Last Jewish family in Raydah: We wish we could stay, but…

December 19, Raydah - The houses’ gates inscribed with the word “Welcome,” in Hebrew, are the last signs of the Yemeni Jewish community in the town of Raydah, 30 miles north of Yemen’s capital. Near the western edge of Raydah town sits a pair of houses, ordinary in most respects. “The green gate is of Masha, the brown is Banin’s,” said a teen from the neighborhood, identifying the Jewish families to whom the homes once belonged. Now, they’re owned and inhabited by Muslims. As the brown gate squeaked ajar, a little kid peep out, mumbling. Last year nearly a dozen Jewish families from this community left Yemen for Israel in covert airlift described by The Jewish Agency, which arranged the operation, as the last of its kind. Only one Jewish family opted to remain in Raydah. Saʻid al-Naʻati, 55, father of six children and caretaker of his 90-year-old mother, hasn’t yet made up his mind. “It’s my call [whether to emigrate],” said al-Naʻati. “Maybe I’ll travel, maybe I’ll stay.”

Al-Naʻati had his own reasons for opting to stay when he could have left with his neighbors a year ago. But the current situation in Yemen, devastated by two years of war, could soon force his hand. “It has to do with eking out a living. There’s no more living because of the crises and because I no longer have a job,” said al-Naʻati, who used to make jackets out of fur and sell them in the local market. “Now, we have sold half of our belongings [to survive],” he said. The war has rendered millions of Yemenis jobless, and caused rampant inflation. Over one million government employees—upon whose salaries an estimated nine million people depend—have not been paid for four months now. “Everything is expensive and there’s no longer income,” al-Naʻati complains.

Saʻid al-Naʻati outside al- home in Raydah. Photographed by the author.

Saʻid al-Naʻati outside al- home in Raydah. Photographed by the author.

The emigration of al-Naʻati’s fellow Jews has also made his life harder. “Our hope has been to stay,” al-Naʻati said. “With the extinction of Yemenite Jewry, however, one can’t live alone as a Jew [among Muslim people] because our religion doesn’t allow it. We need someone to prepare our meat. We also want [our sons] to get married to [Jewish women] and we want to marry off our women..” Al-Naʻati lives with three of his daughters now. Of his three sons, one now lives in the US, and one in the United Kingdom. The third is in Sanʻa, Yemen’s capital, where some 40 Jews live in Tourist City, a guarded complex, for safety reasons.

Intermittent attacks against Jewish communities have been among the factors contributing to increased emigration in recent years. In 2007, the Jewish family of Al Salim, who lived in Saʻdah Governorate, was expelled from their village. The Houthi movement, known for its anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment, was then at war with the central government; they issued a fifteen-day ultimatum for the Jews to leave. The Houthis gave no reason, but they apparently suspected the local Jewish community of aiding the government in some way. No proof to that effect was ever provided. Then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh relocated the Jews of Saʻdah to Tourist City in Sanʻa and began paying them a monthly stipend. Even after the Houthi movement—with Saleh’s support—seized power and took control of Sanʻa in late 2014, the government’s nominal protection of the Jewish community has remained in place.

Yemen’s Jews are indigenous to the region. Archeological records show that Judaism has been practiced in southwestern Arabia since at least the second century BCE, and many sources say it dates back much further than that. Jewish dynasties rose and fell in Yemen long before the advent of Islam. Since the rise of Islam in Yemen, local Jewish communities have endured periodic persecution. During the last fifty years, the Yemenite Jews have been treated as a second class. In 1949 and 1950, the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency brought tens of thousands of Yemeni Jews to Israel. Many smaller groups have made Aliyah since then. Those who remained in Yemen have kept a low profile since. In the past fifteen years, two Jewish people have been murdered, both by men said to be Wahhabis. The most recent victim was killed in Sanʻa by someone who reportedly claimed to have been sent by God. The victim’s son accused al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch of inciting the killing.

A child peeks through the gate of one of the historically-Jewish homes in Raydah. Photographed by the author.

A child peeks through the gate of one of the historically-Jewish homes in Raydah. Photographed by the author.

Culturally, Yemeni Jews have much in common with Yemeni Muslims, but they also maintain their own unique traditions and religious beliefs. Jewish men wear long payot, or sidelocks—often hidden while in public—but they also wear the long white robes and scarves common among northern Yemenis, and Jewish women are covered completely while in public. They also have their own rich culture of literature, music, crafts, and traditions that set them apart from both Yemeni Muslims and non-Yemeni Jewry.

For Saʻid al-Naʻati, the current volatile situation will decide whether he can remain in Raydah or follow his former neighbors, who have fled both war and extremists’ hate. “So far, [I have experienced] no harassment of the sort, thank God,” said al-Naʻati. “But no one knows what might happen to them.”

Shuaib Almosawa is a freelance journalist based in San'a. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Policy, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Independent, BuzzFeed, and Inter Press Service. Shuaib has also appeared on the BBC World Service and YLE radio and television.

Cholera outbreak deepens Yemen's misery

We're pleased to feature a guest post by Ibrahim Daair on the recent outbreak of cholera in Yemen, where the healthcare system has already been devastated by war and poverty. This article originally appeared on The Conflict Comment blog. This post does not necessarily reflect the positions of the YPP; YPP staff have not attempted to fact-check or independently verify the information reported herein. With the war leaving many of the country’s hospitals in ruins, a cholera outbreak could push Yemen’s health system over the brink, further shattering the already traumatised country.

Government officials in Northern Yemen have confirmed several cases of cholera, and this news cannot come at a worse time for the country, already one of the world’s poorest, as it undergoes a violent war involving neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

The majority of cholera cases have been reported in Sana’a. The World Health Organization (WHO), citing the Sana’a based Ministry of Health, reported 11 confirmed cases in the capital.

WHO officials also stated that the disease does not appear to be spreading. However, local media, quoting medical sources, also contained reports of two children contracting cholera in the southern governorate of Lahj. Local government officials were quick to deny the reports, claiming they were cases of food poisoning.

Cholera, which causes severe dysentery and vomiting, can develop in areas with poor sanitation and is contracted by coming into contact with contaminated water sources. Without effective treatment the disease can have a mortality rate of up to 90 per cent.

Any disease outbreak will undoubtedly put additional strain on a health system struggling to cope with the effects of war. The UN estimates that around 10,000 civilians have been killed due to the conflict; the majority by Saudi airstrikes.

A coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia began a bombing campaign in March last year after Ansarullah (Houthis) and forces loyal to former president Saleh took control of large territories across Yemen, forcing the internationally recognized government of president Hadi into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen has been in a state of upheaval since 2011, when popular protests forced president Saleh from power. Saleh handed power to his deputy Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi in a deal which gave him immunity from prosecution. The deal, sponsored by the GCC states, was seen as giving Saleh the ability to wreck Yemen’s transition toward democracy.

Yemen’s hospitals have not been immune to the war. Several have been targeted throughout the country. In August, a Saudi airstrike hit an MSF run facility in the North-West of the country. The attack killed 19 and destroyed the last functioning hospital in the area.

Julien Harneis, UNICEF’s Yemen representative, said ‘Children are at a particularly high risk if the current cholera outbreak is not urgently contained especially since the health system in Yemen is crumbling as the conflict continues.’

Furthermore, the medical situation is worsened by the nation-wide blockade enforced by the Saudi-led coalition on the country. By barring all sea and air traffic into Yemen, the Saudis aimed to turn public opinion against the rebels and pressure Ansarullah and Saleh loyalists to retreat from the capital.

However, more than a year on, it has had devastating effects on the country’s medical system, making it extremely difficult to import medication. Hospitals throughout the country have reportedly had to turn away patients because they lack the capacity to treat them.

The blockade is being blamed for an increasingly wide-spread humanitarian crisis. Reports indicate that up to 80 per cent of Yemen’s population is in need of humanitarian assistance, while malnutrition is affecting up to 1 in 3 children.

In addition, Yemen has suffered chronic water shortages as a result of poor management and inefficient infrastructure to conserve drinking water. Yet despite the on-going war, farmers are still producing the local cash crop. The production of Qat, a leaf that acts as a mild stimulant when chewed, consumes a large amount of water. With Qat and mismanagement already putting pressure on water resources, the war is exacerbating the situation by making it difficult for many to access clean drinking water. A vital resource in combatting the spread of cholera.

This week, the Saudi-led coalition was accused of bombing a funeral hall in the capital Sana’a which led to the deaths and injury of hundreds of attendees. After initially denying any involvement, the Saudis have apparently accepted responsibility in the wake of an international outcry. The scale of the bombing led hospitals in the capital to issue a call for volunteers to donate blood to critically injured survivors.

UN secretary-General Ban Ki Moon labelled the attack ‘an outrageous violation of international humanitarian law’ and called for a full inquiry. He also condemned all sides for attempting to ‘hide behind the fog of this war’.

The UN has organized a number of peace talks in a bid to end the war. The latest round of negotiations in Kuwait earlier this year fell through after Saleh’s party, the GPC, and Ansarullah unilaterally announced the formation a new government.

Last month the Saudi backed government in exile announced that it would move the central bank to Aden, the temporary capital. The bank was seen as the last functioning non-partisan bureaucracy keeping the economy from completely collapsing.

On the other side, the Houthis and Saleh are not willing to surrender their weapons nor allow the exiled government to return to power in Sana’a.

As the fighting continues the financial cost of the war is mounting on Saudi Arabia. The unintended length of the war coupled with a persistent slump in oil prices and growing financial crisis are putting heavy pressure on the Saudi monarchy to get out of the Yemeni quagmire. The quickest way out for the Saudis would be to drop Hadi and allow the formation of a unity government without him. However, this would involve a serious loss of face that the kingdom’s rulers cannot tolerate.

For any meaningful peace to be negotiated all sides must move away from their increasingly entrenched positions and think in terms of their, and Yemen’s, future interests. A long protracted war will only serve to further destroy the country and diminish public support for either side.

The current war is not the only concern to bear in mind: “The only thing keeping the country’s ‘two sides’ together are shared enemies” said Adam Baron, a journalist on Yemen. Those divisions have not gone away, rather the war has simply placed them on the back burner.

During his tenure as president Saleh fought six wars against the Houthis. For their part the wide confederation fighting alongside the Hadi government includes local tribes, Al-Qaeda and secessionist elements; many of whom are also deeply opposed to Hadi. In the event of the current war coming to an end, Yemenis will still face the daunting task of keeping the peace between the many heavily armed sides.

The cholera outbreak is the latest in a long line of events pushing the Yemeni population to its limits. Unless steps are taken to stop this outbreak in its tracks, the addition of a serious medical crisis could turn Yemen into an even greater humanitarian catastrophe.

Between Hirak, Hadi, and foreign forces, uncertainty reigns in Aden

The following piece was sent to us by a frequent guest blogger, who writes anonymously for professional reasons and safety concerns. The perspective of the author does not necessarily represent the positions of the YPP. The YPP's Hannah Porter assisted with editing and translation. Yemen’s internationally-recognized government and its allies—including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, local Yemeni salafi groups, and factions of al-Hirak (the Southern independence movement)—are trying to make real progress on the ground in the areas of southern Yemen they have retaken, although this appears to be an impossible task given the complex challenges facing them.

Granting the management and security of Yemen’s temporary capital Aden to the armed faction of al-Hirak led by Aydroos al-Zabidi (who was previously the chairperson of the Hatem movement) was an extremely clever move, one that may have been a result of President Hadi’s foresight into to Aden’s future. Hirak’s field leaders are experiencing a phase of infighting and disorder. After some of the leaders accepted administrative positions in the Hadi-Bahah government, they proved themselves unable to provide solutions to the people who supported them and listened to their speeches about reestablishing the southern nation.

This may be understandable, as the Hirak field leaders have nothing in the way of experience in governance or societal management, and the treasury of Yemen’s government is practically empty. The funding that the government talks about consists of bonds given to them by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Gulf countries. It is true that a small amount of the money has been received, but the larger monetary influx comes as part of the war effort, which drains everything and is itself one of the biggest challenges to normalizing life in Aden.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have set their focus on security challenges in reclaimed areas, as well as promoting military operations against Ansar Allah (Houthi) and pro-Saleh forces. This means that development and normalizing life in the capital of Aden is a matter left to international and Gulf aid organizations, and to the Hirak leadership, which presides over Aden.

International and Gulf aid organizations active in liberated areas have discussed the difficulty of development occurring while security challenges disrupt normal life in Aden. Not only have assassinations increased since Hirak took charge of Aden’s security and administration (with Aden’s governor being subject to three assassination attempts since taking office) but Islamic State affiliates in Yemen have unleashed a tsunami of merciless attacks.

The utter incompetence that pervades Yemen’s government is one of its main challenges. The president and his vice president/prime minister cannot travel through Aden by private cars or even in convoys, but instead resort to helicopters to transport them to their destinations.

Even the services provided to citizens by the Southern Resistance in reclaimed areas are in decline after an initial period of relative stability. Sewage and garbage have begun to fill the streets of Shaykh Othman, al-Mansurah, and Dar Saʻad. Phone and Internet service is still weak and electric outages now last eight hours every day. Water threatens to be cut off due to the administration’s inability to pay their employees’ wages and petrol will sometimes be available for two weeks and then disappear for the next two weeks.

All the above-mentioned challenges may seem normal for areas recovering from armed conflict and still belonging to a country at war. However, these challenges can be used and manipulated as tools to remove an opposing power from the political scene. The search for improvement in current times is a difficult matter and there is nothing the people can do but be patient and hopeful.

تحاول الحكومة المعترف بها من قبل الأمم المتحدة ومن خلفها السعودية و الإمارات العربية المتحدة بالإضافة الى بعض قادة الحراك الجنوبي وايضاً سلفيي اليمن إنجاز تقدم حقيقي على الارض في المحافظات المسيطر عليها، إلا ان ذلك يبدو كمهمة مستحيلة امام التحديات المعقدة التي تواجههم.

إن إسناد ملف إدارة وأمن العاصمة المؤقته لليمن "عدن" لفصيل الحراك الجنوبي المسلح بقيادة "عيدروس الزبيدي" الذي كان فيما سبق يرأس حركة حتم "حركة تقرير المصير"، امر بالغ في الذكاء ! بالإمكان القول ان الرئيس هادي استخدمها وهو يتطلع الى مرحلة ما بعد ما تعيشه عدن حالياً.

إن القيادات الميدانية للحراك الجنوبي تعيش مرحلة من الإصطدام البيني و التوهان، فبعد ان قبل بعض قيادة الحراك الجنوبي بمناصب ادارية في السلطة الحالية للحكومة اليمنية قدمهم كعاجزين عن تقديم اي حلول للجماهير التي لطالما ايدتهم و انصتت الى حديثهم عن إستعادة الدولة الجنوبية.

وفي الحقيقية يمكن تفهم ذلك، فهؤلاء القادة الميدانيين لديهم لاشيء فيما يتعلق بالحوكمة وإدارة المجتمعات، بالإضافة الى ان الخزنة المالية للحكومة المعترف بها تقريباً لا شيء ! فالتمويلات التي تتحدث عنها الحكومة المعترف بها هي تعهدات قدمتها العربية السعودية و دولة الامارات العربية المتحدة وبعض الدول الخليجية، صحيح ان القليل جداً وصل الا ان التدفق المالي الاكبر يأتي للمجهود الحربي الذي يستنزف كل شيء وهو بذاته اكبر التحديات في تطبيع الحياة بعدن.

إن السعودية و الإمارات العربية المتحدة يضعون نصب اعينهم مسئلة التحدي الأمني في المناطق المسيطر عليها و تعزيز العمليات العسكرية ضد قوات انصار الله/صالح. وذلك يعني ان التنمية وتطبيع الحياة في العاصمة عدن ملف ترك لبعض المنظمات الدولية والخليجية بالإضافة الى قيادة الحراك الجنوبي المسلح التي اصبح على رأس السلطة في عدن.

والحقيقة التي تتحدث عنها المنظمات الدولية والخليجية العاملة في المناطق المحررة هي ان لا يمكن للتنمية ان تتقدم والتحديات الامنية تعصف بتطبيع الحياة في عدن، فعمليات الاغتيالات هي في إزدياد منذ تولي الحراك المسلح إدارة وامن عدن، بل وان الدولة الإسلامية في اليمن اطلقت تسونامي يضرب الجميع دون رحمة. فمحافظ عدن الحالي تعرض لـ 3 محاولات اغتيال منذ تولية حكم عدن !

العجز التام الذي يطبق على الحكومة اليمنية المعترف بها هو ايضاً احد التحديات، فكلاً من رئيس الجمهورية و ونأئب الرئيس رئيس الوزراء لايمكنهما التجوال في عدن بسيارتهم الخاصة او حتى بموكب ! عوضاً عن ذلك هم يتنقلون بطائرات هيلوكبتر للوصول الى بعض الاماكن !

حتى الخدمات المقدمة للمواطنين في المناطق المسيطر عليها من قبل المقاومة الجنوبية هي في تدهور بعد ان شهدت بعضها نوع من الاستقرار النسبي، فالمجاري والقمامة اصبح تملئ بعض المديريات كالشيخ عثمان والمنصورة ودار سعد. كما ان خدمة الإتصالات ما تزال رديئة كما الانترنت. الكهرباء التي اصبحت تنقطع لحوالي 8 ساعات يومياً والمياة التي اصبحت مهددة بالتوقف لعدم قدرة المؤسسة عن دفع رواتب العاملين. ايضاً البترول الذي يظهر لمدة اسبوعين ويختفي مرة اخرى لمدة اسبوعين !

إن هذه التحديات قد تبدو طبيعية لمناطق خرجت من النزاعات المسلحة وما تزال تعيش حالة حرب مستمرة في البلد الذي تنتمي له. وهي ايضاً ادوات تمسك بها القوة المتصارعة وتلعب بها بذكاء من اجل ازاحة اطراف من المشهد السياسي. إن البحث عن تحسن في الوقت الحالي امر صعب جداً وليس امام الناس إلا الصبر و الأمل.

Is the international community about to ditch President Hadi?

Observers who keep a close eye on Yemeni affairs have understood for a while that President 'Abdu Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the man touted by most of the international community as the "legitimate" head of the Yemeni state, does not enjoy the full confidence of his government-in-exile. His vice president/prime minister Khaled Bahah seems to command more respect and admiration, inside and outside Yemen, and the government--based between Aden, Riyadh, and Amman--has long been divided between the president and PM, according to knowledgeable sources. But while this intra-regime conflict has simmered behind closed doors, international officials and diplomats have, for the most part, maintained the fiction of the "legitimate" president's control over the "recognized" government of Yemen.* That facade took a few serious hits this week, as both the AFP and Reuters published articles acknowledging the Hadi-Bahah divide. The AFP's Tuesday piece deals with President Hadi's sudden replacement of several ministers and ambassadors. The crux of the maneuver, according to AFP, was Hadi's attempt to replace Foreign Minister Riyadh Yasin, whom Hadi plucked from obscurity to act (quite incompetently) as his chief diplomat back in late March, and whom Bahah has reportedly despised and refused to work with from day one. If Hadi hoped to repair the breach with his VP/PM by ditching Yasin, he seems to have failed: Reuters reported on Wednesday that Bahah had publicly "rejected" the reshuffle, because the president has no constitutional authority to appoint or dismiss cabinet members.

Also on Tuesday, Reuters put out a piece that was chock-full of quotes from anonymous Yemeni and foreign diplomats dumping on Hadi, and making it clear that no one in the international community is interested in propping up his presidency any longer than is absolutely necessary.

"Hadi has never been popular and it’s not in his interest that the war stop before complete victory. Diplomats know that Hadi is not a serious candidate, and a settlement means he’s out."

A second diplomat said there was now broad agreement that talks were the way forward because the war had reached a stalemate on the ground. But "a few dissenters" including in Hadi's camp were nonetheless holding out for a military victory.....

Western and regional officials have voiced support for Hadi's prime minister and vice president, Khaled Bahah, widely seen as a rival, who some describe as a more capable technocrat.

"The leadership between Bahah and Hadi is not in sync," the second diplomat said, offering praise for Bahah as a "healer" while describing Hadi as more self-interested.

Now, all of that has been conventional wisdom among full-time Yemen watchers for a while now. But when foreign diplomats start saying things like this to the press--especially going so far as to accuse an internationally-backed president of deliberately sabotaging peace talks--it's usually because they've been encouraged to leak by their superiors. While I doubt we'll see figures like John Kerry or UN special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed publicly disavowing Hadi, it would seem that the powers that legitimized his presidency are now getting ready to facilitate his exit. Stay tuned.

*Why all the quotation marks? Here's a quick summary of the precariousness of the Hadi-Bahah regime: Hadi was anointed as president of Yemen under the so-called GCC Initiative, an agreement signed by the ruling General Peoples' Congress coalition and the Joint Meeting Parties opposition bloc that eased long-time dictator 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh out of power. That agreement stipulated that Hadi would govern for a two-year transitional period, with the help of a power-sharing government split between the GPC and JMP. But Hadi stayed in office far past the two-year mark, with no legal basis. He also reshuffled the cabinet, something neither the constitution nor the GCC Initiative gave him authority to do. In late 2014, after the Houthis began their slow-motion coup with the help of former president Saleh, a new government of ostensibly non-partisan technocrats was formed, with Bahah as PM. But most of that government's ministers resigned in January-February 2015, and President Hadi, after fleeing from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, unilaterally appointed new officials to make up for those who didn't join him in exile. So, when foreign officials or media outlets describe Hadi and/or his government as "legitimate," just know that the term is being applied arbitrarily, and with no legal basis.

Putting the Saudi "coup letters" in context

In September, several international news outlets reported on a set of letters, written by a member of the Saudi royal family (known in Arabic as Al Saud, the House of Saud), calling on the entire family to overthrow King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. None of these outlets, however, has published an English translation of the letters. We're doing so here for the first time. These letters deal only briefly with the war in Yemen, but the war--and the larger trend of military adventurism--is one of the author's major grievances with the Salman regime. You can download the full English text of the letters here. Below are some choice excerpts, followed by commentary on the letters by journalist and Chatham House Fellow Peter Salisbury.

[box transparent="1"]

In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate.

An urgent alarm call to all the Al Saud

The peace and compassion and blessings of God be upon you.

All praise to God, Lord of the universe, and God’s peace and blessings be upon His most noble messenger.

This is advice and an alarm call to all the sons and grandsons of the Founder, the late King Abdulaziz, who receive this letter....

The Founder brought us up on a set of principles that maintain authority, strengthen the state, and keep a balance in the country between the ruler and the ruled. We learned from him that maintaining authority requires that power should be held only by the oldest and most suitable, and that they should make the others share in their decision-making; that the character of the state should remain Islamic and pure; not to compromise the application of Sharia; to respect religious scholars and preserve their role in society; and to value notables.

The late Founder also taught us not to mix authority with business, to take our share of public money formally and not stretch out our hands in cheating, deception or fraud, what is now known as corruption and embezzlement. We also learned from him to adhere to good morals and religious correctness, and when plagued with something, not to shout about it, or be defiant. We learned to give people their value, to behave modestly in the majlis, and to accept advice; not to turn down a petitioner, not to close the door, not to reject those who ask, not to let down the oppressed, not to help the oppressor.

Some of these recommendations began to be neglected, and the wise men did not react to stop those who breached them, which lead to compromise in the rest leading to neglect of all the recommendations. We came near to collapse of the state and loss of authority. Disaster is closing upon us and others. The last of the neglected recommendations was marginalising the elders and the experienced, and handing over authority to juveniles and foolish dreamers who act behind the facade of an incompetent king....

How for example did we accept that the sons of Abdulaziz should be marginalised both in power and in participation in decision-making? How did we accept, passively and without intervening, the King’s mental condition which renders him unqualified to continue in authority? How did we accept that a person close to the King should dominate the country politically and economically, and leave him to make plans at his will?

Furthermore, how did we accept a foreign policy that weakens our people’s trust in us and incites the peoples of other countries against us? How did we accept engaging in uncalculated military risks, such as the military alliance to strike Iraq and Syria, and the Yemen war? How did we accept that our fate should be hostage to the whims of adolescents and impetuous caprice?...

Thirteen sons of King Abdulziz are still alive, and between them they possess great competence and experience, particularly Princes Talal bin Abdulaziz, Turki bin Abdulaziz and Ahmed bin Abdulaziz with their great ability and well-known political and administrative experience which should be harnessed in the interest of religion, the Holy Places, and the people.

The abovementioned three in particular and all thirteen sons of the Founder in general should carry the banner, gather consensus, and assemble the ranks of the House of Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman al-Faisal al-Saud, led by the oldest and best of them and their capable sons—who are a treasure imperishable if God wills—to act and remove all three, the incapable King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the negligent, impetuous and arrogant Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and the thief, corrupt, destroyer of the nation Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—just as King Faisal, his brothers, and their sons and cousins did when they removed King Saud—so that the best and oldest can take charge of the affairs of the country and its people....[/box]

Read the full text of the letters here.

I asked journalist and Chatham House Fellow Peter Salisbury a few questions to help us gauge the importance of these letters in the context of internal Saudi politics.

YPP: How much importance should we ascribe to these letters? Assuming the author isn't capable of pulling off an actual coup, what, if any, change can other members of the royal family hope to achieve? Salisbury: The surprise with these letters isn’t that they have appeared; it’s that it has taken so long for them to do so.

When King Salman appointed two members of his Sudairi branch of the family, his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef and his favourite son Mohammed bin Salman, who may have been as young as 29 at the time, as first and second in line to the throne, it sent shock waves across the Saud family [Will's note: "Sudairi" refers to the descendants of King Abdulaziz and Hussa bint Ahmad al-Sudairi, including the so-called "Sudairi Seven," the most powerful grouping of Abdulaziz's many sons].

At the time, a lot of reports on the appointments  focused on generational change - it was the first time in Saudi Arabia’s modern history that one of Abdulaziz al-Saud’s grandchildren rather than sons had been made crown prince - and on the youth of his son after years of septuagenarian crown princes. But the bigger issue for the Al Saud was that King Salman had concentrated current and future power in the Kingdom in the hands of one branch of the family. Some analysts described the move as being, in effect, a palace coup, with the King also setting his son up as future monarch. The author of the letter is fairly clear on this point: “How… did we accept that the sons of Abdulaziz should be marginalised both in power and in participation in decision-making?” he writes.

So the rest of the family  - the descendants of Abdulaziz’s other sons - were unsurprisingly unhappy. But the King's war in Yemen and the young Prince became very popular in the early months of King Salman’s reign, thanks in no small part to glowing domestic media coverage. It would have been very risky indeed to publicly criticize King Salman or the Mohammeds. Eight months in to King Salman’s reign, it looks like the author of the letter has exhausted internal channels for expressing his frustrations and has turned to the Western media, which has by and large been very critical of the war in Yemen and tends to be pretty critical of the House of Saud and the West’s relationship with the regime.

That makes the letter feel a bit like a desperate last attempt to get King Salman to reverse course on the succession issue, by someone trying to carve out a political space for themselves. It’s interesting to see this happen, and critics of the Saudi regime will of course latch on to it but I am not sure what impact if any it will have on the actual internal workings of the state, especially given that the concentration of power within the Sudairi family is continuing apace (the author talks about mixing ‘authority with business’ which is a pretty clear attack on the deputy crown prince -  a lot of the letter is an attack on hism - who has taken a big role in managing the economy, took over the lucrative position of head of the Royal Court, and has been accused of redirecting a lot of business and patronage to his own inner circle, which is in reality fairly standard practice when a new King takes over).

I could be wrong of course, but this isn’t actually the first time something like this has happened and in general the impact has been pretty limited. The author seems to recognize this: “[T]ime goes by quickly, and each day that passes makes it more difficult to grip the matter than the day before”, he wrote in September, and two months on we haven’t seen any movement.

YPP: In addition to King Salman, the letters call out Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Nayef in particular. Is it accurate to view the two Mohammeds as allies/partners, or do they each have different agendas? In other words, would Mohammed bin Salman be likely to retain his current position of power in the event of Salman's death? Salisbury: First, a disclaimer: a lot of analysis of the inner working of the House of Saud tends to devolve into Kremlinology - people trying to derive meaning from what little information emerges from inside the Palace (well, the Palaces but you get what I mean). So what I am providing here is my best educated guess.

As far as the two Mohammeds - MbN and MbS, as they are known - are concerned, it’s worth remembering that MbN was a widely acclaimed figure in the Saudi media in the past and that he has been seen as the US’ favorite Prince since the turn of the millennium thanks to his role in taking on Al Qaeda inside the Kingdom. Now we’re seeing him being eclipsed in media terms by MbS and it is difficult to know if that's a choice and he’s taking a knee, staying out of the limelight, and if so why - because he isn’t happy with the Yemen war (as many suggest)? - or because he doesn’t have much of a choice; or as some people suggest because he is happy to give his young cousin enough rope to hang himself with. But either way, MbS has become incredibly visible in the Saudi press while MbN is a much quieter figure these days.

Nevertheless MbN is in a strong position to become a very popular King: he’s young enough to have a few decades on the throne and if he succeeds Salman will be the first of his generation to become King. He is likely to be wary of MbS, who is in the process of gathering an awful lot of power around himself with respect to not just the military but also the economy. So theoretically it might make sense for MbN to do what King Salman did and completely change the line of succession. But they are from the same branch of the family, and I suspect that the Sudairis as a unit will be keen for the two Mohammeds to remain on friendly terms to ensure that power is concentrated within the family for the foreseeable future. A lot, of course, depends on how long of a reign King Salman has, how various aspects of current foreign policy play out, and how the oil price and economy fare in the next five years or so. YPP: What other important groupings or factions exist within the royal family, and how might their priorities differ from the current ruling faction? Salisbury: Basically, the other factions are the remaining sons of Abdulaziz and the sons of his children, particularly the offspring of former Kings and senior Princes, who are worried that their branches of the family may be robbed of their inheritance - i.e. a fair shot at the throne in the future. Abdulaziz had an estimated 45 sons and a similar number of daughters so being a Saudi Prince is a bit like like having the surname Smith in the UK or US.

The author of the letter mentions a number of the most prominent former Kings and Princes - Saud, Faisal, Khaled, Fahd, Nayef - while taking a swipe at the previous King, Abdullah, and at  Salman so I think it’s fair to guess he isn’t from either of these branches of the family. It’s also interesting that he refers to the 13 living sons of Abdulaziz and puts forward a list of potential candidates for King who are fairly low-key and would likely not overstep the mark when it comes to marginalising the rest of the family.
The issue for the rest of the al-Saud is that if the Sudairis become the only branch of the family who are considered for succession, everyone else will become increasingly removed from the levers of the state and hence prime opportunities to receive and distribute patronage.  That means their influence and power will be eroded, and that their ability to angle for future posts or crown prince roles will also be limited. So the issue really is one of being marginalized in the long term, and of a power-grab by a single branch of the family, which in and of itself is seen by many Princes as breaking the rules.

YPP and House of Light on KPFK

I appeared on yesterday's episode of Middle East in Focus, a radio show broadcast on KPFK here in southern California, to talk about the current situation in Yemen, US foreign policy, and the work of the YPP. Also featured on the show was Sahar Nuraddin, co-founder of the House of Light Foundation in Aden. For the last couple months we've been helping House of Light raise money for their initiative to provide clothing and hygiene kits to women displaced by the war.  You can find the episode here (it's the July 12 listing). I think my interview is worth listening to, but I really encourage readers to listen to Sahar's interview, which follows mine at about 16:30. Aden is under a near-total state of siege now, and residents have only sporadic internet and phone service, so it's very valuable to to hear a first-hand perspective on the situation there. Sahar's perspective, as a full-time NGO worker and aid provider with contacts all throughout Aden Governorate, is particularly informative.

And don't forget to support the very important work Sahar and House of Light are doing. You can learn more and donate here.

EU Parliament condemns violence by Houthis, Saleh, KSA

The plenary session of the European Parliament adopted today a resolution on the current conflict in Yemen. Beyond the standard "expressions of concern" and calls for restraint, there are a couple of clauses in this resolution that are particularly noteworthy. Overall, it's a more impassioned and strongly-worded document than we usually expect to see in such cases.  The most striking thing about this resolution is that it positions the EU, as a body, outside the conflict. It does this by criticizing the Saudi-led coalition as well as the Houthi-Saleh alliance. Here's a key paragraph (#3, emphasis mine):

[The European Parliament] Condemns the destabilising and violent unilateral actions taken by the Houthis and military units loyal to ex-President Saleh; also condemns the air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition and the naval blockade it has imposed on Yemen, which have led to thousands of deaths, have further destabilised Yemen, have created conditions more conducive to the expansion of terrorist and extremist organisations such as ISIS/Da’esh and AQAP, and have exacerbated an already critical humanitarian situation;

Compare that to, for example, the UN Security Council's Resolution 2216, which condemns the Houthis' actions, but implicitly approves of the Saudi-led intervention. What makes the paragraph above really interesting is that a number of EU member states--specifically the UK, France, and Belgium--are involved in the Saudi bombing campaign in one way or another. In fact, the voting record for today's resolution shows a very interesting amendment, which will be added to the finalized version of the text:

[The European Parliament] Expresses its concern regarding the intensive arms trade of EU Member States with various countries in the region, as in the case of the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Germany; calls on the Council in this connection to verify whether there have been breaches of the EU Common Position on Arms Export Controls and to adopt measures to ensure that this common position is fully respected by all the Member States;

You can find a provisional PDF copy of the full resolution here.


Saudi Arabia has little incentive to deescalate

If you haven't already, I strongly recommend that you read Adam Baron's latest piece of Yemen-alysis for the ECFR. In it, Baron does a great job of summarizing recent developments on several fronts (both literal and figurative) of Yemen's internationalized conflict. One of the most important points he makes is that Saudi Arabia's vicious campaign of airstrikes, while drawing considerable criticism from the outside world, is "remarkably popular" within Saudi Arabia. Here's how Baron puts it:

While the Saudi offensive has seemingly failed to notch up significant success, it has proven remarkably popular domestically. Furthermore, contacts have noted a surge of popularity for Mohammed bin Salman. These factors, in addition to Hadi and other exiled officials’ unreserved support for the offensive in the hopes that its success would lead to their return to power, have ensured that the Saudis are under little to no pressure to bring an end to the conflict. In short, while it may appear from the outside that Saudi Arabia is under tremendous pressure to end the war, from an internal perspective, it is just the opposite.

There's so much more packed into this short piece that everyone should read and take to heart, so please read the whole thing. But one other paragraph in particular is worthy of special attention here. It concerns the gains al-Qaeda has made since the start of the war.

As the power vacuum has been exacerbated, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken advantage to dramatic effect, seizing control of Mukalla and much of the eastern province of Hadramawt. For the first time, AQAP is openly and actively embedding itself in and coordinating with Yemeni tribes; tribal contacts in Shabwa have said that even a number of staunchly anti-AQAP tribal leaders have agreed to truces with the group. This suggests that the situation in Al-Bayda, where AQAP fighters have openly fought alongside anti-Houthi fighters, risks becoming the norm in much of the rest of the country.

So, Saudi Arabia continues to escalate and is eager to find allies inside Yemen who can actually fight and win. AQAP--one of the most effective fighting forces in the country--is operating in the open, and making new friends. I have an official policy about making predictions on this blog ("don't do it"), so I'll let you map out your own worst-case scenarios from here.

Hadi's foreign minister speaks to Al Jazeera

Last weekend, the foreign minister of President Hadi's government-in-exile, Riyadh Yasin, gave an interview on the current situation in Yemen to Al Jazeera English. The whole interview is worth watching (it's just over 20 minutes), but there are a few important points I'd like to highlight.  First, when asked about the current state of the Yemeni state military, FM Yasin claims that about one third of the military is still loyal to President Hadi, and is fighting against the pro-Houthi/pro-Saleh forces. He also claims that about half of the military units and assets controlled by former president 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh have been destroyed already. Yasin also points out that many soldiers have simply deserted since the start of the war.

Yasin also refuses to admit that Yemen's conflict is, in fact, a civil war. Instead, he says it should be viewed as simply a coup by Saleh and the Houthi militia.

I think the idea that 1/3 of the army is still fighting for Hadi is beyond optimistic. There are definitely some segments of the regular military fighting against the Houthi/Saleh forces, particularly in Ta‘iz, but I think it's a relatively small number.

When asked about the humanitarian situation in Yemen, Yasin makes a claim that defies common sense and decency. He claims that the Saudi-led airstrikes and fighting on the ground haven't had as disastrous effect on the country as the foreign media thinks, and that Yemenis are used to living in very difficult conditions. Basically, he says that all of the current suffering is Saleh's fault for not building a better infrastructure during his 33-year-reign.

FM Yasin, who is based in Saudi Arabia, deserves some credit for openly criticizing the GCC initiative, which eased Saleh out of power in late 2011. He says that allowing Saleh to remain in Yemen was a "mistake," and that the GCC states are to blame for that mistake.

Yasin warns that if the Saudis and their coalition don't help Hadi's government regain control of the south soon, AQAP will likely move in and "become heroes of the people" by opposing the Houthis. This is, I think, a pretty good point.

Toward the end of the interview, Yasin says one more thing that's worth paying attention to. He says that Yemen is now "part of the Gulf states," and that the GCC members will be involved in "restructuring" Yemen once the conflict is over. The Saudi leadership has also talked recently about pushing through GCC membership for Yemen, something that has long been denied to the country in the past.

You can (and should) watch the full interview at this link.

Hello Pakistan, Hello India, Hello KSA

If you're visiting our site from a country involved in airstrikes in Yemen, we want to hear from you! Since the beginning of the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen this week, our website has seen a huge increase in visitors from Pakistan, India, and Saudi Arabia. By "huge," I mean that pageviews from Pakistan, which in an average week make up about 3% of our total traffic, now account for 20% of all pageviews. Visitors from India are now about 20% of the total as well, up from an average of 9%. Visitors to our website from Saudi Arabia now account for about 9% of our total traffic, a noticeable increase from their normal 3%. In short, our site's traffic patterns have changed in a big way since a coalition of GCC, Arab League, and other states have decided to intervene in Yemen's civil war*.

The thing about international intervention is that it is rarely a one-way operation. America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, had massive secondary effects on domestic politics here in the US. Similarly, as Saudi Arabia and its allies drop thousands of tons of ordnance on Yemen's cities, the conflict is also heavily impacting some of the countries involved. My suspicion is that the conflict will be felt most strongly by the public in Pakistan, where the military receives much more public support and loyalty than does the federal government.

If you're visiting our site from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or any other country involved in Operation Decisive Storm, we'd love to hear your opinion about this intervention, and your thoughts on how the war in Yemen matters to affairs in your own country. You can email us your comments at, or share them on our Facebook page. Also, while you're here, please consider making a donation to the YPP so we can continue to provide news and analysis about Yemen to readers and listeners all over the world. Thanks!

*Yes, I know India isn't part of the coalition. But in general, issues that are big in Pakistan become important in India as well, and there's also a sizable Yemeni population there. If you can help explain India's increasing interest, please do!

GCC airstrikes continue across Yemen

Just after nightfall in San‘a, sources in the city are reporting the most intense airstrikes since the Saudi-led joint bombing operation began on Wednesday. The air campaign, which Saudi Arabia has dubbed Operation Decisive Storm (‘asifat al-Hazm), includes forces from all Gulf Cooperation Council states with the exception of Oman, which seems to be positioning itself as a potential mediator. Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco are also contributing forces, while the US and other western states have promised logistical and intelligence support.  According to Yemeni government sources (that is, pro-Houthi officials in the acting government in San‘a), at least 39 Yemeni civilians were killed in the first two nights of air raids. Thursday night's bombings expanded beyond the capital, with coalition warplanes targeting pro-Houthi and pro-Saleh forces in Sa‘dah, Ta‘iz, Aden, and Lahj. Strikes on Friday reportedly have also targeted positions in al-Hudaydah on the Red Sea coast.

Meanwhile, Houthi/Saleh forces have continued their ground campaign for control over southern Yemen, pushing into Abyan and Shabwah Governorates for the first time on Friday. Pro-Saleh forces have reportedly cut off Aden--which the GCC swears is still under the control of the "legitimate government," even though President Hadi fled the city two days ago--from the north, west, and east. GCC-coalition naval and ground forces are waiting off the coast of Aden, but have not entered Yemen yet.

To get a sense of the thinking within the US administration about this latest phase of the conflict, read the transcript of Thursday's State Department press briefing. It seems that the Obama administration may have been caught off-guard by the GCC air campaign, and there does not seem to be total agreement within the US government about the usefulness of GCC actions.

The escalating conflict is already exacerbating Yemen's very serious humanitarian crisis. With roads cut by rival military forces, and power and fuel unavailable, life is only getting harder for the millions of Yemenis facing food insecurity and water shortages.

For propaganda-heavy coverage of the campaign from the Saudi perspective, check out Al Arabiya's English and Arabic websites. Al Jazeera's coverage is more balanced, giving airtime to Yemenis who oppose the airstrikes. Democracy Now interviewed Yemeni analyst and activist Farea al-Muslimi from San'a today, and International Crisis Group released a new briefing paper, which argues that the best option for descalation and peaceful resolution of the crisis would be a monitored ceasefire under the auspices of the UN Security Council, followed by UN-led talks.

Saudi Arabia launches air campaign against Yemen

Last night, over 100 Saudi Arabian Air Force jets bombed Yemen's capital, San'a. The air strikes ostensibly targeted pro-Houthi installations, with the aim of stopping the advance of forces aligned with Ansar Allah and former president 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh. Earlier in the day, President Hadi--who has been running a government-in-exile from the southern city of Aden--called on the GCC and United Nations to authorize military intervention against his enemies. Meanwhile, available reports indicate that Hadi fled the country yesterday, as pro-Houthi/pro-Saleh forces entered Aden.  US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with GCC leaders this morning, and confirmed that the United States supports the bombing campaign, which at present involves all GCC states with the exception of Oman. Egyptian, Pakistani, and Sudanese forces also appear to be involved.

The Yemen Peace Project strongly condemns US support for military intervention in Yemen. The GCC strikes are not likely to have a positive impact on political negotiations, and are making life for ordinary Yemenis in the capital much harder. According to official sources, at least 25 Yemenis were killed overnight in the bombings. Many San'a residents are reportedly fleeing the capital, or are moving away from Houthi-controlled areas within the city. Fuel and electricity are unavailable in many parts of the city as well.

Rival Islamists hold political process hostage

Today we're pleased to present a guest post by Yemeni journalist Mohammed Ali Kalfood. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Yemen Peace Project. With the Shiite Houthi movement--apparently allied with former president ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh--taking over the north of Yemen, where Sunni hard-liners are dominant, and a “legitimate” interim president in the south, where al-Qaeda's local offshoot has a strong presence, the UN-led political process in Yemen seems to have been thrown into a long-term “Islamist” rivalry that threatens the stability and security of this most impoverished Arab country.

It’s been more than three years since the process of the peaceful transition of power started in Yemen, one year after the popular uprising burst forth against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for 33 years.

The transition period has been characterized by fierce rivalries over power and territory, which have culminated in a total breakdown of law and order across Yemen, and the collapse of certain parties and factions that previously wielded significant power. Back in 2012, the Islah party—Yemen’s largest opposition party, which includes the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood—and the General Peoples’ Congress (GPC) party, chaired by Saleh, signed the GCC Initiative in Riyadh, a negotiated settlement backed by the Gulf states and the United States, which saw Saleh step down, handing the reins of government to his vice president, 'Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi, in an interim capacity.

President Hadi, in turn, oversaw the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), an assembly of 565 delegates representing political factions and social groups, in an attempt to formulate a federal system of government and constitution.

But since then, Hadi has continued to face dramatic challenges at the political, economic and security levels. Although the NDC was regionally and internationally cited as a “model,” the post-Saleh period saw sectarian conflict, military assassinations, abduction of foreigners, and acts of sabotage increase in several parts of Yemen.

Moreover, al-Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen –known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – has carried out the deadliest attacks ever since the group began in 2009 and stationed itself in the south of the country. In fact, it had virtually taken control of the southern Abyan province by March 2011, only a month after the popular uprising got under way.

The rise of the Shiite Houthis as new powerbrokers dominating the north and apparently siding with Saleh, is also believed to be another factor that intensified rivalry with the Sunni al-Qaeda in the south. A recently-passed UN resolution intended to punish Saleh and his Houthi allies.

The Houthis, based in their stronghold in the northern province of Saʻdah, started fighting with Sunni hard-liners in the town of Dammaj early in 2013, as the NDC sessions kicked off in March. Then the Houthis advanced through Amran Province and Arhab District before capturing the capital, Sanʻa, in September of 2014. In November they steered towards Radaʻ in central al-Baydha province to fight al-Qaeda there.

As early as 2010, Sunni al-Qaeda publicly vowed to fight the Shiite Houthis, which it regards as heretics. The Houthis are also viewed as Iranian proxies. Al-Qaeda suicide attacks against the Houthis, however, increased dramatically especially in Rada', where more than a dozen attacks had been reported. The Houthi leader, though, has reiterated in his recent speeches that his group will continue to fight al-Qaeda until “it is crushed or driven out.”

Since 2012, the Islah party’s tribal armed men had battled the Houthis in all fronts when the latter advanced from Saʻdah reaching Amran to Hajjah, Sanʻa, Dhamar and Ibb in the mountainous midlands. Al-Jawf province, east Yemen, has also seen fierce clashes. Now the next bout is brewing in the oil-rich Marib province.

Such rivalry between the Shiite Houthis and the Sunni hard-liners, on one hand, is based on a sectarian ground and, on the other hand, there is a political aspect to it. Islah has lost much of its political power, largely at the hands of the Houthis, and is believed to be supporting the violent groups directly and indirectly to reshuffle cards.

The Islah party reportedly used fighters from al-Qaeda in its battles against the Houthis during the last year. While there had been no statements denying such reports, a Twitter account associated with AQAP announced in mid-December that two leading members, 'Ali al-Haniq and Abu Waleed al-San‘ani, were killed fighting alongside the Islah party’s tribesmen in Arhab district, some 35 km to the north of the capital.

The GCC Initiative was snuffed out by the UN-brokered Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA) on September 21, 2014--the day the Houthi group took control of the capital. Back then, the Houthis imposed themselves as a new powerbroker, and their feud with the Islah party and its figures was intensified. The Houthis started to strengthen their presence politically, and eliminated Islah’s positions in the state institutions, which they believe the party had “encroached” on since 2012.

Since September 2014, interim president Hadi faced immense pressure by this new rising power. After a four-month stand-off, Hadi tendered his letter of resignation. Following Hadi’s resignation, the Houthis dissolved the parliament as they announced a constitutional declaration, intending to form a two-year transitional council to preside over the country.

Meanwhile, Hadi was held under house arrest for several weeks before he fled to the southern port city of Aden and established himself there as the “legitimate” president. However, the Houthis continue to rule by force as they have staged crackdowns and abducted several members of Islah party.

Backed by the GCC states, Hadi designated Riyadh as a “safe” venue to relocate the political negotiations; meanwhile the stalled talks between the Houthis, Saleh’s party, and their opponents--led by UN special envoy Jamal Benomar--have recently resumed in Sanʻa. The envoy tried to talk the involved actors into relocating the talks outside of the capital, but the Houthis and GPC parties along with four other political parties refused this proposal.

Despite the GCC and PNPA deals as well as the NDC outcomes, several local observers believe that ongoing political talks will not succeed outside of the country since it’s been over three years now and the involved parties in the capital have not yet come to real peaceful and power-sharing terms.

Embassy closures shake Houthis' confidence

On Tuesday afternoon, the US State Department announced that its embassy in San‘a had closed, and that all embassy staff had been evacuated from Yemen. The United Kingdom's mission and several other European embassies quickly followed suit. Official statements cited the "security situation" in San‘a as the primary reason for the closures. On Twitter, UK Ambassador Jane Marriott took the leader of the Houthi movement personally to task for security problems, recalling that Ansar Allah had promised to protect foreign missions after its takeover of much of the capital in September. 

It seems another reason for the closures of many of the so-called G10 states' embassies is that foreign diplomats no longer believe they have a trustworthy counterpart in Yemen's government. Yemen's Ministry of Foreign Affairs appears to be firmly under Houthi control. In another tweet, Ambassador Marriott bristled at the behavior of a Ministry official during a meeting this week.

According to sources cited by The New York Times, Houthi fighters confiscated the vehicles and weapons of US embassy staff at the airport, and there have been reports of looting at the embassy.* But the same Times article indicates that Ansar Allah officials were caught off-guard by the severe diplomatic backlash their coup has inspired:

A senior member of the Houthi political bureau, speaking on the condition of anonymity as a matter of policy, expressed regret about the American move. “We didn’t want them to go, and we were ready to work with the American Embassy on measures that would ensure their protection and facilitate their work.”

At this point, the Houthis may be falling victim to their own success. When President Hadi and his government resigned following the armed seizure of the Republican Palace and presidential residence, Ansar Allah was left to clean up the mess. Now, facing opprobrium from other Yemeni factions and the international community, they will likely have to soften their stance if they want to cobble together a credible--or even minimally functional--state. Meanwhile, the group is using the parts of the state it already controls--including Yemen's official press agency, SABA--to simulate legitimacy. After the EU's Foreign Affairs Council issued a stern rebuke of the Houthi coup, SABA published a heavily edited version of the EU statement, removing all mentions of Ansar Allah and its responsibility for the current crisis.

[UPDATE: For the record, the US Marine Corps says that no weapons were taken from embassy Marine Security Force. Rather, all large weapons were destroyed ahead of time, and all rifles and pistols were individually smashed with hammers at the airport prior to the Force's departure.]

Ansar Allah consolidates power

Friday brought the culmination of Ansar Allah's slow-motion coup. Following last week's ultimatum in which 'Abd al-Malik al-Houthi essentially threatened to impose a solution if Yemen's other parties failed to hand him the throne, the Houthis have done just that. At a ceremony in San‘a, a spokesman for the Houthi movement read a "constitutional declaration" which outlined the governance structure of the Houth-controlled state. In short, Yemen's parliament has been dissolved. It will be replaced by a 551-member Transitional National Council, the members of which will be appointed by the "Revolutionary Committees" throughout Yemen. The National Council will then appoint a five-member presidential council, which will, it seems, serve as the formal head of state. The presidency will then form a transitional government. This situation will remain in place for a maximum of two years.You can read the official Arabic document here, and an unofficial English translation by Haykal Bafana here. According to the declaration, the work of the National Council, the Presidential Council, and the government is to be "guided" by the so-called Revolutionary Committees. This means that even thought the Houthi leadership and its allies are going to hand-pick the members of these new institutions, Ansar Allah--through its armed wing--will retain the power to veto any and all decisions by force. There's an interesting tension on display within Ansar Allah right now between the group's obvious determination to take control of the state, and 'Abd al-Malik al-Houthi's desperation to maintain a facade of legality and legitimacy in all that he does. All of his statements are full of patriotic rhetoric; he has praised Yemen's valiant military (too valiant to fight him) ad nauseam, and he repeatedly called upon Yemen's somewhat-legal authorities to come up with a solution to the crisis he brought about, rather than just seizing power outright. But President Hadi's resignation (probably deliberately) forced al-Houthi to clean up his own mess, and here at last is his decisive act. Even now though, 'Abd al-Malik will not install himself in the seat of power. As much as he loves to deliver speeches, he didn't even issue his own pronouncement today. Instead, taking a page from Hadi's playbook, he had a respected newsreader do it for him. Unsure what the response to his power grab will be (and perhaps afraid to leave his mountain fastness in Sa‘dah), he will lurk behind three layers of ostensibly "constitutional" transitional authorities, at least for now.

The next phase of the Houthi soap opera will focus on two questions: how Yemen's neighbors and "friends" will react, and how much longer the alliance of convenience between al-Houthi, 'Ali Saleh's GPC, and the northern tribes will last.

Al-Houthi Lays Down the Law

The ceasefire agreed yesterday between President Hadi and Huthi Popular Committees was quickly shown to be a dead letter, as intermittent clashes began again on Tuesday. By the evening, Huthi forces had the presidential palace, President Hadi's residence, and the military camp overlooking the palace all surrounded, and had cut off all roads leading into the area, according to reports. On Tuesday night, 'Abd al-Malik al-Huthi, the leader of the movement, gave a lengthy televised speech in which he accused President Hadi and his inner circle of betraying the Yemeni people, and threatened further escalation if the president fails to meet four demands. Al-Huthi's demands are:

  1. The restructuring of the body established to monitor the implementation of the National Dialogue Conference outcomes (which makes sense, given that the Huthis are still holding former NDC Secretary General Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak, whom they kidnapped on Saturday);
  2. The revision of the new constitution (al-Huthi wasn't specific about what revisions he wants to see, but much of his speech focused on the idea that the proposed scheme of six federated regions was an assault on Yemen's unity);
  3. The full implementation of the Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA), the accord signed by all parties after the Huthis drove Islah-affiliated military units out of San'a in September, and established de facto control over the city;
  4. Resolution of the security situation in Marib Governorate. This is arguably the most important of the four.

You can hear al-Huthi's ultimatum in his own words below (Arabic). You can also read Hisham al-Omeisy's archived live-tweeting of the speech (in English) here. Given the abandon with which observers have thrown around words like "coup" and "overthrow" this week, it's important to note that al-Huthi did not frame his actions in such terms, nor did he explicitly state any intention to remove President Hadi by force. He did, however, refer to "options" which would be pursued if the above demands are not met.

The first and third demands, concerning the NDC and PNPA, seem a bit silly at this point. Though al-Huthi made a big deal in this speech about adhering to the NDC outcomes and the PNPA, he also made it clear that his movement is above the law, and will not be bound by any of its prior agreements. The Huthis viewed the PNPA, despite its actual wording, as a formal surrender of the capital by the president and the Islah party leadership. The PNPA will never be fully implemented, because the Huthis will not implement their side of the agreement, which involves demilitarization.

The redrafting of the constitution is arguably more important. The Huthis see the six-region federal scheme as an attempt to limit their power to the landlocked north-central highlands (Azal Region), though I don't really think they need to worry about that anymore. Ansar Allah has established an armed presence in at least four of the six proposed federal regions already, so continued whining about this aspect of the constitution might be a bit of a smokescreen. It can also be seen as an overture toward the Southern Movement, which seeks a single southern unit, rather than a south divided between Aden and Hadhramawt.

The demand that President Hadi resolve the security situation in Marib--where, to summarize the events of the past four years, tribesmen hostile to the government routinely cut off the supply of electricity and fuel to the capital--is very interesting. Huthis and Huthi-watchers have been talking about a possible assault on Marib since September, and today's speech makes that eventuality more likely. The Huthis have fought their various adversaries (many of which have some degree of connection to the Islah party or to AQAP) on fronts all over the western part of Yemen already. Marib is the next logical battlefield. As for today's demand, it should be obvious even to casual observers that President Hadi is utterly incapable of meeting it. The president controls very little of Yemen's military (i.e. the continigent of Presidential Guards that failed to hold their tiny bailiwick in southern San'a this week), and a war in Marib would leave the army in tatters. It would seem that al-Huthi's demand can instead be read as a threat that his own forces plan to move into Marib very soon, and they want the military's support (or at least acquiescence) when they do. As weak as it is, the state's military does have a few things the Huthis don't, like an air force, and access to American aerial surveillance assets. Whether or not the Huthis can really afford such a campaign and still hold on to San'a remains to be seen. Their recent campaign to "wipe out" AQAP certainly hasn't gone as well as they'd hoped.

If 'Abd al-Malik is to be trusted, his actions this week were not a coup, but a warning to the president. We'll have to wait and see how many more warnings Mr. Hadi is afforded.

The View from Khor Maksar: Fog on the Horizon

We're pleased to present a guest post on the current situation in Khor Maksar District of 'Aden, where southern activists have occupied a public square. The author, who is posting anonymously for professional reasons, is a resident of 'Aden. This is our first bilingual blog post; the Arabic version has not been edited. Guest posts do not necessarily represent the position of the YPP or its staff. It has been approximately seventeen days since the first tents were installed on al-‘Arudh Square, in Khor Maksar district of ‘Aden, which has become the revolutionary square for all who demand the restoration of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY).

Al-‘Arudh Square sit-in is a unique and exciting experience, and an important phenomenon for all Southern factions, in addition to the powers in the North and certainly the regional and international players. The sit-in has drawn a large number of revolutionaries coming from different areas of southern Yemen: protesters from Lahj, Abyan, Shabwah, al-Dhali‘, a few from ‘Aden, and fewer still from Hadhramawt. So far there is no representation in the sit-in from al-Mahrah, Soqotra, or the other southern islands.

Today al-‘Arudh Square sit-in is shaping the contours of the southern state tomorrow. It is true that the largest proportion of the protestors are from the Yafi‘ area, which is divided between Abyan and Lahj governorates the next largest constituency is from al-Dhali‘.

The Shari‘ah Committee and the Islamic-Salafi trend are the groups controlling the al-‘Arudh Square sit-in, in terms of management and receiving donations, roles from which the liberal and socialist factions are completely absent. Judging from the current moment, it seems the Salafi trend will be very prominent in the future of South Yemen, based on its ability to manage and resolve a number of issues and its monopolizing of Friday prayers in the Square.

As of the moment of writing this report, no tent in the Square carries the name of a southern governorate, but a large number of tents carry the names of tribes, villages and prominent families. What does this mean? This trend sends the message that there are many local players preparing for the next stage, and suggests the southern governorates could fragment along tribal or other lines as these local players work to impose their own agendas.

The absence of tents representing particular governoratesfor example, an “‘Aden tent” that might contain activists from local Hirak, Islah, GPC, and socialist groupsis a major shortcoming of the current sit-in. Such gatherings would allow for discussion of mutual concerns between different groups and the formation of stronger links between them. At present, no such discussions are taking place.

Protesters have spent more than two weeks in al-‘Arudh Square sit-in without a having serious discussions about the escalatory steps the movement should take after the November 30 deadline they've announced. Nor are they having debates about the future of southern Yemen or the role of southern leaders.

It would be bad for the larger southern movement, if the southern leaders were restricted to discussing those issues outside the sit-in among themselves, away from the protesters, leaving them to an unknown destiny.

In addition to all the above, there is still a conflict within the Southern Movement between those who support the idea of a Yemeni federal republic made up of two regions--North and South--in which southerners would have the right of self-determination and a referendum on independence after 5 years, and those who want immediate secession. The conflict between these two trends has reached its peak.

Both parts are trying to gain support from the protesters in al-‘Arudh Square sit-in, as well as to seek control of the sit-in. Immediately after Shaykh Husayn bin Shu‘ayb, a federalist, was selected to manage the sit-in, the protesters were surprised by another announcement from those who want immediate secession announcing the name of Shalal ‘Ali Sha‘ia Hirak leader from al-Dhali‘as administrator of the sit-in.

Such actions firmly entrench this intra-southern division, and even call to mind the old factional conflict between “al-Tughmah” (representing Yafi‘, al-Dhali‘, and Lahj) and “al-Zumrah” (Abyan and Shabwah), but reenacted by contemporary southerners living in different circumstances.*

Although there are good initiatives from southern groups, such as the initiative of 33 group in al-‘Arudh Square sit-in, these still pale in comparison to the vast amount of challenges, which are made by the Southern leaders and their factions. The current moment is really critical, and requires dialogue and partnership in making a common future…but the future of southern Yemen is far from clear yet.

*Editor’s note: The author is referring here to a conflict that emerged in the 1980s between different factions within the Yemeni Socialist Party, which ruled the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen at the time. Al-Zumrah and al-Tughmah refer to the factions loyal to ‘Ali Nasir Muhammad and ‘Abd al-Fattah Ismail respectively. In January 1986, a brief and bloody civil war erupted between the two. ‘Ali Nasir and his supporters (al-Zumrah) eventually fled to North Yemen, while ‘Ali Salim al-Beidh—the most senior surviving member of ‘Abd al-Fattah’s al-Tughmah faction—took control of the PDRY.

جنوب اليمن... افق غير واضح

سبعة عشر يوماً تقريباً منذ ان وضعت الخيام في ساحة العروض بمديرية خورمكسر وتحولها إلى ساحة ثورية لجميع ثوار جنوب اليمن المطالبين لإستعادة دولة جمهورية اليمن الديموقراطية الشعبية.

يشكل مخيم ساحة العروض تجربه فريدة... مثيرة و مهمة ايضاً لجميع المكونات الجنوبية بالاضافة إلى قوى الشمال وبالتأكيد اللاعبين الإقليميين و الدوليين. فمخيم الاعتصام هو المكان الذي يجتمع فيه عدد كبير من الثوار القادمين من مناطق مختلفة من جنوب اليمن، معتصمين من عدن،لحج،ابين،شبوه،الضالع و قليل جداً من حضرموت! ولا تمثيل حتى الان في ساحة الاعتصام للمهرة و سقطرى وبقية الجزر الجنوبية!

إن ساحة الإعتصام اليوم تشكل ملامح دولة الغد التي يتحدث عنها الجنوبيين. صحيح ان النسبة الاكبر من الحضور هم لأبناء منطقة يافع التي تقع بين محافظتي ابين و لحج بالاضافة إلى ابناء الضالع إلا ان ثمة حضور مقبول لبقية المحافظات المذكورة في ساحة الاعتصام.

الهيئة الشرعية و القوى الاسلامية ذات الاتجاه السلفي هي المسيطرة على إدارة ساحة الإعتصام وإستلام التبرعات المالية و المعنوية مصاحب لذلك دور غائب تماماً للقوى الليبرالية وحتى الاشتراكية ! فيما يبدو ان اللحظة الراهنة تريد ان تخبرنا ان مستقبل جنوب اليمن سيكون من نصيب القوى الاسلامية ذات الاتجاه السلفي التي اظهرت حتى الان قدرتها على الإدارة وحل عدد من القضايا مما يدفع بالمواطن في جنوب اليمن للثقة بشكل متزايد بتلك القوى يوماً بعد يوم خصوصاً انها من يحتكر حديث يوم الجمعة ايضاً.

إلى لحظة كتابة هذا التقرير لا يوجد خيام بأسماء المحافظات الجنوبية ! بل مجموعة كبيرة من الخيام بأسماء القبائل و القرى و العائلات الجنوبية، فماذا يعني ذلك.

إن غياب خيمة المحافظة الجنوبية الجامعة واستبدالها بخيمات تتبع قبائل، قرى و عائلات جنوبية يرسل لنا رسالة مفادها ان ثمة لاعبين محليين كثر يستعدون للمرحلة المقبلة وذلك يعني ان المحافظات قد تشهد تشضي نتيجة الصراع الذي سيأتي بين اللاعبين القادمين من قبائل وقرى و عائلات المحافظة الواحدة والتي سيتصارعون فيما بينهم في سبيل فرض اجنده معينه.

إن غياب خيمة المحافظة الجامعة كسبيل المثال، خيمة عدن التي يجتمع فيها: الناشط الحراكي، الاصلاحي الجنوبي، الاشتراكي الجنوبي، المؤتمري الجنوبي... إلخ جميعاً يتحدثون فيما بينهم حول هموم محافظتهم وتذوب حواجز الماضي لتتشكل فيما بعد رابط اقوى يجمعهم معاً هو اكثر الامور تعقيداً وتحدياً لمخيم الاعتصام اليوم.

أن ذهاب الوقت الذي يمضيه المعتصمين في ساحة الأعتصام دون نقاش جاد حول مستقبل الخطوات التصعيدية و مستقبل جنوب اليمن تديرة النخب الجنوبية يعد خسارة كبيرة اولاً.

وثانياً بالإمكان ان يكون انانية و إحتكار بل وتضليل إذا ما تم إقتصار مناقشة تلك المسائل خارج المخيم بين القيادات الجنوبية فقط بعيداً عن المعتصمين في ساحة الاعتصام تاركينهم لمصير مجهول.

علاوة على كل ما سبق، ما يزال الصراع بين اولئك الذين يؤيدون دولة يمنية من اقليمين جنوبي وشمالي مع حق تقرير المصير بعد 5 سنوات للجنوبيين . و فك الارتباط المباشر قد وصل الى اوجه هذه الاثناء.

فكلا الفريقين يحاول ان يحضى بالتأييد الاكبر في ساحة الاعتصام كما يسعى إلى السيطرة على إدارة شئون مخيم الاعتصام ففي الوقت الذي تم فيه إختيار الشيخ حسين بن شعيب لأدارة مخيم الاعتصام تفاجئ المعتصمون في الساحة ببيان اخر من قوى فك الارتباط المباشر تتحدث عن إختيارها لشلال علي شائع من محافظة الضالع كمدير لشئون مخيم الاعتصام بخورمكسر عدن ! إن مثل ذلك الفعل يرسخ  بقوة للأنقسام الجنوبي بل ولا ابالغ ان قلت بأنه يستدعي صراع الماضي بين الطغمة (يافع/لحج و الضالع) و الزمرة (ابين وشبوة) ولكن هذه المرة بشخصيات معاصرة و ضروف مختلفة.

ومع ان ثمة مبادرات جيدة من بعض المجاميع الجنوبية كمجموعة ال 33 لساحة الاعتصام الا ان ذلك ما يزال ضعيف امام الكم الهائل من التحديات التي يصنعها قادة المكونات الجنوبية فيما بينهم.

ان اللحظة الحالية حرجة وتتطلب حوار ولقاءات وشراكة في صنع المستقبل المشترك... لكن في جنوب اليمن يبدو بأن افق مستقبل هذه الرقعة الجغرافية غير واضح.

Yemen's legacy families: between reconciliation and exclusion

Friend of the blog Fernando Carvajal reflects on a social group that is often overlooked in discussions of Yemen's political scene: families that made up the political elite in pre-unification and pre-republican Yemen. Fernando is a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, and has studied and worked in Yemen for over a decade. As Yemenis live through phase one of the National Dialogue Conference, launched March 18, insiders and international observers work through pessimism, limited transparency, and an abundance of caution. The process itself has marginalized revolutionary elements from among the youth bulge and has failed to encourage southern participation. Added to the list of excluded groups now are various legacy families with their own historical grievances.

The process of incorporating independent youth elements to the Dialogue is much easier than observers have described. Strong young candidates have been identified by credible actors, yet a mix of hesitation by the international community and a complete refusal by traditional actors to recognize revolutionary ideas continue to marginalize those with credible grievances and street power. The more difficult issue haunting the transiton process remains the exclusion of legacy families from the north and south with grievances. The families of northern political actors affected by fifty years of intra-regime conflicts continue to struggle to find a role since the start of the 2011 uprising and now within the Dialogue process. Southern political actors, whether in Sanʻa, in the south, or abroad also find themselves struggling to fit into the process.

This year the Republic of Yemen will celebrate the fifty-first anniversary of the 26 September revolution against the Imamate of Al Hamid al-Din, and the forty-sixth anniversary of southern independence from British rule. In the north, conflict was never restricted to fighting between Royalists (supporters of the Imam) and Republicans (supported by Gammal 'Abd al-Nasser). Internal conflicts within both camps not only obstructed peace processes but also contributed to prolonged elite conflicts. The Hamid al-Din family, much of which has lived in exile since 1962, are not alone in demanding relief for their own grievances. Relatives of ousted president Abdullah al-Sallal and murdered president Ibrahim al-Hamdi are some actors among many other revolutionaries and sayyid families who believe the Dialogue must also address their concerns, as well as form part of the process bringing about a new Yemen.

In the south, contemporary politics are fixated on political actors such as ‘Ali Salem al-Baydh, ‘Ali Nasser, Haydar al-Attas, Mohammed ‘Ali Ahmed, Hassan Baʻoum and others leading the current uprising throughout southern provinces. Behind the scene there are other actors working arduously to ensure their voices are heard during the Dialogue conference or at minimum influence the process from behind closed doors. Such actors include southern sultans (al-Abdali, al-Kathiri, al-Qa’yti), tribal shaykhs and sharifs who—depending on whom you ask—were either forced to leave or left voluntarily before the establishment of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Many of them have lived in Sanʻa or elsewhere since 1967, and while not directly part of the northern regime they were never reclaimed by the southern government, nor were they accepted by southern actors during the Unification process of 1990. Since 1999 many of these actors expanded their activities to form a number of discussion forums where topics being discussed today were addressed, but never came to influence the regime in Sanʻa.

Intra-regime conflicts led to exile of revolutionary politicians and military offices in the Yemen Arab Republic, as well as numerous assassinations and ‘accidental’ deaths. In the south, those who opted to leave prior to 1967 were never allowed to reclaim their role in politics or their properties. Many of those who were pushed out in 1986 (known as Zumbra) did not have a role in the process of unification, but have been demonized for their role during the 1994 civil war as result of their support for ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh’s regime against separatists led by ‘Ali Salem al-Baydh.

Two generations in Yemen have grown up under conflicting historical narratives that have either ignored or demonized elites from both the north and the south. These ‘marginalized’ elites not only have an uphill climb vis-à-vis the current political structure, influenced by international actors and entrenched rivalries among centers of power, but also have to deal with the great distance between them and the current generation driving revolutionary ideas since February 2011. Even though youth in the north raised pictures of president al-Hamdi and revolutionary poet Mohammed Mahmoud al-Zubayri, young northern Yemenis have no connection with their progenies, and current elites have no incentive for including them. In the south, since 2009, youth only raised pictures of leaders perceived as their patrons, such as al-Baydh, and Baʻoum, the man who suffered from relentless northern harassment and oppression. This is the limited connection between the youth and the old guard in the south.

Many youth view legacy actors as merely part of the past and in no way find a role for them in the new process. The absence of trust extends beyond today’s institutions and political elites. Youth nationwide are unable to rally behind any political figure lacking potential staying power, and for any significant number of young Yemenis to eventually trust marginalized or exiled legacy elites remains very far away. The uphill battle for legacy elites will not end with exclusion from the Dialogue process. If they fail to position themselves in society once again during the transition period they may soon simply be relegated to history books written by non-Yemenis.

Hadi and his "friends," part II

Recently the online journal Muftah invited me to write something about Yemen, so I decided to use the opportunity to follow up on my last blog post with another look at the relationship between Yemen and its international backers. In this piece I examine the international community's apparent disconnect from reality and  how the Friends of Yemen's focus on largely irrelevant technical goals is harming Yemen's chances of a successful transition. Read my op-ed here.

Hadi and his "friends," part I

This was a big week for President Hadi. The annual UN General Assembly general debate was his first big-time outing as a head of state; his first official visit to the White House as president came yesterday (he met with VP Joe Biden and John Brennan); he co-chaired the Friends of Yemen meeting at the UN; and in his absence, Yemen celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1962 revolution, which established the Yemen Arab Republic. I would like to say it was a good week, and that President Hadi represented Yemen well. I would really like to say that, but I won't. In my opinion, Hadi did a poor job of representing the interests of the Yemeni people, and failed to set appropriate and useful priorities for international involvement in Yemen.

This afternoon President Hadi spoke at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC. Rather than re-hash the speech and question-and-answer session, I'll let you read my tweets (and a few by analyst Katherine Zimmerman) about it. You can also watch the video here.

I was seriously disappointed by Hadi's performance today, but I think I understand what he was trying to do, and it's important to understand. When foreign leaders come to the US, they generally come to ask for something. The smart ones know that the best way to plead their case is to stay "on-message" at all times. By focusing on security and counter-terrorism, Hadi was telling his American backers what he believes they want to hear. In fact, I think his comments told us a good deal more about American priorities and interests than we ever learn from listening to US officials.

US State Department officials, along with President Obama's counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan, have insisted that the US approach to Yemen's multitude of problems is "comprehensive," and have even tried to convince us that the humanitarian situation in Yemen is America's foremost concern. Yet President Hadi did not once use the word "humanitarian" in his remarks. He said nothing about the critical food insecurity that faces 45% of his countrymen, or the water shortage that threatens the entire country's future, or the lack of health services that is costing hundreds of lives throughout Yemen. He focused entirely on security threats, mainly the threat posed by AQAP, but also the nefarious actions of Iran, just in case American audiences are bored with al-Qa‘idah. Even the economic crisis was phrased as a security threat. Hadi repeatedly brought up Yemen's high unemployment figures, but suggested that the reason to worry about unemployment is that it leaves young people vulnerable to recruitment by terrorists.

The take-away is that, no matter what John Brennan and his buddies tell us, the president of Yemen firmly believes that security and counter-terrorism are America's only concerns in Yemen, and the only causes that will draw American (financial) assistance. And if that's what President Hadi believes--after a week of meeting with high-level US and international officials--I think we should take his word for it.

Of course it's no news flash that the Obama administration prioritizes these things; we and most other observers have been saying that for ages. But it is very important to understand that Hadi feels his relationship with outside powers is limited to these issues. The pressure he's getting from the US (and other allies as well) is defining his presidency, and it may very well cost him what legitimacy he has in the eyes of the Yemeni people.

One final note: the part of Hadi's remarks that has garnered the most attention thus far is the brief segment of the Q&A session in which he talked about American drones. Foreign Policy has already rushed out what I think is a misleading and sensationalist blog post saying that Hadi "expressed unwavering support for the controversial CIA drone program in his country." This is simply not true. Hadi praised the US for sharing information in the fight for Abyan, and he praised drones for their "pinpoint precision." He admitted that the Yemeni air force can't carry out nighttime operations, and that drones do things his forces can't. (I don't think this made anyone at the White House very happy, since Obama's people never acknowledge drone strikes in Yemen or elsewhere, and have encouraged Hadi and his predecessor to take "credit" for American strikes in the past.) But at no point did he say a single word about US drone policy, or about the CIA and US military programs that operate drones in Yemen. It should also be said that his answers were all very poorly prepared and delivered in a rambling fashion that at times bordered on non-nonsensical.

I understand that many people, including many Yemenis, will interpret Hadi's rather off-the-cuff comments on drones as "unwavering support" for lethal American operations in Yemen, just as Foreign Policy has done (and this goes to the heart of what I said above concerning Hadi's legitimacy). But I think the record should show what the man said, as well as what everyone else said about what he said.

If anything, the fact that Hadi said what he said should demonstrate how out of sync he is with Washington. The first rule of Obama's drone policy has always been "try not to talk about drone policy," and when that fails, it's "absolutely don't ever take responsibility for specific actions." Now President Hadi has gone in front of the whole world and said that any time someone gets blown up after dark in Yemen, the Americans did it. This is hardly a man in lockstep with the US administration.

UPDATE 9/29/2012: Today Foreign Policy Managing Editor Blake Hounshell has published his notes from an interview he conducted with Hadi yesterday. In the interview, Hadi "confirmed that he personally signs off on all drone strikes conducted by his American ally." In my book, that counts as an endorsement of US drone policy, even if the stuff he said during the Wilson Center Q&A didn't. I seriously doubt the statement is true, but if that's what he wants people to think, then he'll have a hard time avoiding blame for all future civilian casualties in Yemen.