A Breakdown in Security
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about security in Sanaa and my own sense of unease during my last trip to Yemen.
That piece drew several comments both here on the blog and in person, where a number of people who know Yemen well pushed back against my sense of safety. It even came up during my interview with Terry Gross for NPR's Fresh Air.
It has also been talked about, in a different context, in this excellent article by Robert Worth in a NYT Sunday Magazine piece.
Two recent events have, once again, brought the issue of security in Yemen to the forefront. Earlier this week a Saudi military adviser was gunned down outside of his house in Hadda, a Sanaa suburb where US diplomats used to live. The Saudi ambassador has since said (Ar.) that he believed it was a kidnapping attempt gone wrong.
Yesterday another security official was kidnapped in Hadramawt (Ar.). Speculation in both cases has centered on al-Qaeda, and this may indeed turn out to be the case. But I don't think we should rush to judgment. There are a lot of criminal elements in Yemen - and sadly that number is growing as the economy continues to tank - and not all of them can be connected to al-Qaeda.
That being said, I think al-Qaeda does win when security collapses as the organization showed in 2011 and early 2012 in Shabwa and Abyan.
For me, much of what is happening in Yemen right now is reminiscent of the early 1990s when there were a lot of deaths, bombings and assassinations which were never really solved. That time Yemen needed a civil war to clear the decks and restore a rather relative sense of calm, everyone watching today is hoping and praying that current events don't follow history's script. But as security continues to collapse the likelihood of negative consequences rises.
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.