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Fueling Yemen’s Black Market | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Yemenis queue to fill their jerrycans with gasoline at a gas station in Sana’a, Yemen, on May 13, 2014. (Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Yemenis queue to fill their jerrycans with gasoline at a gas station in Sana’a, Yemen, on May 13, 2014. (Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Yemenis queue to fill their jerrycans with gasoline at a gas station in Sana’a, Yemen, on May 13, 2014. (Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Yemen’s fuel crisis began in 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring, a time when political activists backed by Yemen’s opposition called for the immediate resignation of then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Back then, Yemen’s fuel crisis was seen as a byproduct of the uprising, an ailment brought upon the impoverished nation by the unravelling of former President Saleh’s security apparatus. While Yemenis often accused the former regime of engineering the country’s fuel shortages in order to discredit the coalition government and justify clinging to power, today’s officials have been rather keen on deflecting blame by pinning all of Yemen’s ailments onto the economic crisis and widespread insecurity.

Regardless of how the crisis came to be, or why it has been prolonged, Yemenis across the board—save a privileged few—are held hostage to the state’s inability to meet the nation’s most basic energy needs.

Since the beginning of May, the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, has ground to a halt. Cars have been abandoned on the side of the road, empty, immobile carcasses in a city which once rung with the sounds of car horns. Queues at stations throughout the capital snake through adjacent streets, and drivers can be seen dozing in their vehicles, waiting for tankers to bring their precious supply.

The humming of generators has also quieted down. Residents and shopkeepers are saving whatever fuel they have left for emergencies, only too aware that this new fuel shortage could be symptomatic of further supply disruptions in a country where “no more” and “not working” seem to be the order of the day.

No fuel, no electricity, dwindling water resources: Yemen now appears to be not only lagging behind, but running out of the necessities altogether. As the heat of summer begins to rise, Sana’a is a capital interrupted. But, as often happens in a crisis, one man’s hardship is another’s opportunity.

While residents lament never-ending queues at their local gas stations, black market dealers have never been busier, or their trade more lucrative. Three years into its transition of power and Yemen—the most populous and impoverished nation in the Arabian Peninsula—has seen the rise of a shadowy, parallel market as gaps continue to widen within society.

Residents in Sana’a say that prices fluctuate wildly from one trader to another, between 6,000 Yemeni rials (27 US dollars) to 8,000 rials (37 dollars) for 20 liters of gasoline, several times the original government-set price.

“People have no choice . . . There is no gas. We have to rely on the black market if we want to continue using our cars and supply our generators,” says Ali Mohsen Al-Ansi, a teacher and part-time taxi driver in Sana’a.

Ansi explained that while today’s situation is not as bad as it was back in 2011, he warned that Yemen is approaching breaking point. “This is not sustainable anymore. We have spent the past three years dealing with one crisis after the other. The black market can’t be the solution, especially when we all know where such supplies come from,” he said.

If Yemen is indeed grappling with a fuel shortfall, where is the black market getting its stock from? So far, for the most part it seems to be the military. While civilians might have been cut off from regular supplies, the military and security services have maintained access to large reserves of fuel—both diesel and gasoline. It is those reserves that black market dealers have managed to gain access to, either because they have partnered with officials, or simply because they themselves are officials in high enough positions of power to enforce silence around their activities.

But that is not all. One retired police officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, says that gas station owners were hoarding fuel, hiding supplies from the government to keep their alternative market going when pumps “officially” dry up. “The method is not new,” he told The Majalla. “Back in 2011 and 2012 police shut down several gas stations after it was established that owners were playing the fuel shortage to their advantage, driving prices ever higher to make a quick profit.”

As yet another crisis unfolds in Yemen, more and more people are saying that they have reached the end of their tether: tired of the lies, tired of the manipulation, and most of all tired of their officials.

All views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Majalla or Asharq Al-Awsat.