The Economist on Yemen

The Economist is the latest publication to raise serious questions about the future of Yemen. 

It says (rightly, I think) that much of the reason for the Houthi rebels' success lies with the Yemeni army: "Its aerial bombing and artillery fire have proved better at enraging locals than at subduing bands of guerrillas; and its induction of tribal allies has pushed their traditional rivals into the Houthis’ arms."

It ends by saying: "Mr Salih [the president] can still plausibly pose as the only man stopping the country from becoming the world’s next failed state." I'm sure that's how he would like people to view him, but I'd take issue with the word "plausibly".

There are many factors in play but one could plausibly argue that Salih's policies are part of the problem rather than the solution. It's worth pointing once again to the perceptive articleby Khaled Fattah of St Andrews University which describes Yemen as a "self-cancelling" state because of the weakness of the central authorities:

This weakness has turned the Yemeni state from being an agency for providing law, order, security and welfare for the masses into being an elitist fountain for providing privilege, wealth and power for a small group of people. In other words, instead of being a provider of solutions, Yemen’s central government became a source of problems, losing its infrastructural power. 

This loss is evident in the absence of the state in many parts of the country, in the inability of state institutions to counter lawlessness and social disorder, in the very poor quality of basic government services, and in the very limited impact of state controls. Unsurprisingly, Yemen today is one of the best examples of political entities where the state is performing "self-cancelling". 

A recent Carnegie Paper by Christopher Boucek also examines the challenges facing Yemen.

It makes clear (unlike many news reports) that the country's problems extend far beyond the immediate security issues. It goes on to highlight the need for foreign assistance (from the Gulf Cooperation Council among others) and notes that "US aid to Yemen is disproportionately small given its importance to US national security". The problem there, as always, is how to deliver help in ways that promote real development rather than just prolonging the status quo.

Finally, there's an article by Brian O'Neill (formerly of the Yemen Observer) in the latest Arab Reform Bulletin: Rebellions and the Existential Crisis

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 12 September 2009.