The Independent Op-Ed, March 12, 2012
by Safa Mubgar
An old Chinese curse runs “May you live in interesting times”. I have come to realise that it is certainly applicable to Yemen – what with the release of the film version of the 2007 novel “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”, and a particularly interesting ‘election’ brought about by a Yemeni style Arab Spring Revolution smoothing the way for a two year transitional period. Happily Yemen is flavour of the month; as opposed to the unfolding tragedy in Syria.
Abdu Rabo Mansour Hadi’s acclamation follows a pantomime waltz, choreographed by the international community, that literally celebrated Yemen’s dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power, honouring him, his cronies, and family with the immunity and garlands of gratitude for exemplary service (the 24 million Yemenis who suffered 33 years of this nasty regime can eat cake!) What’s particularly disturbing is that – much like “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” where a surprisingly “good” and “very rich” Arab brings hope and unity to Yemen – a more complex web of international and regional plots, “expertly blended” with a variety of fallacious arguments and petro-cash incentives, brought Abdu Rabo Mansour Hadi (Ali Saleh’s Yes-man, ex-Vice-President) to power in an uncontested “election” a few weeks ago.
Yemenis – we’re meant to rejoice, to call it a turning point, celebrate that at least it’s not Syria. You may want to follow the chorus of joyous optimism or simple relief; people did welcome relief from a year long struggle without electricity, water, or security – not that any of these are guaranteed to materialise after this election. although during the election campaign all services were restored briefly!! I, for one, reserve my right to feel cheated. Because nothing fundamental has changed: Ali Saleh’s old clique is still very powerful, and for the majority of ordinary Yemenis (Northerners and Southerners alike), the “new” government is just more of the same – witness the immunity law – But then again, this production was deliberately intended not to bring about radical change to Yemen.
Yet if anything, Abdu Rabo Hadi’s acclamation has led to a more chaotic picture in Yemen. An unsettled hotchpotch where everything is up for grabs – a far cry from the democratic aspirations of the peaceful youth revolution. In this cauldron, Yemen is subjected to numerous powerful forces – Western allies of Saleh, Gulf partners, and Saudi Arabia – all pouring in various influences and seasoning with petro-dollars. Added to this lethal mix is the Yemen’s domestic political clique, oozing opportunism and greed. None wish to see a successful revolution in Yemen, and will undermine it with all they can. For them, Yemen’s transition has to be cosmetic; for the West, this is acceptable as long as there is a kind of calm: shipping undisturbed through Bab al-Mandab, and their interests safeguarded and secured. They spend even more money to keep the lid on things, but nothing further.
In the meantime the embryonic peaceful youth revolution stand alone, peppered with false promises, with support from neither credible political opposition nor middle class to speak of. Ordinary Yemenis are in dire need of honest brokers; instead everyone is keeping silent, as the baking, boiling and frying continues in the Yemeni Kitchen.
By pumping dollars into the Yemeni economy, the Yemeni riyal seems not to be doing badly (considering Yemen’s economic situation) – but at the expense of Yemeni business, trade and sustainable development. People of wealth are getting wealthier, whereas the poor remain without education, jobs, opportunity or health. While Abdu Rabo Mansour receives his orders and administers from his huge palace (built for him by Ali Saleh a few years back) near the airport in Sana’a. The traditional tribal militias of Al Ahmar , Ali Muhsen and co, are aiding and abetting him. This gang has no remit or intention to change: 99% of Yemenis will not benefit; no real or sustainable development or growth will be generated.
The Yemeni revolution – a revolution which could have resulted in far reaching consequences and change in the Arabian Peninsula, has been pacified for now. But the kitchen remains hot, with too many cooks, and outcome yet unknown. Like others, I believe our Yemen Spring will not bloom until a Gulf Spring has flowered. If the ‘pruning’ in Bahrain is any indication, that may take some time.
So we wait. And watch. And pray for the countless who continue to suffer needlessly.