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And If Yemen Is Lost?

Editorial: Even before reaching the brink of civil war, Yemen was plagued by a long list of woes, from dire poverty to Islamist terrorists. If Yemen’s neighbors don’t step in to help, the country could slip into a Somalia-like state of chaos that can dest

A recent evening in Sanaa, Yemen's capital city (Sallam)
A recent evening in Sanaa, Yemen's capital city (Sallam)

If you haven't yet, it is time to start worrying about Yemen. The country once referred to as Arabia Felix in contrast to Arabia Deserta to the north is a sum of unhappy handicaps rarely seen in the world – even before it began to inch toward civil war these past few months.

A demographic time bomb, Yemen has seen its population double every 15 years – the country numbers about 25 million inhabitants today – without having the means necessary to properly provide for the people.

One of the world's poorest countries, Yemen is also a huge political conundrum. The hope surrounding the birth of Yemen in 1990 – when North Yemen merged with Marxist South Yemen, an exotic variant of Arab socialism – has long since evaporated.

The South has standing complaints that unification has turned out feeling more like an "occupation" by the North. But the North hasn't been spared either of serious difficulties. Since 2004, provinces along the border with Saudi Arabia have been plagued by a ruthless war led by the army against Islamist rebels.

For a long time, President Ali Abdallah Saleh, in power in the North since 1978, has managed to give the impression that no one but him was capable of solving these problems. He has also pronounced himself as the only obstacle to prevent terrorism , even as Saudi and Yemeni fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda gained control over significant swathes of the country.

But Saleh shares responsibility for each of these crises. He has, for example, played a part in pitting former "Afghan" jihad fighters against former Southern socialists; and he has been busy manipulating tribal networks by buying their allegiance, tactics that have never built a country.

The Yemeni president is thus personally responsible for some of his country's failures. Saleh is currently being treated in a Saudi Arabian hospital for injuries he suffered during a rocket attack on June 2 in Yemen's capital, Sanaa. The best thing for his country is that he finally accepts to step down from power.

He should do this, even if it is obvious that none of Saleh's most virulent enemies is better qualified than him to steer the country in the right direction. The members of the Al-Ahmar clan, which has taken up arms against the president, have been associated for much too long with the unhealthy syncretism between politics and business, part of Saleh's erroneous idea of meeting his people's expectations.

This is not to say that all hope is lost. Yemen is one of the few countries in the region where a certain form of political pluralism has been able to survive, and where its youth and civil society have clearly shown a desire to break away from the murky arrangements of the past.

It is this new desire that the rest of the world should strive to encourage. The region's rich oil monarchies should accept Yemen into their club, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. No one has anything to gain from the possibility that Yemen slips into chaos and becomes the next Somalia.

Read the original article in French

photo - Sallam

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