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Sanaa is Unavoidable - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It is not odd that the British Prime Minister has called for an international meeting to be held in London to support Yemen and to strengthen the Yemeni state against rebel factions. What’s really odd is that this call was made so late.

Despite the value of Yemen and its water passages in the Arabian Peninsula, it has been ignored [by all] except by its neighbour Saudi Arabia, a country that still has an influence on Yemen due to the complex, deep and diverse relations between the two countries.

Yemen has now become so important to the world owing to the resumption of Al Qaeda’s activities, and especially after it became evident that one of the leading Sheikh’s in recruiting [youngsters], Anwar al Awlaqi, was present in Yemen. He instructed an Arab-American to open fire on his comrades at a US military base. The other case [linked to al Awlaqi] is the Nigerian student who fastened a bomb to his trousers in Yemen following the example of a Saudi youth a few months ago when he attempted to kill Prince Mohammed Bin Naif, who heads the war on terrorism in Saudi Arabia.

Matters should not have reached this stage because the signs and the smoke have been apparent in Yemen for years; but these signs were not taken seriously. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper and easier to prevent the threat rather than treat the threat itself after it has been aggravated and has spread everywhere and in all directions?

Yemen, of course, welcomed the call made by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the London conference is scheduled for later this month. The US will throw its weight around at the conference and Saudi Arabia, via its foreign minister, will fully support this. Prince Saud al Faisal clearly said during a recent press conference held with his Turkish counterpart that “the Kingdom has been calling on the Gulf Cooperation Council to take a decisive stand with regards to developing Yemen and raising its standard of living up to those levels of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. Within this framework, the Kingdom has a huge program in place. And this issue is among the reasons that pain us when we see fighting in Yemen and that there is no peaceful coexistence.”

The most important point Prince Saud al Faisal touched upon was the point about raising the standard of living in Yemen to a level that is equal to the standard of living in other states in the Arabian Peninsula, the Gulf states in particular, because no country in the Arabian Peninsula is outside of GCC. Iraq, if we consider it part of the Arabian Peninsula, is a special case. Had it not been for the internal wars, Iraq would not have been a poor or a destitute country; in fact its misery might have been caused by its wealth and treasures, and the case of Kirkuk is a perfect example of this.

Yemen’s population stands at 22 million, a large number of which is made up of youth. Yemen is a country of diverse culture and landscape, rugged mountains, wide valleys, green pastures, deserts expanding from the Rub al Khali [the Empty Quarter], and with mountains and the sea. It overlooks Africa, Asia and India, and has ancient Arab features that have been well engraved in Arab sentiment since the legend of the fall of the Marib dam.

Just imagine if Yemen had enjoyed ongoing development and the youth would compete for opportunities, science, education and skills. Imagine how influential the famous Aden port would have been, and how an agricultural revolution would have been launched on the mountains and valleys of Taiz and Ibb. Imagine how Tihama could have transformed into a network for marine and agricultural trade, and Sanaa could have become a centre for education, culture and politics, and Aden a centre for financial services and a hub for international trade. Just imagine tourism in Yemen being a major source of development, culture and openness.

There were some reservations amongst the Gulf States about Yemen joining the GCC owing to the differing potentials, economic and even political situation, considering that Yemen is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula that is not headed by a King or Sheikh. However, this last point does not have much significance today after it became clear that the phrase ‘Arab Republic’ is only figurative speech and does not necessarily reflect the truth of the matter.

Other Gulf States argued for accelerating Yemen’s membership to the GCC, or at least for helping Yemen prepare for this by pumping aid into Yemen and helping it stand on its own feet, as expressed by Prince Saud al Faisal.

Yemen is currently experiencing three major threats: southern separatism, the Huthi rebellion and the terrorism of Al Qaeda. The international community reacted constructively only to the threat of Al Qaeda whereas Saudi Arabia is the one that has been harmed the most by the Huthi and Al Qaeda threats. As for separatism and the southern movement, the international and regional countries were content with calling for dialogue and defending unity, though these threats are linked to each other.

Many people, including myself, wrote in the past about the possibility of bridging the gap between Al Qaeda and the southern movements (the Arab Sunnis) who are currently being led by former Al Qaeda recruit Tariq al Fadli. He was also a leading figure of the ruling General People’s Congress, the assistance of which, along with the assistance of other Jihadi Salafists and Osama Bin Laden, was much sought after during the war for unity against the Socialists back in 1994. It was not very long until President Ali Abdullah Saleh took a dose of his own medicine after his old war mates turned their Jihadist guns away from Aden towards Sanaa. This is a repeated lesson to all politicians, not only Arabs, who are always duped into thinking that they can use fundamentalists temporarily in their own wars against their opponents.

The truth is that the crises in Yemen are inseparable. It is wrong to separate the Huthis from both the Al Qaeda and southern crises due to the fact that they are all indicators of a socio-political crisis in Yemen, as well as of a development crisis and feelings of discrimination, grievances, and sectarianism, all of which prompted the Huthis and the southern separatists.

There is also the fear that the London Conference will turn into a [conference to pledge] support for security and intelligence or economic aid in the form of instant donations to burgeon and strengthen the Sanaa government without having to adopt a political, economic, cultural “Marshall plan” for Yemen, on the condition that the potential for success is available. Towards this end, the Yemeni government should show flexibility and abandon some gains in favour of the whole of Yemen, thus withdrawing the components of the continuance and influence of the Huthis and the southern separatists. If this is achieved, they would be left alone and will find no masses to address as these masses would be [preoccupied with being] involved in development and will be busy with the search for a better future and opportunities.

Helping Yemen should take place by giving the Yemenis hope for a better life rather than turning the country into a graveyard of dreams. It is true that this is the responsibility of Yemenis themselves, but in such an interconnected and globalized world you cannot turn a blind eye to a fire in your neighbour’s house, even if that neighbour is a distant one. Security has become an issue of joint international concern, especially as the Al Qaeda organization is globalized by its very nature. The attempted operation by the Nigerian student was nothing more than an example of the globalization of Al Qaeda.

Even if London’s calls to assist Yemen are met, the issue should not be limited to security and economic programs. We know that Yemen received help from the CIA, and its jets hunted Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen’s valleys. Moreover, Gulf States and others helped Yemen with some of its development projects.

Furthermore, what is really required is a strategic program to help Yemen move from state to state. The most important element of this program should be an educational and cultural revolution in Yemen. This could be the hardest [task] of all, as security and financial aid would be of no benefit if they are only temporary.

Minds do not change themselves; this applies to Yemen and other countries in the Islamic world. No matter how long and hard the journey might be Sanaa is unavoidable.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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