Yemen has never been a concern to the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and has never represented a threat to them. However, the presence of a very poor country which controls the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, and which has a dense population that shares the peninsula, which—apart from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—is comprised of sparsely populated small countries with huge wealth, is a conundrum which needs to be solved.
The major states scrambled their naval forces to the Somali coast, Bab-el-Mandeb and the Arab Sea, when pirates threatened the security of maritime trade, because regional security was part of global security, and one of its main elements was to ensure there were no more failed states, as was the case in Somalia.
On the other hand, many politicians have linked the stability of the GCC states to the stability and prosperity of Yemen, which has one of the poorest economies in the world. This is not only because of the length of the borders, which it shares with Saudi Arabia and Oman, and Yemen’s geographic position, which overlooks Bab-el-Mandeb and the coastal area opposite Somalia. This is also because of Yemen’s vast territory and deserts which have become military bases for terrorist groups that spread terrorism to these countries.
The GCC succeeded in defusing the crisis in Yemen, and the Gulf Initiative removed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh from power in favor of his deputy, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, which led to political dialogue to achieve conciliation. The weakness of the Yemeni Central Government, however, allowed Al-Qaeda to grow in Yemen’s cities and vast deserts. The GCC states became involved, not only in trying to resolve the problems caused by the Arab Spring, but also the rehabilitation of Yemen, politically and economically, to turn it into a country which would be able to rely on itself and its own resources, and achieve sustainable development.
What is regretful though is that the recent Yemeni political effort failed to reassure the Gulf States and persuade them to return to the discussions on Yemen’s accession to the GCC, which remains Yemen’s dream, a dream which includes Yemen being able to meet most shortages in these countries, especially in the labor market.
The GCC, with the consensus of all six member states, took many steps before 2011, preparing Yemen to join the GCC, and welcomed it not only onto the sports committee, but also onto many other Council committees. Since the establishment of the GCC, Yemenis have felt that they were part of it, and that they were part of the system in the Arabian Peninsula, and that it was implausible that they should be excluded, for whatever reason.
Before the Arab Spring, GCC states started to rehabilitate the Yemeni economy and integrate it into the economies of the GCC states, as part of efforts to expedite the steps for Yemen’s accession to the GCC. Economists estimated the cost of GCC projects aiming at closing the economic gap between the two sides through continuous investment, at between 40 billion and 50 billion US dollars. These investments stopped after the start of the Arab Spring.
The railway project was one of the successful ones linking the Yemeni economy to the GCC economy, creating many jobs and contracts, while transporting natural resources and agricultural goods to the GCC.
It is necessary to consider the Yemeni problem as a Gulf problem and to continue investing in Yemen in many fields¬—education, economy and oil. The concerns of Yemen are plentiful; in addition to the lack of security, which has become an urgent matter that is linked to the economic situation, there is poverty and illiteracy, which exacerbate the problem. The lack of resources has contributed to the rise in unemployment, and poor governance has led to widespread corruption, especially after the discovery of oil, which could have raised the individual income in Yemen slightly.
This country has not seen real stability, except for a limited period during the rule of Ibrahim Al-Hamdi in the mid-1970s. He became the victim of a coup, after he refused to allow tribal leaders to control the political decision. Hamdi instead gave the army a strong role which subsequently allowed Saleh to rule Yemen for 33 years.
However, Yemen did not benefit much from this unity, or from stability, or from control by the “organized state” in the south of Yemen—the result of the continuation of the establishment of the modern state in Yemen during the British colonial rule of Aden. It also did not benefit from the openness and liberty gained from the Yemeni social revolution, which made it a safe haven for Al-Qaeda.
GCC states cannot become completely stable without Yemen being stable, without improving its living standards and its economy in a way that ensures an end to the flow of Yemeni labor outside the country. Yemen must also protect its borders from African migration inwards, especially from tension-ridden Somalia.
This view has not escaped Yemen’s elite. Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi said at the recent Manama Dialogue: “Yemen has survived falling into a terrible political crisis which could have led to civil war.” He added: “Yemen is currently being threatened by attempts from some powers to hamper its transitional phase to protect their own interests, but the Yemeni people will not allow that, and despite the difficulties that face Yemen, it remains an important part of the region, through its geographical position which overlooks international waterways, and as the southern fence of the Arabian Peninsula. There are great efforts to stop the movement of labor—especially Yemenis who are looking for a living wage—to the GCC states, while terrorists move easily, especially into Yemen, in addition to the fact that Yemen suffers from the presence of around one million African migrants on its territory, and members of Al-Qaeda, all of which needs international effort.”
The counterpoint to this piece can be read here.