Yemen – Beyond the Headlines
Yemen - categorically NOT the world's most dangerous place.
Bradt’s Nick Redmayne first travelled to Yemen in 2008. He returned from his latest visit last month and shares a perspective at odds with that of prevailing news media.
Yemen – ‘a crucible of global terror’ or ‘the world’s next failed state’: neither of these headlines are likely to front Yemen’s next big tourism campaign, unless that is, someone has profound faith in reverse psychology. Based on an aggregation of media reports it seems that Yemen’s normally smouldering blue touch paper has been yanked into nuclear age, gone critical and now lies on the verge of meltdown. The advice all round seems to be stand well clear and watch proceedings through the bullet-proof glass of a TV screen.
However, having visited the country a couple of weeks ago for the third time in as many years, I’d hazard that Yemen is very far from becoming a failed state and that much of the prevailing instability is hardly breaking news. Over the years, the Ottomans, the British, the Egyptians, the Saudis and the Soviets have all had their unwashed fingers in Yemen’s bowl of saltah. Hardly surprising, then, that with a history of so many foreign powers manoeuvring for advantage, political cohesion in unified Yemen is still struggling to find a firm foothold.
Given the country’s strong tribal allegiances, mountainous terrain and limited governmental resources it’s also quite easy to see how a pragmatic reliance on one’s own neighbours would seem a better bet than to trust action to a distant bureaucracy in Sana’a. This is, of course, the ideal habitat for maintenance of an insurgency, and the nihilist activities of al-Qaeda have found and exploited this fertile ground with ease.
That said, Yemen’s home-grown al-Houthi conflict in the north and the violent actions of disaffected southern secessionists are separate problems. The only group that benefits from both sources of strife is al-Qaeda, as the separate and distant fronts keep government security forces from concentrating their actions solely on these fundamentalist foot soldiers.
Most observers agree that political solutions to the northern and southern insurgencies will go a considerable way towards denying ‘al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’ a safe haven on Yemeni soil. Until that happens Yemen will continue to court the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Incredible though it may sound, and despite attacks on British diplomats, current visitors to Yemen are able to wander the capital without hindrance. Common sense advice about keeping a low profile and avoiding sensitive areas still prevails. Beyond Sana’a, travels to Hadhramawt province, Seiyun, Tarim, the desert city of Shibam and Al Mukalla on the coast will attract armed guards, but are still perfectly achievable and not feats of derring-do. Heading west, travel to Ta’iz, Ibb, Jiblah and Hudaydah is unaffected by any new security concerns.
Yemen is certainly not a leisure destination for those of a nervous disposition, but it is categorically NOT ‘the world’s most dangerous place’ even for Daily Mail readers. Travellers need to maintain awareness and understand that whilst others may be concerned for their safety, the final responsibility rests 100% with them. With that caveat, adventurous visitors can look forward to a genuine welcome, a country of remarkable landscapes, and an authentic Arabian experience that’s fast disappearing under layers of gilt, mirror glass and steel elsewhere in the Middle East.
Nick Redmayne last visited Yemen in October 2010.
Bradt publishes Yemen by Daniel McLaughlin, the country’s only dedicated guide in English. Click here for more details…
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