x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Friendship with Yemen is a balancing act

Yemen's friends should remain loath to appear too strident in helping the central government at the expense of dissenting Yemenis.

Speaking in New York to the Friends of Yemen group on Friday, Alan Duncan, the British minister of state for international development, described Yemen as "a country that's running out of oil, running out of water and running out of time". The group of 24 countries and multi-national organisations that Mr Duncan addressed would do well to follow the example of his country, which has provided discreet yet substantial assistance to Yemen. Mired in the memory of its own history of intervention there and elsewhere in the region, Britain is treading a cautious path while at the same time understanding the urgency of Yemen's woes.

Yemen's friends should remain loath to appear too strident in helping the central government at the expense of dissenting Yemenis. Last week, at least 4,000 civilians were removed from Hawta in Shabwa as the army drove out militants. They joined more than 300,000 other Yemenis who have been displaced in the north of the country from clashes with Houthi rebels. Critics say that these numbers should not be trivialised, and that arming the government can fuel discontent rather than resolve it. Wide-ranging attacks like those last week risk appearing too heavy-handed and displacing the very civilians they are intended to assist. Counter-terrorist operations that are neither focused nor just are not likely to win popular support.

Still, a failed Yemen may pose "massive dangers" to regional and global security. Indeed, Al Qa'eda is one among many threats that Yemen and its friends must address. Geographic challenges, chronic water shortages, rebellions in the north and south, and a porous maritime defence endanger Yemen and limit its prospects. Yemen's fragility has its most direct knock-on effect on its neighbours. This is not news in the Gulf, but older challenges of Hadramaut are now being addressed with new solutions. A new GCC office in Sana'a is to open, as The National reports today, while aid from abroad has been streamlined and better directed thanks to greater co-operation between the GCC and others.

The International Monetary Fund has recommended that Yemen address its chronic budget deficit and its population's over-reliance on fuel subsidies. These may be some of the country's lesser problems and addressing them alone may have an adverse affect on the poor, as the Friends of Yemen were correct to note. The Friends of Yemen have advocated a development fund to support an intricate, technically competent approach that addresses development issues ranging from water shortages to maritime security.

The UAE and its GCC counterparts can make clear that it is not after Yemen's oil, or its assets. Nor do the Friends of Yemen wish to support the government for its own sake. All of these efforts are intended to help the people of Yemen. The GCC should make it clear that it has no interest in an opaque territorial conquest, nor in backing one sectarian agenda over another.