Global Insider: Saudi Arabia Lacks a Long-Term Policy for Yemen’s Transition

Global Insider: Saudi Arabia Lacks a Long-Term Policy for Yemen’s Transition

In early April, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh left Yemen for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, an example of Saudi Arabia’s deep involvement in the political transition of its southern neighbor. In an email interview, Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton, explained the mechanics and the limitations of Saudi Arabia’s influence in Yemen.

WPR: What are Saudi Arabia’s main levers of influence in Yemen?

Bernard Haykel: Saudi Arabia has long-standing relationships with most, if not all, political, tribal and regional actors in Yemen. The principal form this relationship takes is payments offered by the Saudis to the various Yemenis. There is a "special committee" in the government of Saudi Arabia that handles these matters, and it maintains personalized connections with many Yemenis as well as an account of services rendered. In addition to financial patronage, the Saudis have considerable leverage over the Sanaa government in that Riyadh regularly provides financial support and, increasingly, fuel shipments to keep the central authority from collapsing. President Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi, who took over after ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh left office in February 2012, has become a Saudi protege. The problem, however, lies in Riyadh’s lack of a long-term policy for resolving Yemen's multiple and seemingly intractable problems. Financial largesse amounts to kicking the proverbial can down the road and does not address the deep structural failings of the Yemeni state nor the developmental challenges of its society.

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