While some terrorist leaders come from backgrounds that are far from poverty followers often come from very poor families and Al Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups often thrive in quite poor areas. Yemen is a good example. About half of Yemenis live on two dollars a day and are desperately poor.
Yet the west has paid almost no attention to the problem of poverty in Yemen. Yemen attracted attention only because it is associated with terrorism. The Nigerian underwear bomber trained under the local arm in Yemen of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Now just the other day packages were intercepted containing explosives that came from Yemen and were being shipped to the U.S.a U.S. citizen believed to be associated with al-Qaeda is also in Yemen. As a result of these connections Yemen is now of considerable concern to many in the U.S. and elsewhere. As long as there was just poverty the west could care less.
Now Yemen is being flooded with counter-terrorism dollars and special forces trickle into the country. Washington has bumped up military aid to 155 million and has proposed a five year package of 1.2 billion for Yemen's security forces. Back in 2006 only 5 million was provided Yemen in military aid. The fear now is that Yemen will become a launching pad for attacks on the west. The focus is purely upon attacking Al Qaeda together with Yemeni security forces. When Yemen at times seems unwilling to concentrate upon what should be its prime focus, as with Pakistan it is regarded as an unreliable ally that must somehow be whipped into shape.
Yet Yemen faces multiple problems. There is a rebellion in the north that must be contained and a separatist movement in the south that breaks out in violence from time to time. Added to this is grinding poverty and an economy that is dependent upon oil revenues that are steadily declining.
A report by the UK based think tank Chatham House claims that Western policies risk drawing Yemenis towards radicalization and militancy. The report says:"The priority attached to security-sector interventions undermines the balance of political and economic actions needed for this approach to succeed,"" According to Yemen specialist Christopher Boucek"Yemen's failing economy will destroy the country, and it is not receiving the attention that counterterrorism and security gets,..All you have to do is leave the airport and you realise that it is unemployment, subsidies, the failure to plan for a post-oil economy and corruption that are the biggest challenges."
Oil and gas accounts for 75 per cent of government revenues and 90 per cent of exports.President Ali Abdullah Saleh has kept power through a system of political patronage to tribal sheikhs, fuel subsidies and paying public sector wages. But the oil and revenue is running out creating tremendous problems especially given secessionist movements and the threat of Islamic radicalism.Princeton University Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen notes: The way President Saleh has traditionally attempted to govern in Yemen means that a cash crisis sparks a political one,..The economy is the foundation on which everything in Yemen is built, and as it continues to crack and crumble it exacerbates every other problem in the country."
The security problem is directly tied to the economic problem as Al Qaeda finds the disgruntled poverty stricken Yemenis fertile ground to plant the seed of radical Islamic ideology. Unemployment is at 35 per cent and half of university graduates have no jobs.
Unemployment stands at 35 per cent and half of university graduates are jobless, creating widespread discontent. The central government is regarded as corrupt and siphoning off wealth by rebels in the north and there is the same feeling within southern separatists. The country could very well break up.
A Shekh from the northern province of al Jowf says:"" Members of al-Qaeda prowl the streets looking for the poor. They provide them with food and shelter and ask them to come and discuss ideology at their homes." Meanwhile to U.S. State Dept. is offering 120 million in development aid versus a five year 1.2 billion security package.
The is a group of states called Friends of Yemen who seek economic and political reform but there has not been that much in the way of commitments. 3 billion in aid was pledged at a donor's conference in 2006 has not been spent. Aid workers say that aid that does enter the country is often diverted away from the needy to those with power. Yemen expert Johnsen says:"I have seen no evidence that would lead me to believe the international community or regional actors ... have any vision for any sort of a strategy in Yemen,[Since] the attempted attack on an airliner over Detroit, the US is still lost in the desert in Yemen. The easy, almost reflexive answer has been to carry out air strikes, but this won't solve anything." Aside from the multiple difficulties faced by Yemen there is the overarching problem that the United States and the west looks at Yemen (and many other countries) solely in terms of being a security problem that involves seeking out and destroying Al Qaeda operatives before they attack the West.