their positions in south Yemen.
Also Monday, a security official said gunmen fired at the intelligence headquarters in Sanaa, wounding a guard.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.