Yemen: It Is How Business Is Done


January 14, 2011: Somali pirates are delaying essential imports. A current fuel shortage is blamed largely on oil tanker captains demanding an armed escort when in Yemeni waters. But the Yemen coast guard is spread thin, with many patrol boats not available because the coast guard rents them out to merchant ships willing to pay for an escort through the Gulf of Aden. The ships delivering oil, and humanitarian aid for the half million refugees in Yemen, will not, or cannot, pay the Yemen coast guard for an armed escort. The Yemeni government recently fired two senior officials because of a fuel shortage, and the UN is complaining loudly about problems with caring for all those refugees (two thirds of them Yemenis who fled the Shia rebellion in the north.)

Not all the northern Shia rebels are abiding by the peace deal. Despite, or perhaps because of, the release of 500 northern Shia rebels from prison earlier this month, the Shia tribesmen continue to steal and fight with pro-government tribes. All this is not really surprising, as the northern tribes have been breaking peace deals for a long time. The problem is that there is no overall leader of the northern rebels. There is sort of a "rebel council," that tries to represent many factions, and individuals, who do not always agree with deals the council has made.

In the south, the hunt is on for several dozen al Qaeda gunmen, who have been ambushing troops and trying to assassinate provincial and national officials, as well as military commanders. Some groups of separatist tribesmen are also shooting at the troops, and this has resulted in several small battles. The army eventually wins, because the troops have access to artillery (often just mortars) and warplanes. These are small operations, with, at most, a few dozen casualties.

The cause of much of the southern violence is kinsmen trying to get tribal separatists released from prison. Every time the government arrests a troublesome tribal separatist, all of the prisoner's kinsmen feel obliged to kidnap or attack government officials and soldiers in an attempt to get their man released. It is how business is done in Yemen. Keeping the peace is always a work in progress, as there is little trust outside the tribe. The national government is seen as a foreign entity by many tribesmen, and government officials as corrupt individuals out to screw honorable country boys. Like Afghanistan, Somalia and many other nations, the concept of national unity and compromise is not widely accepted. That makes these places difficult to govern, even for honest and well-meaning officials. Foreigners often have a hard time accepting the fact that people could be so self-destructive, but there are many ancient practices that die hard and interfere with government larger than a tribal council.

The government has more control in the cities, but not so much that they can prevent al Qaeda from operating. Several million dollars a week from the United States motivates the government to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, but this has stirred up the southern tribes, and the U.S. cash may not be enough to keep al Qaeda on the run. This is what al Qaeda is betting on, that eventually the government will get too many southern tribesmen angry, and be forced to pull back the troops. This would still mean heavy security in the larger cities and airports. That makes it harder for al Qaeda to carry out terrorist attacks beyond Yemen, but not impossible.

January 10, 2011: Saudi Arabia issued international arrest warrants for 47 Saudi citizens believed involved with al Qaeda and currently hiding in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Some of the 47 have been on wanted lists before, but many became known after interrogating the 149 Islamic terrorists Saudi police arrested two months ago. Since 2003, the Saudis have tried and convicted 765 people, mostly Saudi citizens, on terrorism charges.

January 7, 2011: In the south, about a dozen al Qaeda gunmen ambushed a convoy of water tankers, killing ten soldiers.


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