Not long ago, Yemen's political transition looked destined to unravel. As rapid democratic changes came to Tunisia and Egypt, Yemen muddled along amid a sea of family feuds, militant attacks and separatist rivalries. But apart from reforming the army there have been recent glimmers of hope in Yemen, from hints that the economy is steadying itself to improving security. Might the GCC-brokered transition finally be paying dividends?
It can still go either way in Yemen, which is why the apparent meddling of one regional actor is so troubling. On Thursday, Yemeni authorities announced that they had intercepted last month a ship that contained Iranian-made missiles and other advanced weaponry. Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi sent a rebuke to Iranian authorities asking them to stop interfering in the country's affairs, specifically with support to separatist Shiite Houthis in the north.
These allegations are impossible to prove, but indicative of Iran's foreign policy. According to a recent Pentagon report, Iran's intelligence service includes 3,000 spies who are engaged in covert and clandestine activities, and expanded operations in the Middle East, including in Yemen.
This is precisely the type of interference that could push Yemen's recovery off the cliff. After the economy shrank by 10 per cent during the unrest in 2011, the country recorded a growth rate of 0.1 per cent last year. Flat growth for an advanced economy would be disappointing. For Yemen, it is reason to hope. Oil production has also resumed. Tribesmen and insurgents had sabotaged gas and oil pipelines after the 2011 protests. But today, foreign companies that invest in the country have been renegotiating with local leaders to resume work.
To build on these gains Arab Gulf states and the US must seize the opportunity to speed up aid delivery. Last year, donors meeting in Saudi Arabia and the US pledged around $8 billion (Dh29 billion). But aid has been stalled as some donors disagree with the government over mechanism, for delivery and absorption.
Yemenis need to see the return of services like water and electricity. And their government must address issues such as unemployment, education and corruption. Long-term strategies for institution building will only work with security and lasting political stability.
To provide both, the region needs to support a fragile political transition, and Yemen must find the ability to push back against those intent on seeing it fail.