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Why Yemen is Interesting

No, no- this isn’t going to discuss the breathtaking architecture, the astonishing, fascinating history or the diverse and beautiful culture of Yemen. Don’t be absurd. Greg and I have analytical diodes where our hearts should be. If you want to read about the above, Tim Mackintosh-Smith has you covered. Read him.

This is a site on security issues, but our most important goal, beside self-promotion, is to highlight the difficulty of trying to make Yemen fit any pre-conceived notions that analysts of policy-makers have of the monolithic Arab World or of Yemen itself. The country, its politics and its people, are as varied as anywhere, and the one-size-fits-all approach is as dangerous as it is dumb.

That’s why this caught my eye: Parliament summons government for questioning over security. In many countries in the Middle East, the idea that this headline could even exist would be pretty laughable. During Desert Storm, Salih was referred to as a mini-Saddam, a charge some of his more…enthusiastic critics still levy. Is it even possible to imagine Saddam allowing Parliament to question him? Or either Asad?

And the tenor of the debate was interesting as well. I’ll quote at some length.

The head of the GPC ruling party bloc in parliament Sultan alBarakani criticized security bodies for their failure to protect the Korean delegation, and questioned who may have provided the terrorists with information about the Korean security team’s schedule. Al-Barakani stressed society’s responsibility in the fight against terrorism, and called on all government and civil society organizations to work together to fight this issue. Al-Barakani also stressed the responsibility of religious scholars to guide the country’s youth, and said religious scholars have been busy bickering about the issue of the age of marriage, rather than educating the public and youth about the dangers of terrorism. MP AbdullahalOdaini from the Islah Party attacked alBarakani’s accusations against religious scholars, saying they have been performing their roles properly. However alOdaini criticized the media, school curriculums and mosques for not better enlightening the country’s youth. Meanwhile, MP Abdul AzizJubari and IslamistMP’s criticized the way the Yemeni government has dealt with terrorist groups, and called on authorities to reconsider their policies regarding extremist groups.

That is like, real debate.

Now, I am not Pangloss here. Yemen is, at best, a slowly-developing democracy, and at times even that is a stretch. Salih will curtail the press when needed, and his ability to rule is largely unquestioned. But Yemen is also not the stale, calcifying government of Egypt or the terror-based regimes of Syria or Saddam’s Iraq. To lump Yemen in with these states is to ignore the central feature of its politics, the feature which makes it both thrilling and terrifying: rarely has the center held, and, unlike the entropy which threatens larger more centralized Arab states, its biggest danger is centrifugal forces.


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