News / Middle East

    Saudis Worried About Instability in Yemen

    Elizabeth Arrott

    Few nations are more worried about the potential chaos in Yemen than its wealthy neighbor to the north, Saudi Arabia. The conservative kingdom has resisted much of the change roiling the Arab world, but may make an exception if it means a more stable Yemen.  

    Saudi Arabia is not a natural ally of the vanguard of Yemen's political uprising.  One prominent pro-democracy activist in Sana'a says Yemeni youth regard the kingdom with suspicion.

    Adel Abdu Arrabeai argues that because Saudi Arabia has no standards for a democratic and civil state, any meeting of the minds would be impossible.  Added to that doubt is a widespread perception that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been able to count on Saudi support.

    Tom Finn, a freelance journalist in Sana'a, said "One major reason that Yemen has been perhaps different from the other Arab Spring [movements], especially from the longevity of the protest, is that I think Ali Abdullah Saleh is still somehow convinced that at least he has the backing of Saudi Arabia, which is also an incredibly strong regional power."

    Throughout the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia showed a preference for the status quo, whether lending support for the now-ousted presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, or sending tanks to help Bahrain put down its popular uprising.

    But with Yemen, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors have taken a different approach. The Gulf Cooperation Council came up with a plan to ease President Saleh out of office, and provide a peaceful transfer of power.

    Mr. Saleh says he agrees to the plan in principal, but keeps finding a reason not to sign.  Some observers believe that if Saudi Arabia was serious about removing the Yemeni leader, it missed a major opportunity. They argue that when Mr. Saleh went to Riyadh in June to recover from an assassination attempt, the Saudis should have made him to stay.

    But the director of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Stephen Steinbeiser says the legality  of detaining Mr. Saleh was likely only part of the Saudis' calculations to let him return late last month. "They probably felt that the president was really the only one who could quell growing violence, especially in the immediate days leading up to his return, and he still had the credibility of most people to broker a transition deal, whatever that might look like eventually," he said.

    That GCC initiative could eventually undercut not only the suspicion of the student activists, but also a long standing argument about Saudi Arabia's view of Yemen: that the kingdom never minded a bit of instability in its poorer neighbor, if only because it made manipulation easier.

    But any vulnerability of Yemen has turned to a liability in recent years, when Saudi-based terrorists were pushed out and joined their Yemeni counterparts to form al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.  

    Political analyst Steinbeiser says the attraction of a weak neighbor might have been appealing in the past. "At this point I think the Saudis realize there are bigger problems than having a very strong Yemen or something like that, if they see that as a problem. These problems of terrorism or fundamentalism are far more severe and perhaps far more imminent," he said.

    Al-Qaida is not the only force that Saudi Arabia worries could exploit the unrest.   Much has been written about Iran trying to gain a foothold on the Arabian peninsula. There are potential ties between Shi'ite Iran and related religious groups in Yemen, in particular the rebellious Houthis in the north.

    Several political observers in Yemen believe the threat is overblown, but should it come to pass, Steinbeiser says staunchly Sunni Saudi Arabia and others wouldn't hesitate to act. "I think that the other Gulf countries would be very, very concerned about this and I think we would see them intervene, with Saudi Arabia's full backing, to thwart any potential interference from Iran in Yemen if it were as overt as that," he said.

    A democratic Yemen may not be the first choice of the absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia, but to many Saudi eyes, some of the alternatives would be far worse.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora