Tag Archives: Yemen

Better a king than a president in the Middle East

Can a king be a king without a crown? Yes say kings Al-Khalifa of Bahrain and Abdulla II of Jordan. (Pic: LIFE)

In the end, titles are important, especially if you are a despotic Middle Eastern ruler. A quick survey shall illustrate:

Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Libya: all run by Presidents-for-life. The protests which have rocked/are rocking these countries, while very different in origin and nature, have a common theme – they all demand the exit of the president himself.

Bahrain, Jordan*: both run by monarchs. I’m not too sure about Bahrain, but certainly in Jordan the King is the centre of power. Yet in both these countries the protesters have been very careful to emphasise that they are not protesting the monarch, but rather the government (which was appointed by the monarch). One protestor (a Bahraini blogger) tweeted today: “Just to clear things up, nobody wants AlKhalifa [the king] out. Hell, I would rather they rule Bahrain than anyone else. We just want our rights.”

It’s a curious position. While presidents-for-life have their legitimacy conferred by rigged elections, monarchs have theirs conferred by the pomp and ceremony of royalty, but their powers and influence on the state amount to much the same thing. But, right now at least, I’d rather be a king than a president – if, of course, I was an authoritarian Middle Eastern ruler trying to maintain a firm grip on power. Which I’m not.

* It will be interesting to see what the protestors in Morocco are going to say, another monarchy with big protests planned for Feb 20th.

** An underestimated side-benefit of monarchy is the ability to pass on power to your son without question (it’s always the son). Mubarak had such problems trying to prepare Egypt to accept his son Gamal as president; if he’d merely been handing the crown over, would there have been any fuss at all?

***This whole theory failed miserably for the Shah of Iran, the last Czar, and Louis XVI. Or perhaps they were just so bad that even their royal aura couldn’t help them.

VERDICT: Titles go forth, says Dr. Third World Goes Forth.

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Reporting on Yemen goes 4th inaccurately

OK, so it’s a nice story. Semi-nice, at least. Two German girls, aged 3 and 5, were released after being kidnapped 11 months ago by persons unknown in Yemen. The whereabouts of their parents, and their younger brother, and the five other people kidnapped within them, are unknown; the prognosis doesn’t look good. Cue a celebratory headline in the London Times. “Little girls snatched by ‘al-Qaeda group’ are set free”. Of course, the Times is not the place to go for especially informed reporting on Yemen, but nonetheless it is a very lazy connection to make. Yemen is a lot more complicated than that.

I’m no expert on the country – for that, go to the legendary Waq-al-Waq or its recent successor, Always Judged Guilty – but there are two points that need to be stressed.

Firstly, Al-Qaeda is not really the issue in Yemen at the moment. The country has three insurrections, of various intensities; its economy is shambolic, at best; and it is rapidly running out of food (including, of all things, dates). Water shortages are also on the horizon. Al-Qaeda, while a threat, is the least of the country’s problems.

Secondly, I think it unlikely that Al-Qaeda was behind the kidnapping (and release). Hostage-taking in Yemen has tended to be the preserve of the various rebel and tribal movements which display significantly less discipline than that practised by AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), and the Times‘s ‘sources in Yemen’ sound suitably vague – sounds like someone needed a catchy headline. What further damages the credibility of the story is its claim that “Al-Qaeda has regrouped in Yemen behind the jihadist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki”. Al-Awlaki, as you probably won’t remember, was the preacher said to be behind both the Christmas Day Nigerian wannabe-bomber Umar Abdul Mutallab, and the US servicemen who went on the rampage in Fort Hood. A nasty character, without doubt, but certainly not the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Yemen. His prominence is only due to his connection with those two high-profile incident, and, crucially, because he speaks and preaches in English, making him easily accessible to western reporters.

Yemen is undoubtedly fragile, and will depend to a large degree on the largesse and actions of the international community. However, if the right decisions are going to be made, the people making them are going to need much better information than that provided by the Times (it should be noted that western reporting of Yemen is generally poor; the Times just gave me very current example).

But the most interesting part of the article went completely unremarked by the authors – that the two girls were rescued as result of a Saudi Arabian cross-border raid. The Saudi security forces were extremely effective in knobbling Al-Qaeda in Saudi, which is why they were forced into Yemen; that they’re now crossing into Yemen at will is an interesting, and unexplained development.

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