Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Crisis in Yemen

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Crisis in Yemen

Article excerpt

ON JAN. 21, amid a flood of interest about Yemen and al-Qaeda following the failed efforts of the Christmas Day underwear bomber, the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC hosted a discussion on the historical and political context that frames the current conditions in Yemen.

Former Ambassador to Yemen David Newton highlighted two historical developments that have contributed significantly to the country's destabalization. "Unification [between the north and south]...politically in 1990 and militarily in 1994, has certainly exacerbated regional differences," he noted. Moreover, the introduction of Salafism-a Sunni Islamic movement that takes the pious Salaf ancestors of early Islam as exemplary models-a religious interpretation which was "rather foreign to Yemenis," Newton explained, "has created a whole new range of political and security problems."

Enumerating Yemen's principal problems, Newton divided them into regional and socio-economic categories. Pressures from Salafism and government neglect, for example, are responsible for the current conflict with the Zaidi militant group known as the al-Houthi. There is similar resentment in the south, centered in the former capital of Aden. Dissatisfaction with the central government in Sana'a is no less present in the Hadhramaut of western Yemen, where pressure for autonomy has been a historical constant.

While it represents a considerable challenge, Newton said, regional factionalization was of lesser concern compared to the country's political and socio-economic predicaments. A rapidly expanding population, for example, is a fundamental dilemma with no immediate solution. "There are 700,000 new Yemenis every year," he noted, which creates the challenge of "where these people can go and where they find employment." The population question is further complicated by an extreme scarcity of resources. …

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