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The Chicken and the Egg in Yemen - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It was once said, “Sanaa must be seen, even if the journey is very long.” Whatever the reasons were in the past for this quote, it is also applicable to the current situation in Yemen. Many of the problems from which Yemen is suffering, which are causing regional and international headaches, lie in Sanaa and the policies that are being made there.

It is clear nowadays that Yemen is one of the new but old hotspots in the region with its political, economic and security problems. It is new in the sense that there is the Al Qaeda threat as this organization tries to create an alternative base to Afghanistan and Iraq after it was besieged in those two countries. Other problems include the Houthi rebellion in the north and the tension in the south where there is a current that calls for secession and for a return to the days of the Cold War during which there were two separate states, North and South Yemen. On the other hand, it has old problems because political stability in its comprehensive strategic sense has not been based on its real meaning over the past four decades not even in the South and North states at the time. There were battles that were very bloody for example in the South when Ali Nasser Muhammad was overthrown or in the numerous struggles in the North that reached a climax in the civil war in 1994. But as usual nobody cares until the problem affects the rest of the world.

In London, a discussion on Yemen and the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] member states was held in a closed session. It was organized by Al Majalla magazine in collaboration with the Institute of Strategic Studies in London. In the discussion, there seemed to be a somewhat mutual agreement between analysts and observers concerned with Yemeni affairs that the root cause of the problem in Yemen is economic. This is represented in the low standard of living, high levels of poverty and unemployment rates and a weak infrastructure. These factors create an ideal environment for instability, extremism, and local tribal and regional battles over limited resources.

If there is no dispute that the long-term solution lies in the economy then the dilemma lies in the fact that the economy is also linked to politics. There can be no development or investment without political stability and without a strong state that can reassure investors and businessmen. The highest degree of transparency of government performance whether on the level of implementation or the economic way of thinking, is also required. The issue is a bit like the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? In other words does reform begin with politics or the economy? This is the main point of contention among the opposition.

In difficult cases or in states that are facing exceptional circumstances, creative ideas and solutions are required. In Yemen’s case, there is a need for a blend of politics and economics; politics is needed to calm the situation in the south and to meet the requirements or handle the grievances so that those who call for secession can be deprived of their pretexts and in the north, a permanent solution is needed to prevent another insurgency similar to the one that emerged in recent years.

With regards to the economy, this is more difficult because the results do not materialize overnight; it requires patience and there is a need for thinking beyond merely sending labourers abroad. Also the country’s relatively advantageous characteristics should be used to maximize its economy whether in tourism or by making the most of its long coasts and strategic sites by establishing free trade zones and ports linked to the wider world. The international community needs to be more generous with regards to its aid and needs to be more persistent towards getting the Yemeni government to present a clear and transparent program of its targets, policies and implementation; this is what is happening all over the world.

Discussing matters and providing analyses might be easy whilst the reality is difficult and full of complexities but is there a choice? People should ask themselves: will the region and the world be able to bear another failed state like Somalia?

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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