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Staying the Course: Support for Yemen

Tensions are high in Yemen after the discovery of two bombs outside the home of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in Sana’a on November 8 and a thwarted assassination attempt on the life of Mathew Tueller, the U.S. Ambassador to Yemen. Through Twitter, the media arm of Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), explained that they were intended to detonate as the Ambassador left the President’s home after a visit.

The event has drawn renewed attention to Yemen as a counter to the ongoing discussions and media coverage of coalition operations against ISIS. Despite ongoing AQAP atrocities, other parties in Yemen appear to be moving from violence into politics to resolve their disputes. Where now? Yemen has been in a relative state of constant conflict and instability for the last 2 years since the people ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh during the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings.

Recently, Houthi rebels invaded and took control of strategic locations in Sana’a and elsewhere, and through violence and the use of force attempted to extend their influence across the country.

In so doing they established themselves as a major political force sufficient enough to directly influence the appointment of Yemen’s new Prime Minister.

The resultant Peace and Partnership Agreement signed in September sought to resolve conflict among parties, but at the same time placed former President Saleh under suspicion for actively supporting the conflict via his control of elements of Yemen’s armed forces. The UN Security Council invoked Chapter VII because it believed Saleh and Houthi leaders were obstructing the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) endorsed political process. Saleh claims his General People’s Congress (GPC) party acted responsibly.

Most recently it appears that the Houthis have signed an agreement with the Islah Party, the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, to end hostilities and the deal was brokered by Jamal Benomar, the UN Special Envoy to Yemen. If it holds, both parties agree to end hostilities and to actively resolve any disputes peacefully. Both sides expressed a willingness to cooperate with each other to create a stable Yemen. The speaker of the Islah Party stated that this agreement was to prevent Yemen from turning into another Iraq or Syria. Similarly, the speaker of the Houthis said that they are aware that they cannot rule the country alone and that they need the cooperation of all groups. It is hoped that the agreement will be taken forward responsibly and will not fail as have other agreements.

Despite these developments, AQAP continues to mount attacks against the government throughout Yemen and specifically against the Iran-linked Houthis. Recently, American and Yemeni troops intervened to free eight hostages held by AQAP. Meanwhile, clashes continue between the Houthis and AQAP. As recently as Friday of last week, the AQAP claimed it had killed dozens of Houthis in the Rada’a district of the Al-Baida governorate. It also claimed responsibility for a bombing attack that targeted the Iranian Ambassador in December.

Tensions remain high as several groups remain on edge as hostilities could spiral out of control. Meanwhile in the south of the country, thousands demonstrated in Aden demanding independence. Fortunately, under the president’s direction, the National Dialogue Conference participants worked tirelessly to draft a new constitution. It appears that Saudi Arabia is contemplating halting financial support to Yemen. Estimates are that Saudi Arabia has provided as much as $4 billion USD since early 2012 to keep Yemen’s economy afloat, including $700 million in military aid. Jamal Benomar has warned that Yemen may not able to continue to pay its civil servants after the end of the year.

Now is not the time to set Yemen adrift because the state, like many others, will fail. Recent dialogue between the Houthis, the government and the Islah Party is encouraging. The focus must now shift back to combating AQAP, where the U.S. can really help. As part of coordinated and sequenced strategic approach by the international community, Yemen can realize the vision of the GCC initiative and implementation mechanism for Yemen’s future.

Now is the time to press forward or Yemen will devolve into chaos. But even with AQAP suppressed, many Yemenis youth still face abject poverty, high illiteracy, malnutrition and a country-wide youth bulge that left unchecked is a breeding ground for yet more extremists.

Concrete and ongoing action by the international community now will help Yemen realize its vision for the future. A friendly ally in the region, strategically located linking the Suez Canal via the Red Sea, Bab el Mandeb to the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea, Yemen is worth the effort. It is worth the effort not only for its strategic contribution but also for its people who have invested in a future of peace and prosperity and also for the children of Yemen and generations to come.