The United States of America is useful in a number of ways for Yemeni political actors – it can create distractions and allow actors to win over the hearts of regular Yemenis. The regular Yemeni does not look into the endless minutiae of politics, it comes in two shades, black and white.
The violent wave of response to the anti-Islam film, said to be made by an American, came largely from the countries of the Arab Spring. In Yemen that violent response gave the leaders of the various political parties and groups the opportunity to fight back against the USA, as well as win over the hearts and minds of Yemenis.
Without doubt, former President Saleh and his party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), has enough reasons to play an important part whipping up anti-American crowds in Yemen. Many leaders of the GPC believe that the USA aided anti-Saleh tribal figures and strengthened the position of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the leader of the powerful 1st Armoured Division that defected in the early days of the anti-Saleh protest movement, as well as Islamists, in particular the party of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, Islah.
The Houthi movement, a religious group that follows the Zaidi Shia doctrine, and is close to Iran, has a fixed and obvious position against American policies in Yemen, and this will not change.
The Islah party, a heterogeneous grouping of radical Islamists, traditional tribal leaders, and moderate Islamists, seems to be dominated by an alliance between the tribal leaders and the wing of the military commanded by Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar. This alliance is directing Islah policies, seemingly exasperated at the increased political role being played by Saleh and the GPC in opposition.
Therefore, they largely blame the USA for not putting the necessary pressure on Saleh to prevent him from taking an active role in politics and force him and his relatives into exile (a condition not specified in the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative that saw Saleh step down).
This is an important reason for the increasing wish of the radical Islamists in the Islah party to whip up anti-Americanism in Yemen.
As for southern Yemen, the Herak movement that calls for the separation of southern Yemen from the rest of the country, as was the case before 1990, has been rumoured to be receiving monetary and logistical support from Iran. The Herak organised protests in areas of Aden such as Crater, Mansoura and Maala, as well as other southern provinces.
It should be noted that many people in southern Yemen believe that American interests and policies in Yemen are a primary barrier against the desire of many southerners to have the return of their southern state and identity, and an end to the unity between northern and southern Yemen.
More broadly, an issue that unites all Yemenis and that creates more opposition to the USA is the use of ‘anti-terrorism drones’. These drones have resulted in numerous civilian casualties and the spread of fear in the hearts of men, women, and children in the areas affected.
In the province of al-Baydha on the 2 September 2012, a drone attack killed 14 civilians who had nothing to do with terrorism in Yemen. A whole family, father, mother, and children, were killed as they returned to their village.
Local reports talk of drones taking off from the Anad Yemeni military base, that is home to 500 American soldiers as well as a number of drones.
A general in the former South Yemeni army, currently retired, says, “For me, the storming of the American embassy is a justified act, all Yemenis are united in their hatred towards American policies in Yemen.”
A large number of American organisations, including USAID, do exceptional things to help Yemenis and build their abilities. So here comes the question, despite the seemingly nationwide anger, why do Yemenis not talk about the relief and development work that US organisations participate in in Yemen?
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