"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Zaydis and Boats for Hire

James King has an interesting article on the historic roots of Zaydi revivalism and their forays into politics.  It is a good look at who the Zaydis are outside of the Huthi rebellion, which understandably but unfortunately takes up all the analytical oxygen.  The rebellion has, of course, its roots in history, both near and distant, and King does a fine job of elucidating them.  A link will hopefully be forthcoming.  Sorry for the tease.  If I can't get a link I'll try to break it down more.

A big story today will be Margaret Coker's WSJ piece about how Yemeni officials are leasing their (largely US-trained and funded) Coast Guard as private security for shipping firms.  I had previously talked about this when Ellen Knickmeyer wrote about it for Foreign Policy in November (link also contains a further link to a Ginny Hill/Sally Healy piece).   Here is what I wrote about it then, in a bit of contrariness seemingly designed to make Slate pay attention.

This is a pretty good revenue stream for Yemen, and it isn't as if they are distributing their navy to far-flung shores while ignoring home: piracy and smuggling are issues in Yemen, and this can help the navy become more professional and better-trained.  As Knickmeyer points out, there is a lot of potential for corruption here, of course, but I don't have much of a problem with that.  For one thing, this isn't money that would otherwise be going elsewhere- it isn't aid that is being funneled into the pockets of well-connected cousins.  It is an outside and independent revenue-generating operation.  Yes, it would be better if one thought the money raised could dig wells and irrigation channels, but that is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I still believe that, although "revenue stream for Yemen" is probably a little naive.  "For very specific Yemenis" would probably be closer, especially if you're not into the whole brevity thing.   Still, I don't think this in and of itself should be enough to make the US re-evaluate aid.  In any aid endeavor, there are going to be people making money.   That sucks, but it is inevitable.  The important thing is to make sure that most of the money goes where it should, and that aid distribution doesn't backfire and make things worse.  It will get worse if our money and weapons are used, as they have been, to fight the Huthis or the Southern Movement.   It won't get worse if they are used to fight pirates and smugglers, even if the mechanism for them doing so is a bit shady.

Basically, pirates and smugglers (and terrorists) help to make insurance rates in Aden exorbitant, and this  deprives Yemen of money.  If there is going to be any kind of solution, a revitalized and viable Port of Aden is an absolute necessity.  Obviously, I wish that there would be more professionalism, but even if there isn't, building confidence for shipping companies can only help Yemen in the long-run.   All corruption is bad, but stamping all of it out is a fool's errand, and if the end result is positive we shouldn't faint dead away at its smell.


  1. Zaydi article sounds fascinating, but I'm just getting an error message from Google Docs here: maybe it's your settings? Or maybe it's just me?

  2. That's my bad- that link shouldn't work. It is in the Washington Report on Middle East affairs, but I can't find a link. The lesson is I am an idiot. I'll try to get it right soon enough.