News / Middle East

Saudis Worried About Instability in Yemen

TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid