Yemen: the way forward?

Mark N. Katz

I was in the audience for the address given by Yemeni President Abd Rabuh Mansour Hadi at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, on Sep. 28th He emphasized how Yemen is working with the U.S. and others to combat Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other Islamic terrorists, Yemen is implementing the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-sponsored agreement (which Washington supports) for a democratic transition in Yemen, and his new administration (in office just since February 27, 2012) is working to establish peace and security among Yemen’s many disparate groups.  As he did in his speech to the UN General Assembly, President Hadi criticized the Assad regime in Syria.  He also accused Iran of interfering in Yemen’s internal affairs, noting that the Yemeni government had rounded up five Iranian spy rings and was in the process of rounding up a sixth.

After the address, he took four questions from the audience before calling an end to the session.  In answer to three of them—one on why he didn’t put former President Saleh on trial, another on why he had appointed so many members of Islah (an Islamist party) to office, and a third on what he was doing to ensure the progress of Yemeni women—he indicated that he was acting (or not acting) in accord with the provisions of the GCC-sponsored democratic transition agreement.  When asked about the efficacy of the U.S. drone missile attacks on terrorist targets in Yemen, however, the President offered a spirited defense of them.

The U.S. Government was undoubtedly well pleased with everything President Hadi had to say.  Indeed, his address appeared especially designed to please the U.S. Government.  Still, though, it seems doubtful that Yemen will become completely democratic under the plan sponsored by the GCC since none of its member governments (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman) is democratic or even aspires to be.  Further, blaming Iran for Yemen’s problems risks drawing attention away from—and not addressing—their primary causes:  Yemen’s deep-seated poverty and internal divisions.  Tehran certainly did not create these.

Compared to the problems currently being experienced by Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria, the political transition in Yemen appears to have gone rather well so far.  But things have a way of going badly in Yemen.  Concerted efforts on the part of the new Yemeni government, Yemen’s GCC neighbors, and the West will be needed to make sure that they do not.

A frequent contributor to Addis Standard, Mark N. Katz is Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University, and is the author of Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).


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