The Last Son of Ibn Saud

The royal reshuffle in Saudi Arabia announced overnight is surprising and politically significant.

For one thing, it means King Salman will be the last of the sons of founding King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud to rule. He will be succeeded by Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, age 55, the king’s nephew. In the role of backup, or successor to the Crown Prince, the king named his 30-year-old son (and the Defense Minister) Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the new heir-to-the-heir. Also the Foreign Minister has resigned (after 40 years in office) for “health” reasons and been replaced by the Ambassador to the US, who isn’t even a royal — which is a first in the country’s history.

For another, it raises questions about what happened with the transition that only just occurred. The Allegiance Council had ratified the pre-designated Crown Prince and voted on the 2nd in line just a couple months ago, with much fanfare about a smooth and consensus-oriented transition. Now they’ve suddenly voted out both, moving the King’s nephew into the hot seat and the King’s son into the 2nd spot.

Maybe they wanted to move faster on kicking power down a generation, to match developments in the royal families of Qatar and the UAE. But there’s a lot of speculation that the ex-Crown Prince had strongly opposed the King’s war in Yemen, which is going poorly under the direction of the King’s son at the Defense Ministry. This consolidates the royals behind the terrible policy the King is currently pursuing.

flag-of-saudi-arabia

Young Yemen

Yemen has the lowest median age of any country in the Middle East/North Africa region.

The median age in Yemen is 18.6 years, according to the CIA World Factbook. This means that, as of last year, almost half of the 26 million people of Yemen were under 18 years of age. Yemen’s median age is 19 years below the U.S. median age and 23.3 years below that of the EU.

Flag of Yemen

Flag of Yemen

Yemen’s economy is small and under-developed. The country has depended for many years on dwindling oil reserves and was unable to provide enough educational opportunities or legitimate jobs for its young people. In addition, Yemen’s government has been weak for quite some time.

As a result, the country has not been in a position to pursue suitable policies to address and mitigate the challenges associated with this stark demographic reality.

Now that a full-blown civil war has unfolded in Yemen and almost a dozen countries are currently participating in military operations in the country, it has become next to impossible to tackle the issue of the youth bulge in any meaningful fashion.

Even before this recent turn of events, Yemeni children were at serious risk of enslavement and abduction for human trafficking, not just in Yemen itself, but also in neighboring Saudi Arabia and Oman. Girls are kidnapped and forced into prostitution in Saudi Arabia’s hospitality and entertainment industry.

Young boys are also at risk of being forced into domestic servitude or prostitution. They bear the additional risk of being forced to fight in Yemen’s national army, clan militias and terrorist groups that operate in the country.

This piece was adapted from a Globalist Quiz I researched and wrote.

27 days in, high toll compels Saudis to halt Yemen bombing

Note added April 22, 2015: Less than a day later, Saudi bombing resumed. The naval blockade will continue indefinitely.

27 consecutive days of Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen will come to an end.

Saudi Arabia’s government claims they have met their tactical objectives against the Houthi rebels, and averted their “takeover” of the country, but there’s actually no immediate sign that the Houthis have been dislodged or even substantially set back, let alone defeated. The New York Times reported that Houthi-held territory, from the Saudi border to the capital to the coast, remained entirely intact after the 27 days of bombing.

The bigger reason compelling a halt to the bombing seems to be the very high civilian death toll and infrastructure annihilation from the Arab coalition’s fairly sloppy or lazy targeting. NYT:

The Saudis have come under international pressure because of the bombings, which hit a number of civilian targets, including a camp for displaced Yemenis, in which dozens were killed, and a storehouse of emergency aid administered by Oxfam, the relief agency. Oxfam called that strike “an absolute outrage.”

On Monday, the Saudis struck a target near Sana, the capital, that caused an enormous explosion that left at least 25 people dead, medical officials there said.

 
In isolation, perhaps the Saudi government would not care about that, but the United States applied pressure on the matter:

A senior American official said “there have been discussions” in the past several days among officials from the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi partner in the campaign, about ending the bombing. Asked why, the American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Too much collateral damage.”

 
Anonymous U.S. generals at CENTCOM reportedly say they were given no advanced warning by Saudi Arabia before the start of the operation last month and believed it was “a bad idea.”

This U.S. concern with the high civilian toll is itself because

“A good number of the American arms that have been used in Yemen by the Saudis have been used against civilian populations,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, an assertion that Saudi Arabia denies.

 
It is unclear so far whether the Saudi naval embargo will also be lifted, allowing vital food and water aid to be delivered to the starving Yemeni population.

April 8, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 123

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Topics: Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, Nigeria’s election outcome. People: Bill, Nate, Sasha. Produced: April 6th, 2015.

Episode 123 (42 min):
AFD 123

Discussion points:

– Why is Saudi Arabia leading a massive military intervention in Yemen?
– What is the significance of Nigeria’s peaceful democratic transfer of power between parties?

Related Links:

Al-Bab: Yemen-Saudi Arabia Relations
AFD: Nigeria: The call that changed it all

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And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

Saudi Arabia air campaign continues to pound Yemen

Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen against the Houthi rebels continues to obliterate housing and infrastructure. According to sources on the ground in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition bombed the water pipelines into Aden:

The BBC reports:

“People cannot go out to buy food, we know that there is a lack of water in the city because the water pipes have been damaged, we are trying to do everything we can but the situation is extremely difficult,” she said.

 
Ali al-Mujahed of The Washington Post, who lives in Yemen, reported on the nightly terror of the coalition air raids and the mounting daytime hoarding of resources before things run out.

International aid organizations have struggled to persuade the Saudis to stop bombing long enough to allow food and water in.

People are even fleeing the chaos to Somalia. When people have to flee to Somalia that means the “intervention” is a real step backward.

Airstrikes have been poorly targeted. Channel News Asia:

An air strike on a village near the Yemeni capital Sanaa killed a family of nine, residents said on Saturday [April 4], in what appeared to be a hit by the Saudi-led military campaign against Houthi militia.

France24:

An air strike on Monday [March 30] hit a refugee camp in northwest Yemen, killing 21 people, aid workers said.

 
Other reactions from Yemen, after al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) emptied a key prison and seized several military and political targets amid the general pandemonium:

The Saudi leadership acknowledges it has intentionally bombed residential areas but claims that these strikes were necessary to hit military equipment being sheltered among houses.

Saudi Arabia has requested that Pakistan deploy ground troops to Yemen, though there has been tremendous public resistance in Pakistan to any participation in the Saudi war in Yemen.

Meanwhile, some of the coalition participants are being pretty publicly cynical about the whole thing and their reasons for getting involved. Sudanese media reported that Sudan’s government openly admits it expects its role in the Yemen war will help its economy via US cash and hopes that the US will lift sanctions against the genocidal Sudanese regime.

There wasn’t much left of Yemen when this war started, but the GCC is finishing the job. This is going to be non-country by the end of this “intervention.”

That may well be the goal:

Relations with Saudi Arabia have always been a central feature of Yemeni foreign policy, not merely because the kingdom is the dominant state in the peninsula and Yemen’s most important neighbour, but also because the Saudis’ perception of their security needs is that they should seek to influence Yemen as much as possible in order to prevent it from becoming a threat.

According to this view, Saudi interests are best served by keeping Yemen “on the wobble” (as one western diplomat put it) – though not so wobbly that regional stability is jeopardised. Before the unification of north and south Yemen in 1990, this amounted to ensuring that both parts of the country focused their attentions on each other rather than on their non-Yemeni neighbours.

 

The Benghazi “scandal” witchhunt made the world less stable

In a piece yesterday in The Globalist, David Apgar argues that the Republican obsession with drumming up a scandal over Benghazi has forced the United States to disengage further with the world at a dangerous crossroads in history.

Partly as a result of the hearings, the United States has withdrawn its last 100 military personnel from Yemen, a special-forces group that has been productive in disrupting terror plots if not in stabilizing the poorest country in the region.
[…]
What explains the withdrawal is the veiled threat that Congress will hobble the State and Defense Departments with investigations as arbitrary, burdensome and costly as the Benghazi hearings every time someone sets fire to a U.S. base or captured U.S. personnel appear in garish jump suits kneeling on video in front of knife-wielding psychopaths.
[…]
Neither the Obama Administration nor future U.S. governments can afford the distraction promised for adverse outcomes of useful risks — risks like contributing to the MNF in 1983 and maintaining a presence in Benghazi, the heart of a nascent Libyan polity, in 2012.

 
Our retreat from Libya very likely reduced our (already very restricted) ability to keep a lid on the tense national situation and to be aware of rapidly developing situations on the ground. The transition fell apart into chaos. Likewise, while I don’t support most of what the United States has been doing in Yemen for years now, I think it was probably preferable that we maintain a physical and diplomatic presence as long as possible during its sputtering transition.

Every president has been skittish about embassy attacks since the Iranian hostage crisis lasted over a year and helped undermine Jimmy Carter politically as he headed into his unsuccessful re-election bid. But that was a pretty huge crises in its own right, without anyone manufacturing one beyond that. In this case, an already tragic event — the death of four Americans including a veteran diplomat — became such a political battleground, despite the facts and despite the lack of a coverup, that the Obama Administration had to be wary of any elevation of risk at any embassy anywhere in the entire Middle East North Africa region.

And so it is that the people accusing Democrats of “running scared” in the world and not “leading” — or whatever nonsense they’re blowing hard about due to their lack of nuanced understanding of world affairs — are the very same people raising the political risk of doing anything in the world so high that retreat is the only option.

The war in Yemen has begun in earnest now

After years of slowly building chaos, The Houthi force is moving against Aden, the government-in-the-south has fled the country, and — as of tonight — the Royal Saudi Air Force has launched an operation into Yemen under the GCC (or possibly the Arab League) at the request of the fallen government.

Flag of Yemen

Flag of Yemen

10 countries are participating in the operation already: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan are all said to be participating, with logistical and intelligence support from the United States.

The involvements of Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco, and Sudan are very unexpected and indicate a much wider operation than anticipated. It also strongly suggests that Saudi Arabia was leaning heavily on every government in the Middle East, North Africa, East Africa, and South Asia to whom it has given a lot of money previously. Saudi Arabia is cashing in every favor for a blistering war against the quasi-Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen, unlike with the rather lackadaisical coalition to support the United States against ISIS in Syria. Qatar, which sent no jets at all in the Syria campaign, sent 10 tonight.

Bahrain, which only participated minimally on the first day of the Syria raids, also sent 15 jets. Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy also “owes” Saudi Arabia for brutally suppressing their own Shia uprising in 2011 (during the Arab Spring) with GCC shock troops.

The UAE and Jordan also sent plenty of bombers over Yemen in the initial hours, in a marked contrast from their wavering in the Syria campaign.

This massive undertaking should, in my opinion, also be taken as a clear signal that Saudi Arabia firmly prioritizes the “threat” from Iran and Iranian proxies (which include the Houthis in Yemen but also 100,000 anti-ISIS fighters across Iraq and Hezbollah anti-ISIS units in western Syria) well above the threat from ISIS, despite tough talk on the latter some months ago.

Meanwhile, Iran has countless military advisers and trainers on the ground assisting the huge Iraqi campaign to re-take Tikrit from ISIS, has been providing close-air support and bombers against ISIS all over the Iraqi skies, and reportedly may even have 30,000 regular troops fighting in Iraq directly.

If I’m looking at the facts and figures, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League in general — the purported American allies — are doing far less to combat ISIS than Iran, even if you buy the theory that Iran’s support for Assad accidentally helped create ISIS in the first place.

This war in Yemen against the Houthis, which Saudi Arabia has been stirring up violently for years, seems essentially to be more of an indirect war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

And this doesn’t even begin to touch the actual al Qaeda presence in Yemen.