Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Yemen - the basics - why does it matter?

Yemen matters more to Saudi Arabia than Lybia:

Stats first:
1. Population: 24mio, which is huge around here. Same as Saudi or 5 times the UAE 2. GDP. Tiny, just $2600 per person 3. Oil. Negligible, 150k bpd (Saudi = 10mio) 4. NOT a member of the GCC 5. President Saleh. 32 years in power. Oversaw unification of North and South in 1990, survived the 1994 civil war

Why it matters to Saudi Arabia:
1. Al Qaeda. The links are strong, Bin Laden is a Yemeni 2. 1500km border 3. Oil tankers. Saudi tankers exiting from the Red Sea can only access the Indian Ocean by passing a strait between Djibouti and Yemen. As the Straits of Hormuz worry Gulf shipping and Saudi's Eastern oil fields, so this one worries Saudi's Western oil fields.

2. Last year Saudi used artillery and aircraft to strike at rebels in Yemen's north. US drones regularly do the same. They achieve little 5. It has the look of a failed state, with no route to success. The economy offers almost nothing beyond a great natural port in Aden and a stimulative plant called qat.

3. There's no easy solution. Yemen's mountainous North has never been conquered, even by the Ottomans. The next Afghanistan?

4. Which leaves only hope that Yemen's problems aren't exported. Tribal links to Saudi's South make that hope a forlorn one.

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