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Failing state

Failing state

Yemen’s many problems could soon render the country ungovernable, enabling the lawlessness in the Horn of Africa to leap across the Gulf of Aden, says Trends magazine.


March 11, 2010 10:13 by

Emerging from the London Yemen conference in late January, international leaders walked straight into a flood of questions. Will they repeat recent history and blunder – guns first – into the country’s labyrinthine, mountainous regions in another doomed attempt to root out terrorist cells?

Or do they plan to just throw some money at the problem and leave the Yemeni government to distribute it in the same questionable manner that has exacerbated tensions so far?

The Arab press in particular, though relieved to hear leaders discuss the need to tackle the “root causes” of Yemen’s problems, rather than intervene militarily, question whether the international community has committed itself to any concrete support for the “failing state.”

“Yemen does not only need money from foreign countries,” Saudi-based newspaper Al Watan said. “It also needs programs drawn up to help Yemenis and to transform them from tribal communities to a productive society capable of coping with modern times.”

The London-based newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat endorsed proposals to steer clear of direct military intervention but argued that aid must not be limited to financial handouts, stating that the international community “should put pressure on the [Yemeni] government to be more democratic and less corrupt. Only by doing this can they attract the support of the Yemeni people.”

The Yemeni people’s lack of faith in their “corrupt” government is one of numerous root causes highlighted by speakers at the London Summit. Over the past 32 years President Ali Abdullah Saleh has governed via an extended patronage system in which incentives are doled out to manipulate opponents and elevate family members.

Saleh’s skillful juggling of the country’s many competing factions has turned Yemeni politics into a puppet show of inconsistent policies and ever-shifting allegiances. In doing so he has managed to keep power in the hands of the presidency, allowing little opportunity for the development of party politics or a legitimate opposition.

“The parties have no roots among the people,” the executive director of the Sana’a-based Political Development Forum, Ali Saif Hassan, told The National. “They operate more like lobbyists, asking for government favors … but in the process they are killing themselves because they lack loyalty.”

Simple message. Disillusionment with the government has worsened the regional divisions that plague Yemen. With no effective opposition to turn to, Yemenis are increasingly drawn to powerful rebel organizations in the north, south, and east of the country.

“The most popular movements in Yemen have become the Al-Houthis, the secessionists in the south, Al-Qaeda – because they are addressing the people; they live among them, and they have a simple message,” Hassan said.

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