Mohammad Al-Kassim is a producer with Worldfocus.
It took an incident like the Christmas day failed bombing of the Delta/Northwest airliner to bring Yemen to the forefront of the news in the U.S.
It was Yemen where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was allegedly trained by al-Qaeda. Currently Yemen offers al-Qaeda the perfect environment to reorganize and reinvent itself, and that’s precisely why the world’s focus is now shifting to the small Arabian Peninsula nation.
It’s not news to many that Yemen has been a safe haven for al-Qaeda for many years. Yemen has a weak centralized government, tough terrain and rugged mountains — and a severely fragmented tribal population with little loyalty to the government.
Also, let’s not forget that Osama Bin Laden’s family was originally from Yemen, and the al-Qaeda mastermind still enjoys wide support there.
Last week, General David Petraeus visited the Yemeni capital of Sana’a for a meeting with President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Petraeus delivered a message of support from President Obama to the Yemeni president and told him the U.S. is pledging military aid to Yemen.
Meanwhile British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for a conference on terrorism to be held in Yemen at the end of this month. Officially, the Yemeni government is a close ally of the U.S. And it’s one of the world’s poorest countries despite being a neighbor to Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s largest oil exporters and among the region’s richest.
Internally, the weak central Yemeni government has its hands full. For the last six years, the Yemeni army have been engaged in a de facto civil war in the North with a Shi’a rebel group called the Houthis. Yemen’s government accuses the group of being loyal to Iran and receiving weapons from them. Fighting has escalated since last August.
Saudi Arabia’s army was sucked into the conflict when the Saudi government accused the Houthis of crossing the border and attacking a Saudi patrol. A short war ensued between Saudi Arabia and the rebels. Some experts – including Worldfocus contributing blogger Dwight Bashir – argue that Saudi Arabia is fighting a proxy war with Iran in Yemen.
The government also faces a strong secessionist movement in the south over perceived northern exploitation of its resources, as I reported last fall. Another problem facing Yemen is the influx of African refugees, mainly Somalis, who cross the Gulf of Aden to escape the failed Somali state. Al-Shabaab militants from Somalia have also threatened to join with al-Qaeda in the impoverished Arabian country.
The failed Christmas day bombing brought Yemen and its myriad problems forcefully to the forefront of the world’s headlines. Unfortunately, the Western media was reacting to events rather anticipating them. Hardly any Western news outlets had a real presence there until the Christmas attack.
It’s disturbing that it took such an event to shine the spotlight on Yemen. The crucial country should have been on the radar long ago.
– Mohammad Al-Kassim