News / Middle East

US Faces Dilemma with Anti-Terror Ally Yemen

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, left, shakes hands with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following her arrival for a visit to Yemen January 11, 2011.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, left, shakes hands with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following her arrival for a visit to Yemen January 11, 2011.
Elizabeth Arrott

The killing of extremist cleric Anwar al Awlaki in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen last week highlights the close ties between Washington and Sana'a. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has cast his leadership as critical to U.S. counter-terrorist efforts, and warned of chaos should his numerous opponents force him from power. But the U.S. may still have potential allies in Yemen if Saleh were to leave the scene.

President Saleh has never been the perfect partner in counter-terrorism. Too many extremists were released or "escaped" from Yemeni prisons for America's taste.  But for years he has said he is the last line of defense against the threat of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. And the U.S. responded with military and economic help that, intentionally or not, gave Saleh far more strength than his opponents believe he deserved.

Disappointment with U.S.

Many of the anti-government protests rocking Yemen this year do not have anti-Americanism as their root. But according to Hakkim al Masmari, an editor and columnist in Sana'a, demonstrators watched the U.S. reaction to other popular uprisings across the region and frustration set in.   

"The pro-democracy students are very ashamed at what the U.S. is doing. They feel that the U.S. is not playing it fair. They feel that the U.S. is not acting democratic and the U.S. is now supporting a dictator at a time when its called for democracy."

Washington has said it supports reform, and backs a Gulf Cooperation Council proposal that would see a peaceful transition of power in Yemen. How forcefully U.S. officials press for that change, especially in the wake of the cooperation that led to al Awlaki's death, is unclear. But Stephen Steinbeiser, with the American Center for Yemen Studies in Sana'a, says the potential for a partnership remains.

"The pro-democracy students identify themselves as being kind of the closest allies in Yemen that the U.S. currently has. They dismiss the current regime as being undemocratic, and they point to others as simply not adhering to U.S. democratic ideals.  But they are untested. And so it would really take some time to organize some political strengths and identify some strong leaders and only then begin to really articulate a policy that the U.S. would be interested in working with."

Engaging others within the opposition

The U.S. has been working with other groups in Yemen. Editor Masmari says the outreach of American diplomats toward tribal leaders has led to very strong connections, in particular with the al-Ahmar family, which heads a powerful tribal federation and is among the most potent of the anti-Saleh forces. Despite a warrior-like image reinforced by fierce street battles in the capital, analyst Steinbeiser says the clan's true interests may be more pragmatic.  

"The al-Ahmar family is a family of commerce. They're a business family, so I think they're more outward looking than a lot of people in Yemen might otherwise be. They have a number of concerns here in Yemen, including major telephone and cellular telephone networks. And I think that they could get on quite well with U.S. policy if it's conducted on the level of kind of business, commercial exchange."

Steinbeiser says that in terms of more complicated issues, he would be surprised if the al-Ahmar clan has formulated many specific policies.

A lack of future policy planning is perhaps understandable among others in the widely divergent array of anti-Saleh forces, focused now almost exclusively on removing the president from power.

But Steinbeiser feels at least in the short run, such groups as the al-Ahmar family, military defectors and the traditional opposition - those engaged in the current negotiations over the transfer of power - are likely to continue the current government's largely pro-U.S. policy. He says that may extend even to many Islamist groups, not the extremists, but those who want a religion-based government.

"My impression overall is that all of the groups realize the imperative of trying to keep Yemen as peaceful and stable as possible right now. Even before this political impasse occurred, Yemen was facing surmounting problems that would pressure a more established, richer nation.  And to have this kind of political wedge thrown into the works right now is very, very dangerous, and potentially very disruptive to any course of progress in Yemen for any of the groups mentioned."

While U.S. support of Saleh has bred resentment, the same military and financial aid he has enjoyed could well become building blocks for any future alliances, at least in the short term.

Watch this explainer of the situation in Yemen by Davin Hutchins in Washington, D.C, and Tom Finn in Sana'a:

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes 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.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More