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Yemen’s Saudi Dilemma

June 07, 2011

As Yemen teeters on the edge of social and political collapse, our attention remains focused on Saudi intervention. Gulf states have attempted to mediate time and time again to end the four-month-old political stalemate that has ended in dozens of abductions, thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths. Yemen is in bad shape and the West has watched from the sidelines as the GCC diplomatic discussions have failed time and time again. Saudi Arabia’s inability to find an alternative and have all parties reach an agreement of compromise has left the Yemeni people uninspired and apprehensive of their intentions.

For many, President Saleh’s lack of regard to GCC attempts and Saudi Arabia’s more recent involvement during this week’s escalating violence has left Yemenis to believe the entire operation is a sham and a front to conceal the Gulf’s true intentions of protecting their own political interests. “Why has it taken them so long? I don’t trust Saudi Arabia in any of Yemen’s business” a demonstrator said to me when asked if he was disappointed about the GCC execution of the deal and Saudi’s direct involvement in state affairs, “Saudi Arabia has never sought the best interest of the Yemeni people, why now?” This is a valid question and for the past couple of months, it’s been a question many people have been asking.

Saudi Arabia has much at stake when it comes to Yemen’s stability and instability. Overseeing and monitoring the transition of Yemen’s structure is in their very best interest. Regulating an inevitable revolution and uprising and its every facet is in their best interest. Playing a role in the political negotiations so as to decide whom and what the Yemeni government will look like is in their best interest.

Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it will do whatever it can to support neighboring monarchies. Their commitment to despotic governments was recently exhibited when they sent troops to Bahrain to protect that monarchy. Keeping the region autocratic is part of their objective to remain in power. This includes keeping their wielding hand in conflict zones like Yemen. Shared ideals are not what keep this region’s ties together, it’s power and interest. This is also translated when considering the Saudi and American relationship. Historically, the US has done everything it could to maintain its strong rapport with Saudi Arabia and to keep the oil flowing, despite American ideals and aspirations of democracy and freedom.

This explains the US’ delayed response after repetitive pleas of intervention by the Yemeni people. It represents the deeply rooted interests of the US in Saudi Arabia. It also symbolizes the deepening rabbit hole and how much the West would ignore to maintain this connection.

Saudi Arabia wants to keep Yemen at the happy medium of not too stable and not too unstable. They have kept their long and powerful wielding hand in Yemeni state affairs for a few decades now, exerting their power through both troops and money.

If Yemen’s peaceful resistance succeeds and Yemen prospers both economically and by developing a political system of value, the weak nation that Saudi Arabia once crushed under its heavy weight will demand its rights and no longer accept the current system of corruption. According to Yemeni analyst Ali Seif Hassan, “Saudi Arabia has often treated Yemen as its backyard.” This will no longer be the case once Yemen reaches a more independent state.

There is also the possibility of Yemenis demanding northern territory that was conquered by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdul-Aziz bin Saud in a 1934 war. This land is now southern Saudi territory and is said to be rich in oil.

A major argument made for Saudi involvement is the threat of Yemen’s instability to their national security. For a while now, Saudi Arabia has been providing “economic support” for tribes along the Yemen-Saudi border, hoping to maintain power and influence in the area to fight off the Houthi- Shi’i threat. Al-Houth are a powerful local clan in Sa’ada, along the Saudi border. Saudis view them as fundamentalist Zaydis who serve as a threat to their security.

In addition, Saudi Arabian concerns about the threat of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continue to mature. They fear that the AQAP threat is a growing one and continue to provide the current regime with monetary support as a preventative measure to combat AQAP’s infiltration of the border. Many Yemenis argue the contrary. They claim that the only reason AQAP was able to establish themselves in Yemen was because of the current government neglect and Saudi leaking extremism and Wahhabism from across their border into Yemeni land.

There is also the fear of extreme instability and political unrest creating a breeding ground for further violence and tribal conflict that can also leak into Saudi jurisdiction. This fear has kept Saudi Arabia on their toes. Pushing them even further into the intervention process in Yemen.

It is important that when dealing with Saudi Arabia we keep these realities in mind. We are at a crucial part in our history and we have an opportunity to protect our nation and its interests. We shouldn’t refuse international support and intervention. Instead this intervention and support must come in more implicit forms rather than the more current direct form. This is our opportunity to stand on our own two feet. We can lean on others for support but it’s extremely vital that we remain our own watchdogs. We are asking for an end to a corrupt regime. This includes us reconsidering and reevaluating our current allies.

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2 responses

  1. Kipp Cozad

    Very well articulated, Raja. Don’t overlook the role the Saudis played in the 1962-1970 Revolution. What is fascinating about that period is that the Sunni regime in Saudi Arabia supported the Shia Zaydi Imamate to maintain the autocratic nature of Yemen’s government along with bruising the eye of their regional enemy in Nasser. In the peace that followed, SA played a major role. They have always meddled in Yemeni affairs since the Ottoman period. Love your insight.

    June 8, 2011 at 2:18 am

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