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

Computer Crash Halts US Visa, Passport Operation

Problems with database have resulted in extensive backlog of applications, affected State Department's consular offices all over the world More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

World Bank: Boko Haram Stalls African Aid Projects

Islamist group’s terrorism sets back agriculture, health efforts in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria 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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid