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Muftah: Of Transitology and Counter-Terror Targeting in Yemen

Author: Sheila Carapico
April 22, 2014

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"Washington does not have a Yemen policy, much less a progressive vision for the country. Instead, American policies in the Peninsula privilege the permanence and prosperity of the GCC monarchies, notably the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Neither the Bush nor the Obama administrations have regarded Yemen as a real place with real politics."

Far from the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, tucked at the underside of the Arabian Peninsula where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean, Yemen is at the periphery of Middle East studies and beyond the attention span of mainstream American media. It is a counter-terror target.

It is as if this country of some 25 million citizens is not a real place, as much as it is an outer space or a basket case. According to various journalistic tropes, Yemen is a 'terrorist haven,' the 'ancestral homeland of Usama Bin Ladin,' an untamed frontier where presumably the only choice for the United States is to shoot first and ask questions later.

To the extent there is conventional wisdom on Yemen, it presents the country as host to all manner of problems. It is the poorest and most poverty-stricken Arab country, with the youngest population. The capital city and other metropolitan areas have soaked up all the fresh water. There is an openly irredentist popular movement in what used to be the People's Democratic Republic of (South) Yemen, and an obscure but persistent rebellion near the Saudi frontier by a group known as the Huthis who the Saudis say are backed by Iran. Yemen is also a sanctuary for a terrorist entity called al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, often abbreviated as AQAP, the target of American drone strikes that occasionally kill hapless civilians. Tribesmen blow up oil installations, block roads, and occasionally take hostages. Most of the remaining detainees at Guantanamo Prison come from Yemen, but even after being cleared for release US authorities are reluctant to repatriate them to their home country.

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