Yemen, and the trouble with ‘democratic transition’

Brian Whitaker writes:

The US said on Monday that it wants to see an orderly, peaceful and democratic transition of power in Yemen. But, as one tweeter pointed out, that is not quite the same thing as saying it wants a transition to democracy.

The US has always viewed Yemen as a security problem and very little else – a view reinforced by media scares about al-Qaida taking over – but beyond providing military and economic aid it has very little influence on the ground. It is therefore relying on one of the world’s least democratic countries, Saudi Arabia, to help manage this “democratic transition”.

The Saudis have always been deeply involved in Yemen’s politics, though their meddling has often failed miserably. They backed the losing side in the 1960s when Yemenis overthrew the monarchy, and again in 1994 when secessionists took up arms in the south.

This time, however, they hold a strong card in the shape of President Ali Abdullah Saleh himself, who reluctantly agreed to be treated in Saudi Arabia for the injuries he received in Friday’s explosion. His injuries seem to be far more serious than was originally claimed – which should keep him in Riyadh for a while. Even as he recuperates, the likelihood is that he will remain as the king’s more or less involuntary guest, being showered with financial and other inducements until he eventually resigns.

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