Friday, 14 September 2012

Attacks on Embassy May Hurt Yemeni-American Relations 

Embassy Violence Undermines Yemeni Progress

By Eve Weston, 14/09/2012

The attack today on the U.S. embassy has done much to undermine the progress Yemen has been making on other fronts. In August the country clawed back some self-control and self-respect by cancelling a deal with Dubai Ports Worlds (DPW), which had been signed by long-term leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemen has been struggling to bring itself back from Saleh’s regime and  progress towards a sense of unity that brings together the north and the south as well as different Muslim groups. Part of this has included aid and connections with countries such as America. The recent attacks put this kind of cooperation in jeopardy.

The Dubai Ports Worlds Deal

It is common sense to believe that a development deal using natural resources benefits the location with the resources. Yet, all too often in corrupt or incompetent regimes this has not been the case. The same goes the Dubai Ports Worlds deal. The natural resource in question was the port of Aden. According to the Yemen Times, Saleh conducted the deal in such a shoddy manner that DPW made a massive profit on the deal while Saleh earned short term cash.

The DPW deal was meant to last 100 years, but Hadi’s government has been able to exploit contractual obligations that have been missed in order to renege on the deal with honour intact. DPW failed to increase Aden’s capacity to 900,000 containers as well as providing a safe port in the area. Transport Minister Waed Abdullah Bathib used this as an excuse to cut the deal and sign over control to the southern controlled Port of Aden Corporation. This deal is hopefully the first of many that will help develop a sense of social and financial mobility in not just Yemen as a whole, but in particular with the South, which has always felt neglected.

The Embassy Attacks

This apparent progress has been overshadowed now by the attack on the embassy. Luckily for the American diplomatic staff inside the compound was secure enough to protect them from any harm. The same could not be said for staff in the Libya embassy who were murdered by Libyan protestors. Protests across the Muslim world were sparked by an independent film that had nothing to do with the American government or the vast majority of Americans, but was a poorly made satire on Islam made by those who do not like the religion. Whatever the leanings of the film itself, the overreaction of people in Sana’a, has overshadowed work the American government has done since the fall of Saleh in 2011. This aid has included $345 million dollars worth of humanitarian, developmental and security aid in 2012, which is double that of 2011. This money and Yemen’s future could be in doubt if this kind of help is rewarded with more violence.

Moving on the Right Path

The Hadi government’s move towards national unity and reconciliation is the right move. While elected in a one-candidate coronation and while being a Saleh insider, it is hoped that Hadi will prove more democratic and inclusive than his predecessor. Being a southerner will not harm his case nor will turning over the port of Aden to a southern company. Still many challenges remain, least of all turning Yemen from a radical hotbed of dissent and religious extremism to a more inclusive and outward looking society. Developing Aden is the first step in this process

Importantly, Yemen needs to prove that it can dampen down groups who whip up radical support for violence against outsiders or non-Muslims in the country. As the United Arab Emirates and to a lesser extent Qatar and Oman, have proven, there is a big market for inclusive and tourist friendly in the Middle East, which is to everyone’s benefit.

It is to be hoped that Hadi and his government can put in place measures to bring a sense of reality back to the people of Yemen, to allay fears, to improve employment, conditions and to improve security so that more people come to the country and invest their money. Ideally, for you the tourist, the only protection for your trip will be top quality travel insurance. Yemen has a lot to offer tourists and investors alike if the situation improves. The port of Aden with its natural climate and geography has the potential to be a greater resource than Dubai.

Eve Weston writes on regular basis for a number of politics and finance blogs. She currently is based in Lancaster but has travelled extensively in recent years including several months in Tokyo in 2011.

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