Yemen: The Price


January 5, 2011:  Al Qaeda in Yemen is in trouble. For the last few weeks, the terrorists have been quiet. Their most notable act lately has been a press release claiming 36 attacks (bombings, murders, kidnappings) in the last six months. Al Qaeda has been under heavy attack in Yemen for the last few months. Reinforcements from Saudi Arabia have been sparse, because of a major roundup of Islamic radicals up there. The tribes in the south, which had hosted al Qaeda members, have been bought off by the government. While the tribes have not handed over their al Qaeda guests, they have told the terrorists or cool it, or move on. The alternative is death, or being handed over to the government.

Somali pirates have devastated the Yemeni fishing community, by stealing boats that go too far from the coast, and forcing the fishing boat crews to work for the pirate gangs, or simply killing the fishermen and keeping the boats, which are more suitable for trips far out to sea. In the last seven years, the catch has declined over 70 percent and many of the 20,000 fishermen are destitute, or just scraping by. The Yemeni Coast Guard has not been much help, as Coast Guard patrol boats make lots of money hiring themselves out to escort merchant ships through pirate infested waters.

Increased anti-terrorist activity has had some interesting side effects. The big one is the large amount of drug smugglers arrested, and the revelation that drug smuggling north, to the oil-rich Gulf states, has increased more than the government realized. The drug smugglers had developed arrangements to bribe the usual security forces they encountered on their way north. But the government has deployed a lot of new troops to man roadblocks and border posts. The drug smuggling gangs are scrambling to make arrangements to pay off the new security forces, so the hashish and pills can keep moving to anxious customers up north.

Efforts to provide educational, economic or humanitarian services via NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations, like Red Cross and many Moslem charities) have been crippled by the pervasive corruption in Yemen. Many NGOs have simply shut down and left the country. But many others try to pay off the government and tribal officials, and still spend something on good works. Sometimes this is impossible, as many local officials and tribal groups see the NGOs as a source of income, not services that help the country as a whole.

January 1, 2011:  Parliament approved changes in the constitution that would abolish term limits for the president, and allow the current president (Ali Abdullah Saleh) to rule for life, if he can get the voters, one way or another, to regularly reelect him.  Saleh hopes to use foreign aid and oil income to keep himself in power.

December 30, 2010: The government ordered about 500 prisoners, most of them Shia rebels from the north, released. This is part of a peace deal with the rebel tribes. Also to be released are separatists from the south, as part of a settlement with southern tribes. Neighboring Qatar helped broker these peace negotiations, which include rebels returning stolen weapons and equipment, and releasing kidnapped soldiers and police.

December 26, 2010: In response to American pressure (and promises of a lot more money), the government has set up new anti-terrorist units in the south. These organizations will be recruited and trained with the help of American advisors. Some of the new troops will be assigned to provinces (Hadramout, Abyan, Shabwa and Marib) while the most effective troops will operate throughout the south.




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