Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 23:09 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 23:09 | SYDNEY

Yemen: Postcards from the edge

19 May 2009 09:32

Sarah Phillips is an Associate Lecturer at the Centre for International Security Studies, University of Sydney. 

The Yemeni regime is in crisis and its neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia, are watching with ever increasing concern. This week, the leader of the recently established al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wahayshi, announced his support for 'the people of Southern Yemen' in their struggle to secede from President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s (northern-based) regime.

Yemen is the demographic core of the Arabian Peninsula and shares a long and porous border with Saudi Arabia. Its poverty means that it is often overlooked by Western analysts, but the impact of greater instability in Yemen will be felt across the region.

In recent months, it has become clear that jihadis, including Ayman al-Zawahiri (commonly cited as Osama bin Laden’s deputy), now see the country as an important staging ground for attacks both within Yemen and abroad, and Saudi militants are being arrested in Yemen in increasing numbers.

The Yemeni Government is also contending with economy that is spiralling out of control, the al-Houthi anti-government insurgency in the north, secessionists in the south, and a tribal system that is increasingly at odds with the Government.

As concerns in Yemen rise that Saudi Arabia may be playing a larger role than it admits in the southern secessionist movement, Yemen’s President Saleh met with Iran’s Parliamentary Speaker, Ali Larijani, this week. Relations between Yemen and Iran have been tense since Yemen accused Iran of supporting the al-Houthi insurgency in Yemen’s north. The al-Houthis are Zaydi Shi’ites and Saudi Arabia has joined Yemen in portraying their insurgency as an example of Iranian power projection in the Arab world.

The dramatic turnaround that the meeting represents is probably a sign that the Yemeni government feels the need to stake out possible allies against Saudi Arabia in the event that Saudi takes too assertive a stance with the southern secessionist movement.

Whatever the truth behind the always opaque machinations of the region’s stakeholders, it is clear that the level of instability in Yemen has put the country on the map for all the wrong reasons.