Posted by: sean | January 8, 2010

The GCC and Yemen

I’ve just come across this good piece on Yemen by Bernard Haykel, who seems to be at Princeton now in addition to NYU. In it, he warns against overt American military aid and argues for a more regional approach that includes the Gulf  states.

His point about Saleh using US financial and military aid is somewhat in line with my previous post:

Saleh is now trumpeting the presence of al Qa’eda to garner financial and military support from the West, but the funds and arms now being sent from Washington may be deployed against more threatening enemies, like the Houthis, or used to maintain the patronage networks that keep Saleh in power.

…in the aftermath of the Detroit incident Washington is abuzz with calls for increased funding and more direct military involvement. But this would be a grave mistake, and not only because armed intervention on behalf of the Yemeni government would appear to confirm al Qa’eda’s chosen narrative, in which the US is a vile anti-Muslim power that seeks to strengthen and maintain corrupt and illegitimate regimes at all costs, including the death of countless innocent civilians, while denying Muslims freedom and just governance.

And his point about a regionally brokered solution seems logical to me:

The United States and its western allies cannot defeat al Qa’eda in Yemen with military force; only Muslims, and their states, can win this war.

Indeed, it is for Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states that Yemen poses the most serious problem: a failed Yemen, with an active al Qa’eda presence and a radicalised and impoverished population is first and foremost a threat to its neighbours. An opportunity now exists for GCC states to take the lead in addressing the problems in Yemen, beginning with a major mediation effort to end military hostilities between the Houthis and the Yemeni army as well as the Houthis and Saudi forces. This should not be difficult to achieve: Qatar has already brokered an agreement in 2008 guaranteeing the Zaydis greater cultural and religious rights – which is all they seek – though Saleh has evaded and delayed its implementation.

The GCC, unlike the West, has the relationships and resources required to play a constructive role in Yemen, and the country’s neighbours, which have a serious long-term interest in solving Yemen’s problems, are not afflicted by the blinkered obsession with al Qa’eda that confines the American perspective.

The GCC states could be similarly engaged with the secessionist forces in the South, mediating in co-ordination with the existing Yemeni opposition parties and Saleh’s government. Ending these two sources of domestic tension will bring the much-needed stability that is required to deal effectively with al Qa’eda, and it may well have the ancillary benefit of reforming the regime’s broken political machine at the same time. It must be remembered that one of the main reasons for Al-Qaeda’s renewed strength in Yemen is that the movement was defeated in Saudi Arabia, through the use of a clever combination of intelligence, security and propaganda tactics. The same can be undertaken in Yemen, to similar effect. But it will require a radical shift in strategic thinking in the Gulf – and especially in Saudi Arabia – predicated on the realisation that Yemen’s woes and a weak Yemeni state pose a severe threat to the regional order. Defeating al Qa’eda may be the West’s priority, but it is the GCC alone that can help put Yemen on the path to stability and prosperity – and only this, in the end, will deprive al Qa’eda of its firm footing on the Arabian Peninsula.

The only problem I can think of about this point is Saudi Arabia’s  checkered past when it comes to intervening in Yemen and tolerating Al-Qaida, the first having the potential to be as ham-fisted as American intervention in the region, and the second being problematic in the long run for stability in the region and American security.To hope for a wiser response from the Saudis is probably wishful thinking.

As for the  Emirates, I can’t really see them playing much of a role besides possibly pledging money. This leaves the Qataris as effective mediators, since they’re seen (with reason) as a much more neutral party than Riyadh and have been getting more and more involved in regional diplomacy, from Lebanon to Darfur, albeit with varying success. If Doha can get Riyadh to lay off a bit so it can try to come up with a solution that brings all of Yemen’s actors (Houthis, eastern tribes, southerners and the regime) to the negotiating table, Yemen might not self-destruct.

More likely, though, Saleh will be unwilling to make real democratic reforms, and he will solicit more money and guns from Washington, London and Riyadh to combat AQAP. And he’ll make some raids and kill some members of AQAP, leaving the rest of the guns and money to deal with rivals in the north, and perhaps even more importantly, the south.

Obama would do well to try to avoid this scenario by braving the inevitable criticism from Republicans who think the solution to everything in the region is in the form of cruise missiles and special forces and holding out for a smarter, more regional approach that is more likely to actually help solve the problem instead of just pouring more fuel on the fire.



  1. […] over at the Human Province has done produced some great posts on Yemen lately (see here and here). He created a list of fantastic articles on Yemen ; I particularly recommend the articles […]

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