There can be no doubt that the deteriorating situation in Yemen occupies a prominent place in the thinking of the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but each state has its own priorities and considerations to take into account according to the geopolitical situation and prevailing political mood. This is because Yemen, which had been ruled by a dictatorial system for 30 years, is failing to meet the hopes and aspirations of its people, while it is also confronting clear challenges that will, no doubt, seep into these neighboring countries.
There have been previous crises in relations between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in the past, not least over the repercussions of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990.
Then there is the issue of African immigrants illegally entering Saudi territory via Yemen, whose borders are unsecured. Saudi Arabia and Yemen share a 2,000 kilometer border, and Yemen’s unsecured borders represent a security breach for Riyadh. In a similar vein, Yemen is also the home of one of the largest Al-Qaeda groups in the world, and Al-Qaeda operations have been launched from there to affect several areas in Saudi Arabia.
Of course, there is not an absence of GCC consensus on the Yemeni issue, which seems to be more pronounced in the eyes of the Gulf compared to Syria or Egypt, for example. In fact the Gulf Initiative to remove former president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power is evidence of this GCC consensus on Yemen. However it is important here not to talk about “victories” that may not have served all Yemenis.
One issue remains for Yemenis and that is how to determine their country’s future, which remains vague and uncertain. This is particularly the case in light of the faltering National Dialogue Conference, and a recent statement by Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi that his government will not accept “bargaining over the Southern Issue.” This comes after some Southern parties took the decision to withdraw from the National Dialogue over differences of opinion regarding the prospective number of regions in Yemen, with northern parties wanting the country to split into five regions, and southern parties wanting just two—the north and the south.
Hadi accused those who supported division of acting out of self-interest and against the country’s national interest. He said: “Those seeking division … are seeking only an illusionary mirage and self-interest, not public or national interests.” In this manner, the president appeared to disregard the feelings of the southerners who believed that unification robbed them of their fortunes and future. Despite this, I believe that Yemen—under its present intractable circumstances—requires a ‘democratic dictatorship’ to hold the reins of power in Yemen and steer the country out of the current crises it is facing. According to the famous Gulf Arab proverb: “Wherever it is struck, there is pain” (akin to ‘no gain without pain’).
Southern Yemenis view Yemeni unity as something imposed on them by the north, with the help of regional support. They view this as a form of terrorism against the south. This explains the southern ambivalence at the Yemeni National Dialogue which has failed to secure any major successes until now, more than nine months since its launch on 19 March. The National Dialogue has turned its attention to the issue of the federal state, studying whether Yemen should be split into two regions according to the wishes of the southerners, or five regions, as the northerners—and the government—prefer.
The National Dialogue’s 8+8 sub-committee has investigated this; however it has been troubled by a lack of sufficient time and divisive opinions regarding how Yemen’s regions should be divided, not to mention the aftermath of the confused political legacy left by Saleh. Other issues have also contributed to the stalling of Yemen’s National Dialogue, including a lack of agreement among the Yemeni people over the issue of the system of government and the just distribution of wealth among Yemen’s local and national regions. In addition to this, some Yemenis at the Dialogue have even called for investigations to be launched into the issue of southerners who were forced out of work or otherwise affected by the first revolution in the early 1970s and the issue of compensation.
In my view, these divisions have only served to further exacerbate Yemen’s deteriorating national economy. In fact, Yemen was ranked 167 out of 177 states in this year’s Corruption Perception Index, in addition to being ranked sixth in the Failed State Index for 2013. This comes despite the huge amount of developmental aid that has been given to Yemen, which reports estimate as being approximately 2.7 billion US dollars in the period between 2002 and 2009. Indeed, in 2009 alone, Yemen received 500 million US dollars in financial assistance. At the Riyadh Conference in 2010, Saudi Arabia alone pledged one billion US dollars to Yemen, while the GCC allocated a total of 3.2 billion US dollars to the country.
In light of the erosion of the state, rampant corruption, the turbulent political situation, and the search for quick solutions based on unclear strategies, there is only so much such funds can accomplish. This is something that was confirmed by Ali Ahmed Ghazan in his report The Obstacles for Economic Development in the Republic of Yemen. In addition to all this, Yemen is also facing conflicts with the Houthis and Al-Qaeda, crises with the tribes and the Southern Movement, and intensifying terrorist attacks targeting the army and security apparatus, not to mention innocent civilians. On top of this is the issue of illegal immigration from Africa, and unemployment. All of this means that hopes of Yemeni national development are receding day by day and falling further into despair. As if this wasn’t enough, there is also Gulf apprehension regarding the impact of Yemeni labor in the GCC states, particularly in light of the growing waves of terrorism and the emergence of terrorist organizations in Yemen.
Therefore Yemen requires a miracle to get it out of its current circumstances and resolve its dangerous crises, while also not forgetting GCC concerns about Iran’s role in this country.
The counterpoint to this piece can be read here.