LONDON // The Yemen president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, yesterday ordered bolstered security for an upcoming national dialogue described as "central" to Yemen's future at an international meeting on the country.
The army and security forces must be "vigilant" and be on the lookout "for the enemies of security, stability and unity in Yemen," ahead of the March 18 talks, the official Saba news agency reported him as saying. The dialogue between Yemen's many political and tribal factions comes more than a year after a popular uprising against his forced Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over the presidency. The talks are seen as key to Yemen's transition to a democratic government in 2014 - as per a Gulf Cooporation Council plan.
While Yemen's delicate power transfer moves ahead, Yemenis are fearful for the future. Deep political divides, a failing economy, a growing separatist movement in the south and a shadow war being fought against a branch of Al Qaeda hampers progress towards stability.
Fears that the national dialogue could be targeted were echoed at a "Friends of Yemen" meeting in London yesterday.
"Extremists and terrorists" who would disrupt the national dialogue and the elections that dialogue are meant to prepare the way for would be met with a "serious" international response, William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, said at the end of the meeting.
Mr Hague, who co-chaired the meeting with Abu Bakr Al Qirbi, Yemen's foreign minister, and Nizar Madani, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, said Yemen's success was in the interest of the region and wider world.
"Instability in Yemen increases conflict, threatens regional security and leads to deep problems and poverty for the Yemeni people," Mr Hague said at a press conference.
He also pledged support for the government of Mr Hadi - who was Mr Saleh's former vice president and who took over the presidency in an uncontested election in 2012 - in its struggle against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
"Yemen is now at a very important and dangerous crossroads," said Mr Al Qirbi. "Perhaps Yemen has moved away from the abyss but it is still facing many political, economic and social challenges."
Yesterday's meeting brought back the 39 countries, including all members of the GCC, and organisations that make up the Friends of Yemen to London where the grouping was formed just over three years ago. The meeting - the group's fifth - was convened to discuss progress on Yemen's two-year transition period, as well as how best to translate international pledges of Dh27.55 billion in aid, agreed at the last meeting in New York in September 2012 into facts on the ground.
"We in the UAE will continue our efforts to support our brothers in Yemen," said the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash.
Yemen has achieved "tremendous" economic progress, said Mr Madani, the Saudi representative, but international support is the "lifeblood to entrench progress". It is "absolutely necessary that donors translate into tangible reality all the promises we have heard", he cautioned.
Saudi Arabia, which shares a 1,800km long border with its neighbour, is Yemen's biggest donor, having pledged Dh11.94bn, and delivered, according to Mr Madani, 93 per cent.
Other donors have been less forthcoming, said Inger Andersen, the World Bank's vice president for the Middle East and North Africa region. Only Dh6.2bn of non-Saudi aid to Yemen has been approved so far of which only Dh1.84bn has been disbursed she said in a statement released yesterday.
Saudi Arabia is keen that Yemen is stable, having been drawn into several border skirmishes in the past, most recently in 2009, when the kingdom sent in its air force against Houthi rebels in northern Yemen.
Riyadh is also deeply concerned about possible growing Iranian influence in the area. In late January, the Yemeni coastguard seized an arms shipment in that is believed to have originated in Iran. A UN investigation is underway.
The United States, meanwhile, is engaged in a drone war against AQAP in Yemen that shows no sign of abating. Last year there were twice as many confirmed drone strikes, 32, as in 2011.
But critics argue that the international and regional focus on stability ignores the more fundamental developmental needs of a deeply tribal country torn between northern rebels and southern separatists and including the poorest population in the Arab world.
Friends of Yemen pledges are meaningless if, first, the money isn't delivered, and second, if it is intended primarily to strengthen security forces in the interests of stability thus contradicting the stated aim of securing a democratic transition, said Richard Cochrane, Middle East and North Africa analyst with IHS Jane's, a London-based group of publications focused on military and intelligence affairs.
"Yemen has massive humanitarian and development needs. But if the international community's main interest is security, lots of this money will likely end up with the security forces, which are mostly interested in keeping the situation contained."
With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Reuters