Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Yemen Violence Threatens Stability in Arabia

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Yemen Violence Threatens Stability in Arabia

Article excerpt

Yemen Violence Threatens Stability in Arabia

The Yemen government's decision to increase the prices of fuel and basic foodstuffs by 40 percent to comply with terms of an $80 million International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan produced a sudden popular and, ultimately, bloody eruption across the country.

The outbreak pointed to a deep malaise after 20 years of rule by President Ali Abdallah Saleh. It began on June 20 with a peaceful demonstration in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, that soon developed into confrontations with security forces. These have lasted for several weeks not only in Sana'a, but also in Hajjah, Ebb, Dhamar, Marib, Mukalla, Hutah, and other cities where crowds vented their anger against state corruption, particularly in President Saleh's ruling General People's Congress.

Demonstrators chanted, "No Iryani after today!", referring to Prime Minister Abdul Karim al-Iryani, who formed a new cabinet last May following the resignation of his predecessor, Faraj Ben Ghanem.

Initially the government seemed unprepared for this "uprising of the hungry," which began as a reaction against the price hike on basic commodities, but soon evolved into protests against the regime led by Saleh and his family and military clique. In the face of police inability to control the situation, the elite Republican Guard (established on the Iraqi model) and army units finally came in with orders to shoot. As a result, at least 14 civilians in several cities were shot and killed, many others injured, and hundreds arrested and imprisoned, according to Yemeni and Arab newspapers.

In the provinces of al-Jouf and Marib, site of rich oil fields east of Sana'a, the situation became even worse. Army units clashed with armed tribesmen, resulting in dozens being killed or injured on both sides. A pipeline run by American-owned Hunt Oil was blown up seven times by these tribesmen, resulting in leaks of over 30,000 barrels, according to the independent Yemen Times. President Saleh acknowledged on July 21 that 52 soldiers had been killed and more than 200 injured since the fighting broke out last June, while opposition groups spoke of more than a hundred deaths among civilians and military personnel alike.

These most recent developments in this South Arabian country of nearly 16 million followed a series of crises that have rocked the country since the unification of North and South Yemen in May 1990. The 70-day civil war from May to July 1994 resulted in the defeat by forces loyal to Saleh of separatists led by the south Yemeni leader, Ali Salim al-Baidh, but the situation has never really improved since then.

A series of crises have rocked the country since unification.

Hopes raised by the unification of both Yemens were soon replaced by frustration over the pervasive corruption of the entire political system. Aggravating this was the looting of state land in Aden and other cities in the former People' Democratic Republic of Yemen by the ruling clique in Sana'a, and the marginalization of southern participation in political power.

Nor have conditions in the north been better. The standard of living in the country has declined from nearly $700 per capita in the 1980s to $280 presently. The health sector is in shambles. According to Carl Tintsman, UNICEF resident representative in Sana'a, approximately 200 Yemeni children die every day, mainly because of the lack of immunization. The World Bank reported in 1995 that the budget allotted to health in Yemen was 4 percent of GNP. The military's share is 28 to 35 percent. …

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