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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Secret Service Head: White House Security Lapse 'Unacceptable'

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after a recent intrusion at the White House: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid