x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Unstable Yemen a greater threat than terrorism

The largest country on the Arabian Peninsula is also the poorest. A lack of stability in Yemen will soon find its way to the states of the GCC.

When the US's state department announced over the weekend that its embassies across the region would be shut due to a perceived terror threat, it stopped short of identifying a particular location. "Possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula" was as far as the statement went. Yet many analysts would easily see the implication: Yemen.

There is no more pressing geopolitical problem for the GCC countries than what happens to the Peninsula's largest - and poorest - country. By some estimates, the total number of Yemenis is greater than the total number of citizens of the GCC. That makes the poverty and lack of stability in the country a problem that will eventually be felt in the Gulf countries.

For the GCC, the chief challenge is economic. The US, however, is more concerned with terrorism, especially from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It argues that Al Qaeda there is more dangerous than any of the other offshoots anywhere in the world: more dangerous than that in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan or sub-Saharan Africa. Last week, Yemen's president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi was at the White House for talks with Barack Obama, who is staunchly supportive of Mr Hadi's leadership of this transition period, following the revolution that ousted the long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Mr Obama's solution, drones, is fuelling the problem. The devastation waged without warning or legality on families in villages in the more remote areas of Yemen has added much sympathy, and perhaps many fighters, to the ranks of Al Qaeda - without making Yemenis or Americans safer.

Economic growth is the most pressing issue. With more than half of all young people in Yemen unemployed, that makes it a fertile recruiting ground for extremists.

The GCC needs a concerted plan in Yemen. Having managed a transition that removed Mr Saleh, the GCC ought to now turn its attention to stimulating growth in the country and tying as many Yemenis as feasible into their economies. Some of those ways will be making it easier for qualified Yemenis to find work in the GCC - in this regard, Saudi Arabia's expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis in April was extremely short-sighted. But it will also mean putting GCC investment into projects that enable young Yemenis to build a future in their own countries.

The dangers of long-term instability in the GCC's largest Arab neighbour far outweigh the dangers of terrorism.