On Friday, July 15th, I finally got myself a Twitter account. As someone incredibly interested in Yemen (and someone who has spent some time there), I of course made sure to “follow” all the experts as well as reporters, ex-pat or not, on the ground in the country. Not too long afterwards, Twitter taught me what is wrong in Yemen.
It’s been a long time since I’ve come across anything approaching an analysis of Yemeni politics—notwithstanding Sarah Phillips’ 2008 publication “Yemen’s Democracy Experiment in Regional Perspective.” (I have yet to read her new book, “Yemen and the Politics of Permanent Crisis.”) After working for the Massachusetts State Legislature for the last eight years, I’ve learned that politics demands an understanding of the relationships between those in power just as much as an understanding of the mechanisms by which that power is exercised, be it formal or informal. To underscore just how little Yemeni analysts understand this, when President Saleh left for Saudi in June there was a media rush to figure out just who the vice-president, Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, was. This was an incredible failure on their part, more so because he’s been the vice-president since 1994.
This lack of accessible information contributes to why one comes to the conclusion that no one is fit to rule the country in the absence of Saleh if you read the press. Yemen is just a lawless terrain in need of a 1980’s style Latin American Caudillo to keep the people from each others’ throats. And if you were to read what is written by the bloggers, tweeters and academics, they reinforce this belief by bemoaning the lack of leadership in Yemen. Concurrently, they condemn Saleh and assert he must go. Maybe this is why one academic recently claimed it was more important to Yemen that they have change as opposed to stability. One wonders what Yemenis might think of this.
So it was of great interest to me when the Yemen Twittersphere lit up over the assassination attempt on Muhammed al-Yadumi, a former member of President Saleh’s security apparatus and a current leader of what I would characterize as the moderate Muslim Brotherhood wing of the Islah party. Just a day earlier, the acidity of the Yemen Twittersphere regarding a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) hearing on Yemen was palpable: “If the US would just come out in direct opposition to Saleh’s return, things would get better,” was the consensus.
But where is the in-depth analysis of those – besides Saleh’s family and his sub-tribe, the al-Ahmars and a few polarizing figures – who serve in the government or opposition, and who could affect political change? You’d be hard pressed to find it in English, the preferred language of SFRC members, Harry Reid, and President Obama.
This is the conversation that Yemeni analysts need to be engaged in—and making public not just to their inner circle of Yemeni Arabists in the Twittersphere, but to the wider group of non-Arabic speaking decision makers.
It is the responsibility of those who study Yemen to be actively engaged in educating decision makers (and the wider public) on their chosen field of study. This is what they get paid for, either through a salary or public-funded grants. And to be engaged doesn’t mean waiting to be asked to sit on a panel in front of the SFRC, but to aggressively seek a hearing. It means co-operatively sending open letters to those in power seeking redress. It means understanding that Senator Kerry will not ultimately decide the US direction in Yemen, but that Senator Reid and President Obama likely will.
Above all, however, it means that information needs to be shared that is pertinent to solving the problem. This is information Yemeni analysts have but have yet to share, the lack of which has indirectly led to the creation of hobgoblins like Awlaki, and has diverted the attention away from people in Yemen who could potentially lead their country out of the morass they currently find themselves in.
Daniel is a chief of staff at the Massachusetts House of Representatives and has travelled to Yemen extensively.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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