Yemen Steps, Uneasy, From Past to Future

Yemen — the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, bordered by Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea — is opening up culturally as the Internet and wireless technologies knock down barriers to communication.

Yet water shortages, civil war, semi-autonomous tribal militias, drug trafficking, an al Qaeda presence and state-owned media add up to an uncertain future.

Most recently, the Yemen Post reported that a Pakistani ship carrying ten tons of drugs, including hashish, heroin and “pills,” was intercepted by the Yemeni Coast Guard.

Yemen has become a “transit country” for drug smuggling into the Persian Gulf region, according to the newspaper.

Terrorism and civil strife also abound, according to a string of articles from the Associated Press.

A former socialist legislator, Saleh Hendi, was shot to death along with his son in the country’s north last month.

No one has claimed responsibility, but one official, speaking anonymously, said the killing may have been part of a tribal vendetta.

The AP also reported that the United Nations has closed some of its offices in Yemen, and fortified others, following a mortar attack on the U.S. embassy, and a separate attack on a housing complex for Western diplomats.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports on three explosive attacks on a police facility in southeastern Yemen, which follow a rocket-propelled grenade attack on police checkpoints earlier this month, and an attack on tourists in January that left two Belgian women and their Yemeni drivers dead.

Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the latter two attacks.

United Press International reports that the latest peace agreement between the government and rebel forces, dating back to this January, appears to be failing.

The civil strife has driven 77,000 people from their homes, the U.N. estimates.

According to the AP, Yemen’s tribes are armed, and “barely acknowledge” the authority of the central government.

Two articles in the Yemen Times provide some social and ecological context to the situation.

Anwar Abdulaziz of the government’s environment division warned that Yemen’s water supply, already over-exploited by agriculture and a growing population, now faces an additional challenge in the form of a drought that he says is caused by global climate change.

“Every year the rain season starts at the beginning of March, and now Yemen is in the end of April and there is still no rain. This means that Yemen is truly affected by the climate changes,” he told the newspaper.

Although this indicates only deepening potential for crisis, hope for civil society persists.

Dr. Mohammed Mo’ammar Abdul-Wahab of Sana’a University said that the number of new media outlets produced by private citizens, advocacy groups and political parties “increases daily,” a development he praised as “undoubtedly a step forward.”

With these changes, he called for an end to the state monopoly on television and radio stations, and increased freedom for reporters and editors to travel abroad to media conferences, and educate themselves in the practice of journalism.

He also said new media should “be free of extremism and fanaticism, emphasize nationalism over localism and freely and openly discuss public issues.”

–Josh Wilson/


“Increased Activities of Drug Traders in Yemen”
Yemen Post, April 21, 2008

“Official: Militants kill a lawmaker in northern Yemen”
Associated Press, April 18, 2008

“UN closes some offices in Yemen, citing security concerns”
Associated Press, April 20, 2008

“Yemeni police arrest 13 protesters in southern towns”
Associated Press, April 22, 2008

“Violence continues despite peace deal”
United Press International, April 22, 2008

“Three blasts rock police centre in eastern Yemen, no casualties”, April 22, 2008

“Yemen’s Dought Caused by Climate Change”
Yemen Times, April 21-23, 2008

“Media development in Yemen”
Yemen Times, April 21-23, 2008

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