Saudi Drops Yemeni President to Prevent Turmoil from Spilling across its Border

By James M Dorsey

Saudi Arabia, in a blow to embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has rejected a request by its erstwhile ally to mediate a resolution of the Yemeni crisis and signaled that it is looking for a peaceful transition of power in the country.

Saudi favoring of Saleh’s departure is fuelled by concern that Yemen could become another Libya with US-trained military units commanded by Saleh’s son and nephew battling the regular armed forces led by popular General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar as well as protesters demanding the president’s resignation. It contrasts starkly with the kingdom’s intervention in Bahrain on behalf of the island’s minority Sunni Muslim rulers. Saudi rulers fear the spillover effect of escalating tension in Yemen on already restive Ismailis in their southwestern Jizan and Najran provinces and hope to limit the spread of the wave of protests further into the Gulf by easing the country’s power transition.

The Saudi decision spotlights the kingdom’s role in Yemen where it is as much part of the problem as it is part of the solution. Saudi Arabia demonstrated its degree of penetration into Yemeni society in November when it tipped off Western intelligence about a plot by Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to place parcel bombs on US-bound cargo flights on the basis of information it obtained from informants in Yemen. Saudi Arabia also has close ties to Yemen’s senior military brass, including Al-Ahmar.

Going forward, stabilization of a post-Saleh Yemen will in part depend on Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners in actively bridging the country’s multiple fault lines and boosting economic development. For Saudi Arabia this will have to entail breaking with past policies of playing both ends against the middle. Saudi Arabia filled voids in Yemen with significant cash dispensations that bought the loyalty of segments of the population. In doing so, Saudi Arabia effectively contributed to a weakening of Saleh’s writ and the emergence of alternative power structures. Saudi sponsoring of proselytizing by Salafis and Wahabis contributed to an environment of intolerance and religious dogmatism and was a driver of the recent Shiite Houthi rebellion in the north.

To support a post-Saleh Yemen, Saudi Arabia and its oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners will have to offer their poor stepbrother some prospect of membership or close association with the group albeit on tough conditions, a perspective the GCC has so far refused to entertain. In fact, Yemen’s economic woes have been exacerbated by repeated expulsions over the past two decades of Yemeni workers from the Kingdom and other Gulf states heavily dependent on foreign labor.  GCC states will have to put in place labor agreements that regulate the migration of labor and put a halt to the illegal movement across the Saudi border of Yemenis desperate for economic opportunity.

A political marriage between the Gulf states and Yemen is nonetheless likely to prove difficult for the conservative GCC members. In many ways, Yemen and the GCC states have little in common beyond geography and their Arab identity. Yemen is, at least in name, a republican democracy that ousted its royals in the 1960s; GCC members are all authoritarian monarchies that have forgotten that they once wallowed in the same abject poverty Yemen suffers today. Gulf leaders, and particularly Kuwait, have moreover never really forgiven Saleh for his support of Iraq during the 1990 Gulf war in which US-led forces reversed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. To persuade the GCC to be more welcoming, Yemen’s post-Saleh government will have to improve the security situation, narrow the economic divide with the Gulf states, and significantly reduce the country’s addiction to qat, a plant stimulant classified by the World Health Organization as a drug that is consumed by a majority of Yemenis.

In lieu of granting Yemen full membership, the GCC is likely to look at ways of improving employment prospects in a country whose economic problems were multiplied in the early 1990s when Saudi Arabia expelled some one million Yemeni workers in retaliation for Yemen’s support of Saddam. The expulsion deprived Yemen of badly needed remittances that were often invested into small and medium-sized enterprises constituting the backbone of the Yemeni economy. GCC member states are discussing allowing Yemeni workers to return once the country puts its political turmoil behind it – a move that would be welcomed by segments of Gulf society concerned about the high number of foreign, non-Arab workers in their countries.

But twenty years have passed, and many of today’s Yemeni workers lack the skills Gulf states require. One way GCC states may compensate for this deficiency would be to grant Yemenis access to the same professional and technical training available to Gulf nationals. GCC states are also likely to fund job creation programs in Yemen. The Yemeni government recently estimated that Yemen needs to create four million new jobs in the next ten years.

A report by the London School of Economics published weeks before anti-government protests began sweeping the Middle East and North Africa suggested that stabilizing Yemen was a key GCC interest because the country’s problems constituted a warning of problems that could emerge elsewhere in the Gulf. “Yemen is the canary in the coal mine. It is an indication of what can go wrong when a country fails to develop political legitimacy and build a sustainable, productive non-oil economy,” said Coates Ulrichsen, the author of the report. “The challenges to government authority in southern and northern Yemen demonstrate how existing socioeconomic discontent and regional marginalization can fracture and fragment social cohesion. Similar fissures and unequal patterns of access to resources exist in the GCC states and could become transmitters of conflict in the future.”

That is a conclusion the GCC states may have also come to in regards to Yemen, but it is not one they appear to have drawn for their own countries. Saudi policy towards Yemen is primarily motivated by a desire to contain problems rather than a realization that domestic policies are at the root of the protests in Yemen and elsewhere in the Arab world and addressing home grown sources of discontent is the only recipe for ensuring long-term stability.

James M Dorsey is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute, a freelance journalist, and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer <> . The views expressed herein are his own.

This Middle East Insight is also available for download: Insight 17 Dorsey

Sudan Set to Split Despite Egyptian Moves

BY Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani

CAIRO, Dec 1, 2010 – The U.S. has rejected an Egyptian proposal for a “confederation” between northern and southern Sudan, insisting that a Jan. 9 referendum – which will determine the fate of the south – go ahead as scheduled. According to Egyptian analysts, the move proves Washington’s determination to see Africa’s largest country split in two.

“The US is dead-set on seeing the emergence of an independent state of Southern Sudan to achieve political aims on the African continent,” Hani Raslan, expert in Sudanese affairs at the semi-official Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies told IPS.

A peace agreement was signed in 2005 between Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the Kenyan city Naivasha. The agreement aimed at halting the longstanding civil war between north and south that had flared up intermittently since the 1950s.  Contentiously, the agreement – backed by the U.S. and the African Union – stipulated that a referendum eventually be held in the south on proposed independence from the Sudanese government in Khartoum. The agreement also called for a referendum in central Sudan’s oil-rich Abyei region to decide whether it would join the north or the south.

Both referendums are slated for Jan. 9 next year. As it now stands, the majority of southern Sudanese are widely expected to vote in favour of independence.

Hardly relishing the notion of a brand new country to its south – with whom it would presumably have to share coveted Nile water – Egypt has, since 2005, consistently worked towards maintaining Sudan’s political unity.

“Egypt has stepped up investment in southern Sudan, where it has launched several major infrastructure projects,” said Raslan. “It has also been dispatching frequent high-level diplomatic missions to the provisional southern government in Juba.”

On Nov. 3, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit noted that within the last five years Egypt had pumped more than 500 million Egyptian pounds (87 million dollars) into projects in southern Sudan – including hospitals, schools and power stations – “in hope of convincing the people of southern Sudan to choose unity over secession.”

The minister also stressed Egypt’s concern over the fact that, with the referendum right around the corner, serious issues – which could eventually lead to conflict – remained unresolved between the two sides. These, he said, included border demarcation, distribution of natural resources, especially petroleum, migration issues, and the fate of the Abyei region. 

Aboul-Gheit went on to suggest that, rather than choosing outright independence, southern Sudan should opt for a “confederation” with the north. “This means they would be two independent countries, but would share a single currency and have a single foreign policy,” he explained.

In light of the several outstanding issues between north and south, secession, he warned, “could lead to violence.”

A study released Nov. 25 by international NGOs Frontier and Aegis warned of the possibility of renewed civil war if outstanding differences were not resolved. Besides bringing death and displacement beyond measure, the report noted, such a scenario would likely cost Sudan alone more than 100 billion dollars.

The cost of such a war to Egypt, the report suggested, “could average over 7 billion dollars per year.”

“Egypt made its confederation proposal in hope of preserving the close north- south relationship, through which secondary issues might be worked out amicably,” said Raslan. “But without such a close relationship, Egypt fears these issues could lead to war if the south becomes independent before they’re resolved.”

Despite Egypt’s concerns, the U.S. soon stated its rejection of the proposal. A week after Egypt first tabled the idea, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley declared that the fate of southern Sudan would be left to its people to decide.

According to Raslan, Washington’s insistence on seeing an independent state of Southern Sudan “has less to do with the popular will of the southern Sudanese people than it does with U.S. geo-political ambitions.

“In the final days of the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. Defence Department established Africa Command, or AFRICOM, mandated with handling military operations in Africa. And a central component of this new regional command will be a massive military base, which the U.S. hopes to set up in southern Sudan. By establishing a strong military presence in the new country, the U.S. also hopes to contain the decidedly Islamic nature of northern Sudan,” he said.

The population of northern Sudan is predominantly Muslim, while that of Southern Sudan is mostly Christian and animist. 

Helmy Shaarawi, director of the Cairo-based Arab-Africa Research Centre, agreed. He contrasted Washington’s enthusiasm for the Sudan referendum to its indifference to a similar referendum proposal for India’s disputed Kashmir region.

“In 1948, the UN Security Council issued resolution No. 47 calling for a referendum in Kashmir to determine whether the region would join India or Pakistan,” Shaarawi told IPS. “Yet despite the fact that most Kashmiri people want the referendum, and even though Kashmir continues to suffer political violence, U.S. and western officials remain entirely indifferent to the idea.”

The first tangible steps towards the independence of southern Sudan were taken in mid-November, when the provisional Juba government began registering voters.

“Secession at this point appears a fait accompli,” said Raslan. “As for the referendum itself – that’s merely a formality.” (END)


Inter Press Service (IPS) , Rome   –   2 Dec 10



About Inter Press Service (IPS) is the world’s leading news agency on issues such as development, environment, human rights and civil society. However, at its outset, IPS had a more focused goal: to fill the information gap between Europe and Latin America through a snail mail-borne feature news service. It was to this end that a non-profit international cooperative of journalists by the name of IPS was founded in 1964 by Italian-Argentinean economist Roberto Savio and Argentinean political scientist Pablo Piacentini, both of them still involved in IPS.


As it grew, IPS acquired a new mission: bear the hopes of Third World countries and peoples for a new international economic order and, as a consequence, a new information and communication order within the framework of the United Nations; in other words, make the voice of the voiceless heard. This broadened objective presided over the rapid worldwide expansion of IPS in the 1970s and 1980s with a daily news service in English and Spanish.

The MEI does not necessarily endorse contents, or policies of the internet resources it extracts.


The elections in both Sudan and Egypt have generated much international attention and speculation. To reflect and discuss the possible impact of these historical events, the Middle East Institute will be hosting a seminar on December 10th, 2010. Please visit: 

Arabs Look to Istanbul

For internal circulation

8 November 2010

 By Rainer Hermann


Turkey is not wavering in the slightest from its pro-European course. Nevertheless, as a trading nation with a dynamic economy that is the living proof of the fact that Islam, a secular political landscape and a parliamentary democracy are indeed compatible, it has in recent times rediscovered its Arab neighbours.
There was one good thing about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent visit to Lebanon: although it increased tension prior to the publication of the indictment by the special international tribunal into the murder of Rafiq Hariri, it also demonstrated that in the Arab world, Iran can now really only be sure of the support of Shiites. In Beirut and during his trip to South Lebanon, Ahmadinejad was almost exclusively cheered on by Shiites; Sunni Muslims in the Arab world, on the other hand, viewed his visit to Lebanon with considerable disquiet.

There are many reasons why Iran’s influence in the Arab world has passed its zenith. One of them is the circumstances that surrounded Ahmadinejad’s re-election in June 2009 and the bloody crackdown on protests. Another is the growing influence of Turkey.

Last July, Khalil Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research discovered that 43 percent of all Palestinians consider Turkey to be their most important foreign policy ally, ahead of Egypt at 13 percent and Iran at only 6 percent. Support for Turkey in the West Bank and in Gaza is virtually the same.

In Lebanon, Ahmadinejad did not succeed in reversing this trend. Shortly before his arrival in Beirut, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was back in Damascus for another meeting with President Bashar al-Assad. In the race for the post of prime minister in Iraq, both these men support the secular Shiite Iyad Allawi, while the powers that be in Iran prefer Nouri Maliki.

In addition to the matter of Iran, Erdogan and Assad spoke about opportunities for reviving the peace process. Assad made it clear that indirect talks with Israel could only be restarted if Turkey were to act as mediator.

Turkey is a “success story” in the Middle East

Up until ten years ago, Turkey was not a player in the Middle East, despite the fact that it shares borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran. It was a quiet neighbour. Today, the state that succeeded the Ottoman Empire is a popular go-between and trading partner. For the states and societies of the Middle East, Turkey – with its dynamic economy and practical evidence that Islam, a secular political landscape and parliamentary democracy are indeed compatible – is a “success story”; it has become a “soft power”.

There are heated debates in the West as to whether Turkey is currently just rediscovering the Middle East or whether it is actually returning to it and – if this is indeed the case – whether it is abandoning its foreign policy orientation towards the West. These questions were recently addressed at a conference in Istanbul organised by the Sabanci University, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and the Robert Bosch Foundation.

One of the conclusions reached at the event was that although Turkey has adopted a new, active foreign policy, it has not abandoned its pro-European, pro-Western course. Nor has it shifted the main lines of its foreign policy. The policy of opening up towards its neighbours in the Middle East is much more a matter of diversifying its diplomacy and increasing prosperity in Turkey by tapping into new sales markets.

Foreign policy in the service of trading interests

Turkey’s former foreign policy was based on security considerations and the priority of territorial integrity. Its new foreign policy, on the other hand, is in the service of Turkey the trading nation and seeks to guarantee security and safeguard borders by increasing prosperity. Sükrü Elekdag, one of the best-known ambassadors in the country’s old diplomatic guard, often liked to say that Turkey always had to be ready for “two-and-a-half wars”, i.e. wars against Greece, Syria and the PKK.

In sharp contrast to this, Turkey’s current foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has formulated a “policy of no problems” towards all neighbours, the aim of which is to maximize cross-border trade. With the exception of Armenia, this policy has worked so far. Turkish foreign policy is more than just classic diplomacy, it is trade policy. It is above all Turkey’s new, up-and-coming middle class – the backbone of the ruling AKP – that is benefitting from the new, economy-based foreign policy of Turkey the trading nation.

The industrial cities of Anatolia, which have been dubbed the “Anatolian tigers”, are eyeing as yet unexploited market opportunities in neighbouring countries. While their entrepreneurs are also trading with Europe, they are increasingly focussing their efforts on the Middle East because of Europe’s restrictive Schengen visa policy, which also hits entrepreneurs and investors. This is why they support the visa-free zone which Turkey has established with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

One of the success stories of Turkey’s new foreign policy is Syria. In 1998, the two neighbours stood on the brink of war. Today, their economic and political ties are close. The Turkish-Syrian rapprochement went hand in hand with a cooling of relations with Israel. This process had already begun under Erdogan’s predecessor, the left-wing nationalist Bülent Ecevit, who accused Israel of “genocide” against the Palestinians. That being said, Erdogan visited Israel as recently as 2005; two years later, Israeli President Shimon Peres addressed the Turkish parliament.

Turkey’s policy towards Israel and the Palestinians is very different to that of the EU. While both advocate a peaceful resolution to the conflict and a two-state solution, they are talking to different players. Turkey accuses European diplomacy of ignoring reality because it is only talking to Fatah and boycotting Hamas. The Turkish reasoning is that there cannot be a peaceful solution without the involvement of Hamas. This is why Turkey is trying to pull Hamas into the political “mainstream”.

The differences of opinion between Turkey and the West are particularly blatant when it comes to Iran. While the West is toughening its sanctions against Iran, Turkey is developing its trade with the Islamic Republic.

Last June, Turkey voted against harsher sanctions in the UN Security Council. Unlike the West, Turkey believes that the only way to normalise Iran is to normalise relations, which involves trade and diplomacy. Turkey is familiar with the kind of bazaar mentality that is needed for negotiations with Iran. For fear of destabilizing the region, neither the Ottoman Empire nor the Turkish Republic has ever supported rebellions in Iran. For centuries, the safeguarding of a regional balance of power has been more important than the pursuance of a foreign policy based on ideology. This is why Turkey’s sympathy with the dissident “green” movement is only modest.

Just like the EU, Turkey only plays a secondary role in the Middle East behind the United States. At the end of the Cold War, however, it correctly identified the shifting of the tectonic plates in world politics and now, as a modern, self-confident, trading nation, wants to grasp the opportunities that are arising. Turkey still has its sights set on Europe. But the door to Europe remains locked and so this newly self-confident nation is pursuing its own interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Rainer Hermann, Germany  Dialogue with the Islamic World    –  5 Nov 10





The Arabic word “qantara” means “bridge”. The Internet portal represents the concerted effort of the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Center for Political Education), Deutsche Welle, the Goethe Institut and the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations) to promote dialogue with the Islamic world. The project is funded by the German Foreign Office.

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung/ 2010

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

Editor: Lewis Gropp/


The MEI does not necessarily endorse contents, or policies of the internet resources it extracts.