I spent a few days in Sanna, Yemen, listening to various opinions on the present and future of Yemen, the Arab country bordering two important Gulf nations and the Arabian peninsula’s gate to Africa. Yemen currently suffers from a host of problems, some new, others old. A number of issues are openly discussed in Qat gatherings and in the international and regional conferences frequently held at Yemeni hotels.
Amongst the challenges Yemen faces is the age-old conflict between the central authority of the state and the tribal influence. Every weakness shown by the former in the capital is met with the empowerment of tribal, sectarian and regional disputes.
The country’s resources are limited but there are accusations from international organizations and allied countries that the administration is also weak. By that, I mean the administration of funds, otherwise known as corruption.
Political polarization and an unprecedented tension between political parties drove contradictory groups to unite and form an unlikely coalition consisting of the most liberal, the Socialist Party, and the most fundamentalist, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, along with a number of nationalist and leftist parties.
Yemen faces a stifling economic crisis and a high unemployment rate, in addition to a lack of investment in the infrastructure, especially transport, with the education and health sectors also in crisis. Sanaa and other cities are in the throes of a crippling water shortage. The cultivation of Qat is also problematic since it uses the most fertile land.
On the other hand, the relative openness in Yemen cannot be ignored.
The press is vocal and political parties are allowed, with the government frequently and openly criticized. Calls for reforms of politics, the economy and the status of women can also be heard loudly. While not ideal, the overall situation is not dire.