In the clearest recognition yet that Islamist militants in Yemen cannot be defeated by military means alone, the United States and its allies are set to create an international fund for development of the impoverished, conflict-ridden Arab nation. Donor countries, including the US, Britain, France and the Gulf states, are expected to launch the fund at a meeting in New York on September 24.
The fund comes as the US military is seeking $1.2 billion to strengthen Yemeni security forces over a five-year period. State Department counterterrorism coordinator Daniel Benjamin said earlier this month that the US sees the fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Gulf, as a priority. The US has this year allocated $300 million to Yemen, half of which, according to Benjamin, targets the “incubators for extremism” – poverty, weak governance and corruption.
The donors are also expected to discuss ways to stimulate a national dialogue between Yemen’s political forces in a bid to reduce nepotism, make its political system more inclusive, resolve an intermittent insurgency in the north and a growing separatist movement in the south and stem AQAP’s increasing strength.
To a large extent, change in Yemen will however depend on a change in Saudi policy towards Yemen. In many ways, Saudi Arabia, like the regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Salih itself, is as much part of the solution as it is part of the solution. The Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which groups the region’s six oil-rich states has already taken steps to build closer ties with Yemen. The GCC and Saudi Arabia in particular, could ease Yemen’s economic pain by agreeing on the free movement of labor in the region. This would reduce unemployment, increase the flow of remittances and stem illegal border crossings.
To counter the inward looking, xenophobic, conservative environment on which AQAP feeds, Saudi Arabia will however also have to strengthen the Yemeni government by halting the buying of tribal fealty at the expense of the government and controlling Saudi-funded missionary work that has significantly increased the influence of a militant, ascetic interpretation of Islam among Yemenis as well as among the large number of Somali refugees in the country.