Feelings are difficult to quantify and contextualize. By nature they are fleeting and nearly impossible to judge according to any accurate barometer and yet they are still there dancing around the margins of our mind, and whether we admit it or not they often shape the way we think.
Over the past few weeks – both in Yemen and now back in the US – I have had a number of private conversations with people in which they have asked my opinion about how Yemen has changed in recent years.
In every conversation I have explained that this visit to Yemen was the first time that I had felt physically unsafe in Sanaa. The more conversations I’ve had the more I’ve tried to figure out exactly what was driving these feelings. In retrospect, a couple of things stand out.
First, was a conversation I had with a Yemeni neighbor in the area of Sanaa where I was staying. This particular man, like many of the neighbors, was extremely protective of me as a foreigner and guest in the country. But one day he said that people had been asking about me, and he was worried about their plans. Another time, in a conversation I was having in a tea shop he deliberately misled other Yemenis about which part of the city I was staying in.
There were other conversations that also sounded a bit off and, I think, raised my level of concern. But it was more than just my personal interactions that made me worried. As the economy in Yemen continues to tank and as prices of petrol, basic food stuffs and water is being priced out of the range of many Yemenis crime is starting to rise.
Add this to a city that is deeply divided and you have the makings of a mess. Today’s attack and killing of a local US security guard takes place in this changing context. Most are rushing to claim that this was al-Qaeda. And while men assassinating security officials on motorbikes is certainly something that AQAP has used to great effect in Yemen in recent years, they aren’t the only to utilize this tactic. As always in Yemen, it is wise to wait and see if AQAP actually takes credit for this attack before laying it at their feet.
In the meantime, as the political struggle for Sanaa continues and as prices continue to rise, security will continue to decline.