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Last Updated: Monday, 2 October 2006, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Analysis: Yemen after the vote
By Heba Saleh
BBC News, Sanaa

Yemen is a poor country with a reputation as a haven for al-Qaeda militants. The country is an ally of the US in the "war on terror", but it says it needs development assistance in order to tackle the challenge of religious extremism.

Yemeni soldier and woman before ancient doorway
Yemen is one of the world's poorest countries

The holding of what is being seen as a relatively clean election could convince Western donors - including the US - to put more money into the country.

President Ali Abdallah Saleh of Yemen has been returned to office for another seven years after elections declared by European observers to have been open and genuine.

The opposition quibbled over the figures announced by the electoral commission, but even they recognise that Mr Saleh won.

Poetry against violence

In a cramped room surrounded by fellow poets sitting on cushions on the floor chewing qat, the mildly narcotic leaves that are central to Yemeni social gatherings, Amin Mashreki recites some of his verses against violence by religious extremists.

"This poem speaks about the people who carry out bombings," he said.

Yemen was accused of being the next Afghanistan. But what is happening now is that we have managed to control our country - whether it's with security, whether it's awareness, whether it's by negotiations and religious discussions with the Islamists
Faris Sanabani
Yemen Observer

"It deals in particular with the attack against the American warship, the USS Cole. In it I ask: 'What has the ship done? What has the sea done? What have the fish done that you should do all this damage?'"

Mr Mashreky's poem refers to the attack in 2000 by al-Qaeda. Seventeen American sailors were killed when a small boat laden with explosives rammed their vessel in the Gulf of Aden.

That event immediately catapulted Yemen into the international spotlight. The country acquired a reputation as a dangerous spot, a place where Islamic militants operate.

Mixed results

Since then, the government in Sanaa has been trying to contain al-Qaeda, but with mixed results.

The 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States added a new urgency, and Yemen became an American ally in the "war on terror".

Rally for President Ali Abdallah Saleh
Salah won convincingly despite quibbles from the opposition

In that fight, poetry has not been the only weapon.

"After the USS Cole and after 11 September, Yemen was accused of being the next Afghanistan," said Faris Sanabani, the publisher of the Yemen Observer.

"But what is happening now is that we have managed to control our country, we have launched campaigns - whether it's with security, whether it's awareness, whether it's by negotiations, and religious discussions with the Islamists. The list is long."

But it has been a tough job for a weak government which cannot always exert full authority over outlying areas where tribal leaders lay down the law, sometimes taking al-Qaeda fugitives under their wing and refusing to hand them over.

To compound the government's problems, Yemen itself supplied the second largest contingent of Arab fighters in Afghanistan at the time when the United States was encouraging Muslims to go there to fight the Soviets.

Now, Yemenis make up one of the largest groups at the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Unruly

It has been difficult controlling this large and unruly country with its porous borders and difficult neighbours.

Across the Gulf of Aden lies the Horn of Africa, riven with rebellions and civil wars, awash in weapons and a place where al-Qaeda has established a toehold.

Yemen can be a factor for stability, or a factor for destabilisation. It's crucial that we help Yemen become a force for stability and not the opposite
Nabeel Khoury
US embassy Sanaa

Northwards, just over the land border, there is Saudi Arabia, a main target of al-Qaeda and the source of much of the militant group's ideology, not to mention home to many of its members.

Given the many difficulties, few in Yemen would deny that mistakes have been made, such as the escape of 23 al-Qaeda members from a high-security jail in February.

"Definitely there are gaps in what Yemen has done or is doing, but these are gaps that are understandable in a way," said Nabeel Khoury, the deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Sanaa.

"They are due to the less than fully developed institutions, they are due to corruption and sometimes lack of competence on the part of some. However Yemen is still considered by the United States as a friend and an ally in the war on terror."

Seeking assistance

Speaking a few days before the election and just after the Yemeni security services foiled two attacks by al-Qaeda against oil installations in the country, the Yemeni interior minister said the authorities had succeeded in limiting the threat from militants.

But, he added, there was no doubt that there were still sleeper cells in country.

Yemeni man in front of voting poster
The smooth running of the recent election is seen as a major success

The view in Yemen is that the battle against al-Qaeda cannot be won without substantial development assistance from the outside world.

International aid to Yemen is, at about US $13 per capita, regarded as minimal. The country remains one of the poorest in the world.

"It's a big country with very limited resources," said Mr Sanabani.

"Not a lot of money comes into Yemen, and we need the international community to come and hold our hand, help us to stand up.

"And the reward they will get from such a move will be tremendous compared to the pain and the headache that will be caused by Yemen if Yemen goes astray."

Indeed, experts suggest that Yemen is among those states most likely to disintegrate going the way of Afghanistan and Somalia. Western officials say they recognise that investment in Yemen amounts to investment in regional and world security.

"You go north to Saudi Arabia, to Iraq certainly, to Afghanistan: there are serious problems," said Mr Koury.

"There is fairly easy access back and forth, there are smugglers, fighters, terrorists. Yemen can be a factor for stability, or a factor for destabilisation. It's crucial that we help Yemen become a force for stability and not the opposite."




SEE ALSO
Al-Qaeda fugitive killed in Yemen
01 Oct 06 |  Middle East
French tourists released in Yemen
25 Sep 06 |  Middle East
Yemeni leader wins by landslide
23 Sep 06 |  Middle East
Crucial role for Yemen monitors
19 Sep 06 |  Middle East
Yemen gets real taste of democracy
15 Sep 06 |  Middle East
Country profile: Yemen
12 Sep 06 |  Country profiles

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