Can You Find Yemen On A Map?
I started traveling when I was still a teenager and I write about my travel adventures on another blog. I'm even a member of the (informal) century club-- meaning I've been to 100 countries. Yemen isn't one of them. In fact, aide Rep. Alan Grayson, a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, I don't know anyone who's been to Yemen. Working at Sire Records, I got to know Ofra Haza, an Israeli-born Yemenite many of whose songs derived from that country's traditional music. Ofra and her music got me interested in visiting Yemen, although I never did and when I've written about Yemen in the past, it's mostly been about how unsafe the country is for tourists. Political developments over the last month or so make Yemen, already on anyone's top 10 least safe tourist destinations, even less safe.
I had never heard of the Houthis, a Shia group, before reading last week that they had staged a successful coup against the government the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been propping up in Sana'a. Actually, they've been struggling against the government, which resigned under Houthi pressure January 22, for many years and have gradually made inroads, one province at a time. They are considered to be allies of Iran, which is driving the Saudis insane right now. The U.S., France and the U.K. closed their embassies and withdrew all their diplomats this week. The State Department and the Foreign Office have urged all Americans and Britons to leave the country immediately, although it's hard to imagine that there are many Americans or even Brits in Yemen to begin with. Germany has indicated they're closing down their embassy soon as well. Saudi Arabia closed theirs down today. President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is under house arrest.
Yemen has been, along with western Pakistan, ground zero for the U.S. drone war against Al Qaeda and Yemen's last two governments have given tacit approval for American operations. The Houthis are adamantly opposed to the drone war-- although, they are also enemies of Al Qaeda.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, slightly better off than African neighbors Sudan and Somalia. 54% of Yemen's 25 million people survive on less than 2 dollars/day and almost half the people in the country, which suffers from a dire water shortage, are malnourished. Yesterday, the AP reported that Jamal Benomar, the UN envoy to Yemen, warned the Security Council that the country is at a crossroads between "civil war and disintegration" and a successful political transition, while Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the state is "collapsing before our eyes." The Houthi coup has opened the door for al-Qaeda, which has been making significant gains. Its being reported in the Middle East that the U.S. has been bombing al-Qaeda targets in the country today. Yemen is almost definitely headed towards civil war, possibly partition... and lots more misery for it's already beleaguered people.