Monday, 24 May 2010

Yemen Feature For Vice V8N5

This is a piece that I wrote the intro for. My colleague Bruno Bayley conducted the interview which I re-produce here just because it's really interesting.

HELL ON EARTH

Yemen has never been the most peaceful corner of the Arab world. Situated in the southernmost tip of the Middle East, just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, it is the region’s poorest country. It is also one of the more heavily armed Arab nations: it is estimated that there are more than 60 million guns in a country with a population of 25 million. That’s two and a bit guns per person in case you can’t do the math.

The country’s only constant is civil war. Despite supposed unification in 1990, Yemen remains divided between the traditionalist north and the separatist south. But even by its own warring standards, things have been going a little bananas since 2004.

Yemen’s local squabbles, both separatist and sectarian, have, in fact, got so bad that they are threatening to destabalise the entire region. Everyone from Saudi Arabia to Iran, Egypt and Jordan have got involved and started lining up to back sides.

An ongoing conflict in the north of the country between Sunni Yemeni forces and Shiite Houthi insurgents has been bolstered by an independence movement in the south, led by rebel Yemen army militias disillusioned by the northern-based government. Among the leaders of the southern separatists is one Tarik al-Fadhli.

A veteran of the anti-Soviet jihad who fought alongside Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, al-Fadhli and his supporters have been accused of wanting to establish a separatist, extremist Islamic state in southern Yemen. Since allied clampdowns in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it has long been suspected that southern Yemen is a key training centre for Islamic militants.

That belief was confirmed on Christmas Day last year when it was revealed that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who attempted to bring down a Northwest Airlines Airbus A330 over Detroit, received both his weapon and training from al-Qaeda cells operating in Yemen.

Publicly claiming responsibility for the attack, AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula) asserted that it had been prompted by US air attacks on supposed militant targets in the region. This led to an escalation of western-masterminded attacks and AQAP retaliation recently culminating in the recent suicide attack on the British ambassador to Yemen in late April.

While the world’s media continues to train its sights on Afghanistan and Iraq, the US has silently opened up a third theatre in a war on terror that looks about as likely to end as their old favourite, the war on drugs. We decided to speak to Brian O’Neill to find out what’s up in a country with lots of guns, no natural resources and escalating wars both civil and international. Brian used to write and take pictures for the Yemen Observer so it’s safe to say that he knows more about the place than you.

VICE: How did you become so interested in Yemen? It’s not exactly a country that regularly features on A Place In The Sun.
Brian O’Neill:
I have always been interested in the Middle East, I studied in Cairo and even in the Arab world and the world of Arab scholars, Yemen was always this exotic backwater. A strange land. As a younger person that appealed to my sense of exotic adventurism. As I studied it more and looked at its political, demographic and economic trends and its history I began to realize that this country was going to become really important really soon. Its systems were falling apart, its institutions didn’t really hold and there was a growing threat of Al Qaeda. It seemed clear that this country was not going to stay anonymous for long.

The coverage of Yemen in mainstream media seems quick to condemn the place as going to hell in a handcart. Can it really be that bad?
In some ways, and this might be because I am a contrary bastard, I tend to think people are underplaying the story. Almost every economic, climatic and demographic problem that a country can face, Yemen is facing. 50% of the population are under the age of 15 so there will be a generation of young men growing up without jobs or opportunities. I think the story that is most important however, and one that the media is not concentrating on the way it should, is the impending water shortages. By 2020 the capital could well be out of water and within the next decade we could have millions of people without water.

How did this water crisis come about? We’re guessing it wasn’t a case of too many people leaving the sprinkler on.
There are a lot of natural factors, but the main cause is that in the 60s and 70s the UN got involved in the way that Yemen collected its water. Those methods mainly consisted of collecting rainwater and storing it. The UN said, “don’t do that, its not going to work” – even though it had worked for thousands of years – and instead encouraged themto tap into the underground water tables. This quickly became a matter of whoever was richest digging the deepest and draining water for their own use. The inherent corruption in Yemen combined with the good, but ultimately misplaced, intentions of improving water collection by the UN has drained the water tables much faster than anyone could have imagined.

Aside from a potential complete lack of H2O what are the other major issues being overlooked by the media?
The rebellion in the south for a start. Obviously the Christmas bomber got everyone focused on AL Qaeda, and they are extremely important globally, but they are not massively important in terms ofYemen itself. There are two domestic rebellions going on, one in the North and one in the South. The one in the North got more attention initially because when the world started looking at Yemen in the wake of the bombing attempt there was still open fighting going on, which is exciting for the media. In that war the President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, dubbed his last battle ‘Operation Scorched Earth’ which was exactly what it sounded like. There was carpet bombing, villages being razed and hundreds of thousands of refugees.

That doesn’t sound so good. How about in the South?
The Southern issue was more political than anything. Yemen used to be two separate countries until 1990: North Yemen and South Yemen. The North had been a democratic state and south a Marxist state. The two unified in 1990 because they were both broke. There was a lot of tension, and a civil war between the North and South in 1994 which the South lost. President Saleh used a lot of Jihadis in that war who had just returned from fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and after they won he let the Jihadis sort of take over and rule the South.

So it became a little Jihadi colony?
Well, the people of the South were very much colonized and oppressed by their own countrymen. In 2007 there was a movement for more rights, but since then Saleh has cracked down again and it’s an open call for secession. It looks like they are lurching back towards civil war and that is the issue more than Al Qaeda. By focusing on Al Qaeda we are ignore the broader and more dangerous issues in Yemen. Our overriding interest has to be to keep Yemen from falling apart. By focusing on Al Qaeda we could actually accelerate Yemen’s breaking up and if the country breaks up it will become an incredible safe haven for Al Qaeda.

How deep has Al Qaeda sunk its tentacles into Yemen?
They are very involved in everyday Yemeni life but certainly not in the central government and mainstream of Yemeni politics. In fact they have pretty much declared open war on the central government. They have focused their efforts on infiltrating the tribal system on a local level by marrying into tribes and gaining local bases of support. Their numbers belie their strength. There are only 2-300 AL Qaeda in Yemen, but they are smart and patient and have been getting stronger over the past few years. It is interesting to contrast Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, al-Zarqawi’s group. Their goal was carnage, so it was inevitable that people in Iraq would turn against them, but Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula has not really made any attacks in Yemen or on the Yemeni people. So, though people might not actively support them, or agree with everything they say, at least they aren’t killing anyone. Unlike the government, who are.

What sort of poverty levels are we talking about in Yemen?
It’s Sub-Saharan-esque. In almost every poverty and developmental standard it is usually in the bottom five or ten countries in the world. There are not a lot of jobs, the economy is mostly based on oil, and that is running out.

Everywhere seems to be running out of oil. Is Yemen’s case more pressing?
It’s more dire than most. They never had that much oil to begin with as they are stuck at the shit end of the peninsula. Most of the oil is concentrated in the South, so the political situation there makes it much harder for the central government to get any money from the oil. In Yemen, every issue ties into at least two or three other problems that make it harder to solve.

There are also problems with piracy right?
Yes, and it’s getting worse. For a while it was concentrated off Yemen’s Western coast, close to Somalia, but now we are seeing a lot more piracy around the South, near The Port of Aden. I think what is interesting is that Yemen is so much closer to Somalia than it is to the Arab heartland. We tend to see things too simply. We connect Yemen with the Middle East, but culturally it is far closer to Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia. When you see similar paterns of piracy in Somalia and Yemen, it makes sense, crime often follows the same links as culture.

What form of piracy is this? Is it the kidnapping and ransom type you hear a lot about in Somalia?
It’s mostly for ransom. But then you have a lot of smuggling routes that follow the same lines as the piracy routes. I think the smuggling of arms and drugs is more of a threat than actual ransom piracy. Yemen is a hub for international crime. It is geographically ideally suited to smuggling arms into war zones in the horn of Africa, drugs up through Saudi Arabia and it’s a major route for arms supply to terrorist groups.

Is there any meaningful effort being made by the West or international organisations to try and avert any of these impending disasters.
There have been a lot of conferences and there is the Facebook group sounding ‘Friends of Yemen’ who have meetings and talk about helping. We will see if that actually comes to anything but historically these talks don’t.

If things were to continues as they currently are how long do you give Yemen before it becomes a totally failed state?
I would say it could very easily happen within a year.

Would a total collapse make the country and even better base for Al Qaeda operations?
The huge fear is that the autonomous tribes now have connections with Al Qaeda, and they can use their safe-havens, without any government interference, to strike abroad. Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula needs space, but also some structure, and Yemmen’s tribal havens can provide both. They have already shown themselves able to strike at the heart of Saudi Arabia, and the fear is that a Yemen that can no longer harass them would be a country where the Saudis, or even worse, the West, feels they need to intervene militarily. That would make Afghanistan look like a cakewalk.

89 comments:

韋于倫成 said...

對物要珍惜,對事要盡心,對人要感恩。 ..................................................

韋于倫成 said...

很耐斯的部落格,留言支持你繼續加油........................................

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麗卿 said...

書籍是全世界的營養品,生活裡沒有書籍,就好像沒有陽光......................................................

健豪 said...

天可補,海可填,南山可移,日月既往,不可復追。......................................................

韋于倫成 said...

若對自己誠實,日積月累,就無法對別人不忠了。........................................

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于呈均名 said...

April showers bring May flowers...................................................

欣怡 said...

Better late than never...................................................

筠銘 said...

真正的愛心,是照顧好自己的這顆心。........................................

俊蘇宏 said...

能付出愛心就是福;能消除煩惱就是慧。........................................

曾文詠 said...

與朋友在一起,分擔的痛苦是減半的痛苦,分享的快樂是加倍的快樂。 ............................................................

趙佳治 said...

君子立恆志,小人恆立志。..................................................

宥妃 said...

Better say nothing than nothing to the purpose...................................................

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坤郁 said...

不要把生命看得太嚴肅,反正我們不會活著離開。...............................................................

benjaminga said...

Make yourself necessary to someone...................................................................

SadeRa盈君iford0412 said...

you did a good job..................................................

SadeRa盈君iford0412 said...

你不能左右天氣,但你可以改變心情.............................................................

文剛 said...

你不能左右天氣,但你可以改變心情.............................................................

洪筱婷 said...

一隻穿雲箭 千軍萬馬來相見 這麼棒的文章 幫你頂先!

雅惠 said...

不只BLOG內容很棒留言也很精采 XDDDD

俊毅俊毅 said...

支持好的blog~繼續加油~~

江婷 said...

河水永遠是相同的,可是每一剎那又都是新的。......................................................................

貢慧 said...

生存乃是不斷地在內心與靈魂交戰;寫作是坐著審判自己。....................................................................

vickiekurt said...

生存乃是不斷地在內心與靈魂交戰;寫作是坐著審判自己。......................................................................

志穎志穎 said...

一定要保持最佳狀況呦,加油!!!期待你發表的新文章!....................................................................

毅筠毅筠 said...

生存乃是不斷地在內心與靈魂交戰;寫作是坐著審判自己。.................................................................

吳思 said...

Poverty is stranger to industry.................................................................

郁雯郁雯 said...

成熟,就是有能力適應生活中的模糊。.................................................................

凱文凱文 said...

卡爾.桑得柏:「除非先有夢,否則一切皆不成。」共勉!............................................................

麗珠麗珠麗珠 said...

成熟,就是有能力適應生活中的模糊。.................................................................

林怡潔 said...

It takes all kinds to make a world.............................................................

溫緯李娟王季 said...

安安!剛開始玩這個,來這裡逛一下^^............................................................

11吳dennismattie俊易 said...

人生是故事的創造與遺忘。............................................................

王名仁 said...

人生是故事的創造與遺忘。............................................................

婷珊 said...

感謝您費心的分享您的生活!讓我也感同身受!..................................................................

許紀廷 said...

thx u very much, i learn a lot..................................................................

MinBar林 said...

人生的「三部曲」應該是無愧的昨天,充實的今天,與充滿希望的明天。..................................................

吳婷婷 said...

人生匆匆-把握當下,支持鼓勵~事事如意~..................................................................

佳皓佳皓 said...

After a storm comes a calm...................................................................

柏強 said...

字是活的,人和環境的觀察是活的,思想是活的。不管怎樣,就是要有一兩樣是活的。否則都是平庸。............................................................

許紀廷 said...

快樂,是享受工作過程的結果............................................................

趙坤然趙坤然 said...

來看你了~心在、愛在、牽掛在,幸福才會繁衍不息^^............................................................

吳婷婷 said...

很用心的部落格 路過留言支持 .................................[/url]...............

黃威宇 said...

我新來的~大家可交個朋友嗎(・ˍ・)......................................................

堅強堅強 said...

聽著音樂逛BLOG~~享受!!我不想上班了啦…..................................................................

吳勇佩吳勇佩 said...

友誼能增進快樂,減少痛苦............................................................

林秋萍林秋萍 said...

用心經營的blog~^^ 加油!..................................................................

韋成 said...

耐心是一株很苦的植物,但果實卻很甜美。..................................................

香昱信張君林 said...

一個人的快樂,不是因為他擁有的多,而是他計較的少。..................................................

王美妹 said...

死亡是悲哀的,但活得不快樂更悲哀。. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

鄭雅琦鄭雅琦 said...

認真的看完~~幫你推一下............................................................

蔡靜芳蔡靜芳 said...

老天爺賦予了強者的能力,就是要他比弱者多擔待..................................................

琬安琬安 said...

人類的聰明,並非以經驗為依歸,而是以接受經驗的行程為依歸。..................................................

魏江伶魏江伶 said...

Readiness is all.............................................................

s陳andersr睿afae婷l said...

Seeing is believing.百聞不如一見............................................................

江彥璋江彥璋江彥璋 said...

永遠支持你呀!!HO!!HO!!HO!!HO!!~~............................................................

WillianT_Smotherman0恆迪 said...

愛情不是慈善事業,不能隨便施捨。......................................................................

吳怡君吳怡君 said...

愛,拆開來是心和受兩個字。用心去接受對方的一切,用心去愛對方的所有。......................................................................

韓秀美 said...

生命如夏花洵爛;死如秋葉之靜美。............................................................

勳洪華 said...

Knowledge is power................................................

陳梁雅雯宗翰 said...

Knowledge is a treasure, but practice is the key to it.................................................

洪志源 said...

A crowd is not company.............................................................

黃怡張華樺張華樺妹 said...

果然很有意思呀....這當然要頂一頂呀 ̄﹏ ̄......................................................

豪偉軍樂 said...

與人相處不妨多用眼睛說話,多用嘴巴思考. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

萬建彰宇 said...

只要有心,人人可以是熱門blog!!!............................................................

敬周喜 said...

好多很有用資訊...感謝你的分享喔............................................................

彥麗威霞 said...

這個部落格好好好~棒棒棒............................................................

宛淑芳真 said...

愛情不是慈善事業,不能隨便施捨。.................................................................

翔馨陳陳翔馨陳陳 said...

好的開始並不代表會成功,壞的開始並不代表是失敗..................................................

王雅吳玉婷奇 said...

人不能像動物一樣活著,而應該追求知識和美德............................................................

邱思吳佳順翰 said...

不願彎腰撿拾一根針的人,永遠不值得一塊錢。............................................................

偉曹琬 said...

一棵樹除非在春天開了花,否則難望在秋天結果。..................................................

宗环 said...

良好的開端,已是成功的一半。..................................................

陳倩江陳倩江陳倩江 said...

真得很不錯的blog,加油哦............................................................

于庭吳 said...

臨淵羨魚,不如退而結網。......................................................

esthermelvin said...

來給你加油打氣!!!保重!!!............................................................

冠陳儒 said...

你的部落格感覺很棒,nice job!............................................................

凱許倫 said...

我是天山,等待一輪明月。......................................................................

tongtong said...

好的部落格就要和好朋友分享--感謝分享..................................................

佳張張張張燕張張張張張 said...

心中醒,口中說,紙上作,不從身上習過,皆無用也。..................................................

國林林林林維 said...

認清問題就等於已經解決了一半的問題。..................................................

佳張張張張燕張張張張張 said...

Make yourself necessary to someone..................................................................

佳張張張張燕張張張張張 said...

等很久了 謝謝你的用心............................................................

佳張張張張燕張張張張張 said...

路過留言支持~~~............................................................

于庭吳 said...

心平氣和~祝你也快樂~~............................................................