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CEIP: Yemen: Avoiding a Downward Spiral

Author: Christopher Boucek
September 2009


In this Carnegie Paper report, Christopher Boucek outlines the looming economic, political, and security challenges in Yemen and offers recommendations on how to tackle the forces limiting the central government's territorial control.

Yemen faces a great and growing number of challenges that endanger its political future and threaten its neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula. War, terrorism, a deepening secessionist movement, and interconnected economic and demographic trends have the potential to overwhelm the Yemeni government, jeopardizing domestic stability and security across the region. Yemen's oil-the source of over 75 percent of its income-is quickly running out, and the country has no apparent way to transition to a post-oil economy. The dire economic situation makes it increasingly difficult for the government to deliver the funds needed to hold the country together.

Yemen remains the poorest country in the Arab world, and in the next two decades, its population is expected to double to over 40 million. This rapidly expanding and increasingly impoverished population will place unbearable pressures on the government. The ongoing civil war in Saada against Shi'i Zaidi rebels, a revitalized secessionist movement in the South, and a resurgent al-Qaeda all endanger the Yemeni state. While none of these challenges has yet turned critical, they will all converge on the eve of the presidential election in 2013, about the time when Yemen will need to address a pending political leadership transition. Amid internal political dramas, porous borders, a heavily armed population, a rapidly falling water table, and a history of weak or nonexistent central government control, unless Yemen's authorities take dramatic steps today, the country faces a very bleak future.


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