Poverty and repression under President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s government in Yemen has moved Yemenis to mount an uprising. The “Day of Rage” yesterday was another demonstration intended to force Saleh to resign.
News organizations like NPR have reported since the revolt in Tunisia that Saleh has “ordered income taxes slashed in half and instructed his government to control prices” and “deployed anti-riot police and soldiers to several key areas in the capital and its surroundings to prevent riots.” But those moves have not stopped protests from taking place.
As highlighted in a previous post, Saleh has brutally neglected the needs of his people. According to NPR, “Nearly half of Yemen's population live below the poverty line of $2 a day and doesn't have access to proper sanitation. Less then a tenth of the roads are paved. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes by conflict, flooding the cities.”
WikiLeaks cables released on February 3 suggest he has been primarily focused on bringing in US military aid. His focus on making his country a better partner in the global war on terrorism has led him to viciously ignore the people of Yemen.
04SANAA3023, created on December 6, 2004, shows that Saleh wanted to be the first world leader to meet President Bush after his reelection. The cable suggests he wanted to do this so he could be the first to get new deals for aid from the US:
President Saleh emphasized his desire to be among the first foreign leaders to personally congratulate President Bush on his reelection, and said he needed to meet with Secretary of State designate Dr. Rice and other newly appointed senior officials to raise new regional developments that can only be discussed "face to face." Ambassador promised to convey Saleh's message to the White House, cautioning that a visit could not be arranged before inauguration and all new cabinet posts had been filled and confirmed.
True to form, Saleh launched into a list of what he believes the U.S. owes him. "Where is the money for the Army, and what about my spare (F-5) parts?" Saleh demanded. Ambassador promise to follow up on this matter. (Note: OMC reports difficulties in getting MOD to follow through with the necessary paperwork on parts and equipment in order to spend the 17 million USD in Yemen's FMF account. End Note.)
The Wall Street Journal has reported, “U.S. military aid to Yemen in 2010 was $155 million. Congressional approval is needed for a proposed increase to $250 million in aid for 2011.” And that, “Washington reduced aid to Yemen to almost zero earlier in the decade due to the country's widespread corruption.”
Some of that corruption relates to the Yemen government's failure to meet commitments on small arms and light weapons destruction (SA/LW). The following cable 05SANAA1790 from June 28, 2005, discusses arms in Yemen and what demands should be made with Saleh before meeting with him:
Saleh has indicated to top advisors in the past that he believes he can pull the wool over the eyes of the USG. In the time leading up to his November trip, we must convince him that this is not the case by making clear that we are monitoring Yemeni SA/LW orders and shipments closely, and that a breach of the President's promise will affect the tone of the visit and, ultimately, the nature of bilateral relations. Specific steps we can take on SA/LW in the months leading up to the visit include: Stopping any illicit sales and shipments; continuing pressure on supplier nations not to sell SA/LW to Yemen; linking future USG military assistance to inventory controls and end-user monitoring; calling on Saleh to enforce UN restrictions on weapons trade to Somalia and Sudan; and, conducting joint Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIOs) with the Yemen Coast Guard (YCG).
Though, recently, the WSJ reported the Yemeni Coast Guard was “working through private companies” and “renting out servicemen and patrol boats—including vessels given to Yemen by the US—for commercial ships seeking armed escorts against piracy.” The vessels donated were not to be used for “private commercial operations,” but “high-ranking officials in the Ministry of Interior and the nation's Coast Guard Authority, which falls under the ministry,” are engaging in “for profit” operations.
The situation is precarious because the US counts on Yemen “to help choke off supply routes between Africa and Yemen used to smuggle arms and other contraband.”
US dependence on Yemen in the "global war on terror" has led the US to offer up “deliverables” that can be given to Saleh if he complies and cooperates with demands. The same cable discussing demands that should be made of Saleh says, “In return for Saleh's compliance, we should promise expanded military aid and cooperation.”
The cable goes on to say the most successful counter terrorism programs, “the training and equipping of the Yemen Coast Guard (YCG) and the Central Security Forces Counter Terrorism Unit (CSF-CTU), have been conducted in cooperation” with the Ministry of Interior. It indicates “a long-term, sustainable training program should be funded through” foreign military financing (FMF). Smuggling interdiction operations should be conducted with the YCG. And, equipment assistance for operations should come with a designed inventory system to prevent small arms or light weapons from “leaking” to the “gray market.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently indicated the US would like to launch “efforts to address the underlying causes of extremism: poverty, corruption, social inequality and political divisions that have boiled into an insurgency” and push Yemen to “stop the practice of child marriage and enact reforms.” But, it is unclear if the current regime, with or without Saleh, would actually be open to such US involvement in the country’s affairs.
Yemen’s value to the US, and the degree to which the US is interested in supplying aid, is measured by the country’s ability to be a partner in the “global war on terror.” The current uprising throws a kink in that partnership by putting the US under pressure to fix the country so Yemen can get back to hunting al Qaeda.
If the Yemen government is not open to US intervention in the country's economic and political affairs, it could put at risk the following, which is noted in the aforementioned cable:
President Saleh has logged some major CT gains and significantly improved security in Yemen since the post-9/11 forging of the U.S-Yemen GWOT partnership. Recent successes include: the round-up of an emerging al-Qa'ida cell with plans to target the U.S. Ambassador, prosecution and conviction of the USS Cole and M/V Limburg terrorists, and participating in the largest MANPADs destruction program in the region.
It would make it harder for the US to gain “access to detained known or suspected terrorists,” participate in the deportation of fugitives and the enforcement of “anti-terrorist facilitation to close off the Jihadist pipeline,” as Nabeel Khoury writes in the cable.