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Yemen needs a home-grown transition

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opednews.com Headlined to H3 8/14/13

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Source: Asia Times

People gather next to posters of former Yemeni officials who were injured along with the country's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the June 2011 bomb attack at the Presidential Palace, in Sanaa, May 17, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

Given current realities, one fails to imagine how Yemen can avoid a full-fledged civil war. Much could be done to fend off this bleak scenario, such as sincere efforts towards reconciliation and bold steps to achieve transparent democracy. However, a major priority must be challenging the ongoing undeclared US war in the impoverished nation. 

Unfortunately, none of the parties in Yemen's prevailing political order has the sway, desire or moral authority to lead the necessary transition. 

Instead of the power-transfer which since 2011 has been managed by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), a homegrown political evolution is needed that responds to Yemen's own political, security and economic priorities -- not to the strategic interests of "Friends of Yemen" being led by the United States.  

Although it is much less discussed than Egypt's crippling political upheaval, or even Tunisia's unfolding crisis, Yemen's predicament is in fact far more complex. It directly involves too many players, notwithstanding al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the US drone war that is unleashed from Djibouti among other places. 

In the period between July 27 to August 9, 34 people were killed in Yemen by US drone attacks. The US government mechanically considers those killed al-Qaeda terrorists, even if civilians are confirmed to be among the dead and wounded. 
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Most media qualify such statements by describing the victims as "suspected militants." International human-rights groups and Yemen's civil society organizations -- let alone the enraged people of Yemen -- insist on delineating the toll on civilians. Entire Yemeni communities are in a constant state of panic caused by the buzzing metal monsters that operate in complete disregard to international law and the country's own sovereignty. 

Frankly, at this stage it is hard to think of Yemen as a sovereign and territorially unified nation. While 40% of the population is food insecure, and more are teetering at the brink of joining the appalling statistics, the country's foreign policy has long been held hostage to the whims of outsiders. 

There is a lack of trust in the central government, which historically has been both corrupt and inept in allowing non-state actors to move in and fulfill the security and economic vacuum. 

Prior to the Yemeni revolution in January 2011, the US was the most influential outside power in shaping and manipulating the central government. Its goal was clear, to conduct its so-called war on terror in Yemen unhindered by such irritants as international law or even verbal objection from Sana'a. 

The now deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose family-controlled dictatorship of 30 years was the stuff of legend in terms of its corruption and greed, obliged. He too had his personal wars to fight and needed US consent to maintain his family-controlled power apparatus. 
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Just weeks prior to the revolution, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton visited Sana'a. She applied gentle pressure to Saleh to dissuade him from pushing the parliament to eliminate term limits on his presidency, as if three decades in power was simply not enough. 

At the heart of the mission was the expansion of the counter-terrorism campaign in Yemen. The bloody US campaign involving the Pentagon and the CIA has been under reported. One of the reasons why the war was never classified as "war" is because it was conducted under a political cover by Sana'a itself and sold as if it were military cooperation between two sovereign governments against a common enemy: al-Qaeda. 

But reality was of course vastly different. Much of Saleh's supposed anti-AQAP efforts were in fact channeled against revolutionary forces and a political opposition that had assembled together in their millions, demanding freedom and an end to the dictatorship. What are the chances that the US didn't know such a well-reported fact? 

In fact, AQAP expansion was unprecedented during the revolution, but not because of the revolution itself. Saleh seemed to have made a strategic choice to leave large swathes of the country undefended in order to allow sudden AQAP expansion. 

Within a few months, al-Qaeda had mobilized to occupy large areas in the country's southern governorates. This was done to strengthen Sana'a official discourse that the revolution was in fact an act of terrorism, thus quashing the revolution was more or less part of Yemen and US's "war on terror." Despite the many massacres, the revolution persisted, but Saleh's strategy allowed for greater US military involvement. 

Unlike Egypt, the US military interest in Yemen is not merely maintained through buying loyalty, it is about control and the ability to conduct any military strategy that Washington deems necessary. And unlike Afghanistan, Yemen is not an occupied country, at least technically. 

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American-Arab journalist Ramzy Baroud is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London), now available at Amazon.com

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