Local legend holds that San‘a was the first city built after the Flood, founded by Shem on the choicest land available. The Prophet Muhammad called it “the paradise of earthly paradises”, and Yemen’s current poet laureate, Abd al-Aziz al-Maqalih, writes that it is the “capital of the soul.” But this city of towering gingerbread houses so celebrated in verse and song is no longer the exotic medieval capital it was only a generation ago. With the exception of the old city, San‘a has become, like most Middle Eastern cities, full of crowded markets and narrow streets that reek of sweat, diesel and tobacco. The dust rising from these congested streets seems to carry with it the fear and frustration of a place about to go over the edge, and pull the rest of Yemen along with it.
Yemen could be the first case of what happens when an Arab state runs out of oil and water even as it confronts rising unemployment and the widespread social dissatisfaction so well described in a series of UN Arab Human Development reports. That dissatisfaction flows from the pressures caused by an annual population growth of 3.9 percent, a largely unacknowledged HIV/AIDS crisis, rampant poverty mixed with corruption, and a central government too weak to deal effectively with any of these or other problems. As all of this bad news gathers, coming changes in the leadership of the country’s three main power blocs suggest a looming lack of political capital to manage the challenges ahead.
Given Yemen’s reputation as a refuge for Islamic extremists, one might think that American diplomats there would be warning Foggy Bottom of these maladies. Perhaps they are, but if so, their warnings weren’t heeded in the appointment of Edmund Hull to be the first post-9/11 ambassador to Yemen. The choice of Hull, a counterterrorism expert, suggests that U.S. policy on the southern edge of the Arabian peninsula is focused singlemindedly on the War on Terror, to the exclusion of almost all else. So as long as the Yemeni government cooperates—or maintains the illusion of cooperation—on that front, all else is forgiven, and very likely forgotten. And that’s a problem.
The Last Refuge
The modern history of Yemen has been tumultuous, to put it generously. The port of Aden and most of the country’s southern lands were British territories from 1839 into the 1960s. The rest of the country, including San‘a, stayed relatively free of direct colonial influence, but not of royal and tribal chaos, nor of intrigue and interference from Yemen’s neighbors. Yemenis take pride in the fact that the borders of the modern state were drawn free of colonial influence (though not of Saudi aggression) during the 1930s. But this pride, along with references in ancient texts to a geographical area called Yemen, disguises the fact that the modern state has never achieved political cohesion or stability.
After the British were forced out of Aden in 1967, Southern Yemen fell to a strange mixture of revolutionaries and Marxists who eventually established the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) in 1970. This Marxist state was the Soviet Union’s closest ideological client in the Arab world, though it also attracted Chinese weapons and aid. The PDRY also served as a base from which Soviet agents and some local adventurers encouraged a rebellion in neighboring Oman, which attracted the resistance of, among others, the late Shah of Iran. Within a few years, politics in the PDRY came down to running gun battles among rival factions on the streets of Aden, complete with the cessation of anything resembling a government service. The bloody events of January 1986 are still clouded in mystery, but one fact is clear: a lot of people were killed. Mass graves, such as one discovered this past December, are still being unearthed.
By 1990, after the PDRY’s loss of its Soviet supporter, the country began to fall into the arms of its northern neighbor. The north was no model of political stability either, having suffered equally through royalist and republican rule, with a 1962–70 civil war complete with Egyptian and Saudi interference marking the passage from one to the other. But by the early 1990s the north was much stronger and more stable than Aden, and unification was achieved in May 1990.
Four years later, the south attempted to secede under the leadership of its former president and the vice president of united Yemen, Ali Salim al-Baydh. The ensuing civil war ensured that the south would remain a part of Yemen, but at a high cost. Al-Baydh went into exile in Oman, while his once-strong Socialist Party was left in shambles. Aden, which in Arabic is spelled the same as Eden, was left as anything but a paradise. A city which as late as the 1950s had rivaled New York and Liverpool as the busiest port in the world was, by 1994, a shell of its former self. Pockmarked cement buildings and a destroyed brewery stood as memorials to ideological madness and civil war.
Since 1994, the north has effectively colonized the south. It has installed officials in southern districts and cities who have systematically looted public accounts and stolen land before returning to their homes in the north. Others have stayed in the south, working to turn their ill-gotten gains into further profit through haphazard and cronyized attempts at development. The city’s once pristine beaches bordering the Gulf of Aden are now littered with three-sided cement hovels that were meant to serve as tourist bungalows, but which have since become home to packs of mangy desert dogs that keep picnicking families to a minimum.
The 1994 civil war was also instrumental in institutionalizing Islamist elements—known as “Afghan Arabs” for their role as fighters against the Soviet Union in the 1980s—into the country’s political system. Following the withdrawal of the Red Army from Afghanistan in 1989, many of these young participants in the U.S. and Saudi-sponsored anti-Soviet jihad made their way back to the lands of their birth. Many were full of religious zeal and the thrill of victory, eager to replicate their successes at home. Their respective governments, however, took a dim view of becoming targets of these wandering veterans. Subsequent armed clashes, massive crackdowns and arbitrary arrests led many of these men to seize upon a well-known though spurious hadith of the Prophet Muhammad: “When disorder threatens, seek refuge in Yemen.”
The Yemeni government took advantage of the influx of Afghan Arab fighters and managed to organize them into an effective paramilitary force to put down the south’s attempted secession, which San‘a portrayed as a jihad against infidel communists. Foremost among the Yemeni leaders of these fighters were Sheikh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, now listed as a “specially designated global terrorist” by the United States and the United Nations, and Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, the shadowy commander of the 1st Armored Division and relative of President Ali Abdullah Salih (often mistakenly said to be his half-brother).
Al-Zindani developed extensive contacts among the Afghan Arabs during his time in self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia where he headed up a “scientific institute” at King Abd al-Aziz University in Jeddah from 1979 to 1991, and from numerous trips to Afghanistan during the 1980s. He was also a member of the five-man Yemeni presidential advisory council from 1993 to 1997, and he remains a major figure within Islah, the main opposition party. As the most powerful military commander in Yemen, Ali Muhsin monitored carefully the post-1989 influx of roughly 4,000 battle-hardened veterans. He maintained close ties to several Afghan Arabs, and he is married to the sister of Tariq al-Fadhli, the most prominent Yemeni “Afghan” vet. Al-Zindani and Ali Muhsin’s experience with the Afghan Arabs paid dividends in 1994, when thousands of these fighters were let loose on the socialists on the strength of a fatwa from the former and training from the latter.
But much like U.S. support for the Afghan Arabs in the 1980s, Yemen’s use of Afghan Arabs to destroy its own “communist” threat has produced unanticipated blowback. Renegades from the Afghan Arab contingent attacked the destroyer U.S.S. Cole in October 2000 as it refueled in Aden and the French oil tanker Limburg in October 2002. Earlier in 2002, the Yemeni government had invited U.S. Special Forces into the country as advisers and trainers. Following the attack on the Limburg, it cooperated with the November 2002 Predator strike on Ali Qaid Sinan al-Harithi, the suspected head of al-Qaeda in Yemen, and five of his companions. The Yemeni government paid a high price domestically, however, for allowing the United States to strike inside Yemen’s borders. Following a Pentagon leak that revealed the secret agreement between the two countries, President Salih, who felt personally betrayed by the leak, cooled Yemeni cooperation with the United States. When Yemeni police captured al-Harithi’s replacement, Muhammad Hamdi al-Ahdal, in November 2003, Salih refused to allow U.S. officials to interrogate him directly.
This refusal came against the backdrop of a series of bombs in San‘a during 2002 that threatened Salih’s government. Since then Salih and his associates seem to have reached a tacit non-aggression pact with the Islamists: Yemen will go after certain individuals when the United States provides names, but it will not move to disband Islamist groups as long as they refrain from striking at the government. This is probably not a stable arrangement, even if Salih manages for the time being to straddle the pressures coming from Washington and his internal opposition.
Ticking Time Bombs
Yemen’s terrorism problem is certainly serious, but its other pressing challenges are, too. If Yemen’s economic and social time bombs explode, the country will pass from a merely fragile state to a full-blown failed one, with all that implies about Yemen’s potential to become a major haven for terrorists. The foremost near-term problem the government faces is the country’s rapidly declining oil reserves.
The World Bank estimates that Yemen’s oil production, never large to begin with, will grind to a halt within the next few years. Oil production declined by 5.9 percent in 2004, and roughly 4.7 percent in 2005. Projections for 2006 put the daily output at 368,000 barrels per day (bpd), a reduction of 25,000 bpd from 2005. At current levels of production, Yemen will run out of oil within five years. If production is slowly cut back, which seems to be happening, the country could continue to export oil for another 12 years. There is, of course, some possibility of new discoveries, but both oil companies and the government believe the chances of this are slight.
Since oil accounts for roughly 75 percent of Yemen’s annual budget of nearly $5.6 billion, it is clear that the loss of this income will be catastrophic. Unless new money flows into the treasury, the government will be forced to reduce state employment and cut subsidies on food and other essentials, in a country where 42 percent of the population live below the poverty line. The government is the country’s largest employer, providing close to 40 percent of all jobs, so cutbacks in new hiring as well as the liquidation of current positions will drastically increase unemployment. That, in turn, will affect foreign investment and, ultimately, the stability of the country. The government already has to deal with 50,000 new entrants to the work force every year, a number that is bound to grow for the foreseeable future, since more than half of Yemen’s 22 million people are under the age of 15. I once had lunch with a professor from San‘a University in the old Jewish quarter of al-Qa‘a, whose one- and two-story houses still reflect the pre-revolutionary limitation on the height of Jewish homes. At one point, he interrupted our meal to approach a young man hawking tapes from a cardboard box. When he returned to the table he was shaking his head. “The smartest kid in my class and now he is selling tapes from a box”, he said. “It’s tragic.” Indeed it is.
The water situation is no less desperate. In 2000, Yemen’s per capita water supply was about 2 percent of the world average. Six years on, the problem is even worse, with no ready solutions at hand. Greater San‘a, with nearly two million inhabitants, may be the first capital city in the world to run out of water. The groundwater level is decreasing by six meters per year in the capital, more in some other parts of the country. In Taiz, another major urban center, water pipes are opened only once every forty days. Residents are forced to buy water from surrounding villages or rely on the generosity of neighborhood sheikhs. The loss of groundwater has also severely affected Yemen’s agriculture: a country that only a generation ago could feed itself now imports more than 80 percent of its grain.
Most Yemenis will experience extreme water stress over the next two decades, not least because of sharp population growth. The birth rate is already leveling off in many poorer countries, including most Arab countries—but not in Yemen. The key factor in controlling population growth is high or growing female literacy. Female literacy in Yemen is only about 25 percent—one of the lowest in the world. The average Yemeni woman will have seven children, one of the highest rates in the world. This will not change soon. Yemen’s urban schools are thus wildly overcrowded, in some cases with more than a hundred students per classroom, and there are few schools in rural areas. Most teachers have long since given up any hope of imparting knowledge; the best have left teaching for better paying and more fulfilling positions in the private sector. Even the guards outside schools, such as the Sayf bin Dhi Yazan School in downtown San‘a, seem to have resigned themselves to the situation. I saw them stop boys from sneaking past the gate during recess, while ignoring those climbing through a hole in the wall twenty yards away. “I’m paid to watch the gate”, one told me. The government’s reticence even to discuss birth control, for fear of alienating religious leaders, compounds the problem.
This same fear also plays into the government’s refusal to admit that Yemen has an HIV/AIDS problem. There are about 5,000 reported cases in the country, but the World Health Organization estimates that at least 15 times that number exist. Ironically, only Sheikh al-Zindani seems to take the crisis seriously. Unfortunately, he insists he can heal HIV/AIDS patients through Quranic intercession. The patent he has applied for is still pending.
Like the country’s resources, its infrastructure has also been unable to keep up with increased demand. Running minor errands like going to the bank can take all day. This is partly due to the incessant traffic jams that plague San‘a. After the revolution of 1962 the city burst outside its ancient walls and grew from 50,000 to nearly two million residents in the span of a generation. Traveling more than a few blocks on al-Zubayri Street or Abd al-Mughni Street, two of the city’s main thoroughfares, can take hours as battered Peugeot taxis do battle with oversized trucks, bruised Toyota pick-ups, honking Land Rovers and the occasional late-model Mercedes. By 10:30 every morning the traffic on most San‘a roads has backed itself into a shrill, screaming tangle of cars, bodyguards, donkeys and men. For a while in 2005, parliament banned motorcycles inside the city, but after several demonstrations and a new tax, they returned to the mix.
Only 40 percent of the population has electricity, and even in San‘a, where coverage is widespread, daily power outages are the norm. Local merchants often grumble about “criminals” and “terrorists” stealing electricity as they go through the daily ritual of lighting candles and kerosene lamps. The frustration with the power failures is increased by the perception that they affect every district of the capital except for the Westernized suburb of Haddah, where most high-level officials live. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Baskin-Robbins are all located here, and this is where the city’s famed stone tower houses give way to the mock-marble and pseudo-modern designs of the elite’s more contemporary tastes. Million-dollar gated compounds with expensive cars in the driveways, all owned by government officials, stand on streets littered with small, black plastic bags that some have taken to calling “the official bird of Yemen.”
General frustration has begun to seep into the public discourse. In 2004, when the Arab League designated San‘a the “cultural capital of the Arab world”, the Islah party paper, al-Sahwa—not generally known for its sense of humor—ran an article entitled “No Water, No Electricity, No Services: Welcome to San‘a, Cultural Capital of the Arab World 2004.” The pressures Yemen faces are well understood by both the government and the opposition, but they see them more as sticks to beat each other with than as obstacles to overcome. Most Yemenis agree that there is too much kalam fadi, “empty talk”, and not enough action.
Power, Corruption and Qat
These pressures will descend on a country rich in two questionable commodities: corruption and qat. An anecdote from Paul Dresch’s A History of Modern Yemen suffices to illustrate the former: “A man caught simply plundering the petrol company at home (on a massive scale) was not jailed or even forced to pay back his gains, but appointed ambassador to a European capital.” Successful plundering is not a career impediment in Yemeni society; to the contrary, it is widely regarded as a sign of personal skill.
The corruption problem was brought into the open last year when Faisal Amin Abu Ras, a member of parliament for the ruling party and son of a revolutionary war hero, resigned in protest, saying: “This government is drowning in corruption.” Though only in his first term as an MP, Abu Ras was a representative in the FDR mold, except holding thrice-weekly qat chews for his constituents, rather than fireside chats. Qat chews are an important forum for debate and discussion in Yemen.
I attended a qat chew at Abu Ras’ house in the summer of 2004 and was impressed with what I saw. The room was filled with fifty tribesmen from Abu Ras’ Dhu Muhammad tribe, centered around Mount Barat in the north Yemeni highlands, each one sporting the ceremonial dagger known as a jambiyah. Before long the floor was carpeted with discarded qat branches, their mildly narcotic leaves now stored in the cheeks of the tribesmen, and the smoke from numerous cigarettes floating in what Mikhail Bulgakov described in a different context as “slow, dense, horizontal layers, without a quiver.” The room was sealed tight, for anything, even the slightest breeze—and certainly the shanini, a piercing blast of cold air that may sneak in through a poorly fastened window or a crack in the wall—can disturb a qat chewer’s serenity.
Throughout the chew Abu Ras received small pieces of paper from men in the room detailing their problems, while other men slipped into the seat next to him to whisper their situation into his ear. Everything from back electrical bills to tribal disputes was discussed; no problem was too small. Murmured conversations were interrupted only by Abu Ras’ cell phone as he arranged this, fixed that, and lobbied for something else. What’s the distinction between servicing a tribal constituency and corruption? Qat somehow makes the difference clear.
Abu Ras’ resignation is unlikely to affect Yemen’s level of corruption, and neither is much else. Nearly everyone in a position of power is implicated, which means that no one is particularly guilty. Corruption in Yemen has fully merged into patronage, and when the people at the top participate in it, those in the middle and on the bottom rungs of society must follow suit to survive.
The rampant corruption seems to have finally caught up with Yemen, however. During Salih’s most recent trip to the United States, in November 2005, he was told that both the U.S. government and World Bank were cutting aid to the country due to high levels of corruption. Yemen seems to have taken this message to heart, at least outwardly. This summer when I arrived in Yemen I was greeted by a large sign featuring President Salih and the message: “Corruption will not be tolerated.” But besides the series of billboards that have sprouted up throughout San’a, it is unclear what affect Salih’s anti-corruption campaign has had.
Yemen will soon face a generational change in leadership, and a new group of largely untested leaders will have a chance to modernize Yemeni politics and deal decisively with corruption. They will also confront the possibility of spectacular failure in the face of mounting economic and social problems.
Yemen’s many political parties (28 different parties fielded candidates in the last three parliamentary elections) and a feisty, 301-seat parliament often give outside observers the impression that formal political institutions are important here. In reality, only the country’s three main power blocs—the government, the military and especially the tribes—really matter. Each of these blocs is headed by a single individual. In the case of the government and its General People’s Congress (GPC) party, it is President Salih. Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar controls the military through a series of personal and family relationships. The most powerful tribal bloc is led by Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar (not related to Ali Muhsin), the paramount sheikh of the Hashid tribal confederation, the speaker of the parliament and the head of Islah. These three men rule Yemen.
These blocs do not always speak with one voice, but they generally command greater loyalty and more power than do political parties. They are also intertwined. For example, four of Sheikh Abdullah’s sons—Hussein, Hamayr, Mudhij and Hamid—are members of parliament, two with the GPC and two with Islah. His oldest son, Sadiq, who was a member of parliament from 1993 to 2003, ran once on the GPC ticket and once on Islah’s. In such a world, political parties are mostly for show. Behind the scenes, relationships of family and tribes matter more, and political transition in Yemen flows through patrilineal succession within the blocs.
Salih is 64-years-old and, following his victory in the September elections, will remain in office until 2013, rounding out 35 years in power. Conventional wisdom holds that Salih will use his final seven-year term to lay the groundwork for his son, Ahmad, to succeed him. Ahmad, however, has little popular support. The opposition press routinely mocks his capabilities (he flunked out of military academies in Jordan and Britain) as well as his vicious temper and manifest immaturity. Like Sheik Abdullah’s sons, Ahmad has been a member of parliament, and in 1999 his father named him commander of both the Republican Guards and the Special Forces. This upset Ali Muhsin, who is rumored to have his own eye on the presidency.
That same year, Ali Muhsin lost two powerful supporters within the military in a helicopter crash, Deputy Chief of Staff Ahmad Faraj and the Commander of the Eastern Region Muhammad Ismail. The crash was officially ruled an accident, although rumors persist that it was a well-timed one. In any event, Salih has since begun purging the military of officers and units loyal to Ali Muhsin, a delicate process of retiring or promoting officers and dismantling units that will take years to complete. If he is successful at this, Ahmad’s road to the presidency will be clear. Ahmad has simultaneously taken steps to bolster both his public image and his support within the military, such as financing a mass wedding for 79 members of the Special Forces. Public relations events like this, always well reported by the media, will only increase in the coming years. One may safely predict full employment for quality caterers.
The aging Sheikh Abdullah is also preparing the way for his eldest son, Sadiq, to succeed him as head of the Hashid tribal confederation. The Hashid is the smaller of Yemen’s two major tribal confederations, but it is better organized than the larger Bakil confederation. Sheikh Abdullah has led Hashid for more than forty years, and during that time he has crafted a number of alliances that he is now calling on to support Sadiq’s rise to power.
There is also a possibility that Sadiq’s younger brother, Hamid, could challenge for the family’s top spot after his father’s death. Hamid has become a permanent fixture in the Yemeni press over the past year, at one point calling for a “popular revolution” aimed at removing entrenched ministers and politicians. But he and his father split over the 2006 elections. Sheikh Abdullah supported President Salih, while his son very publicly endorsed the challenger, Faisal bin Shamlan.
The best indicator that power blocs trump political parties in Yemen is the fact that neither of these heirs apparent, Ahmad or Sadiq, defended his parliamentary seat during the 2003 elections, choosing instead to concentrate on their succession bids. Neither, however, currently has the experience or support to rule without the help of his father. Just as journalists grumble about Ahmad’s unsuitability to rule, so one hears tribesmen complain that Sadiq is not a “true tribesman”, and that he lacks the main qualification—namely, heartfelt generosity—that has made his father such a powerful leader.
Stories of the sheikh’s generosity are legendary. I witnessed this firsthand at a conference on Yemeni folk poetry. Following a particularly forceful recitation of a nationalist poem by a six-year-old child, Sheikh Abdullah—in the tradition of Muslim rulers who often rewarded favorite poets with a mouthful of coins—asked the boy to name his prize. “A computer”, was the reply, which pleased Sheikh Abdullah to such an extent that he took the boy back to his house and gave him both a computer and the equivalent of $3,000. His son, Sadiq, on the other hand, has only his reputation as a shady businessman, a status that has not endeared him to most Yemenis.
Breaking Up Is Easy to Do
Both Ahmad and Sadiq will have to grow into their roles just as the twin crises of oil and water depletion reach the tipping-point. Young and untested, they will be operating without the cushion of popular support that has allowed their fathers to make mistakes and remain in power. For that reason their ability to hold the country together in tough times is questionable.
In qat chews around San‘a one already hears lurid scenarios about fragmentation and civil war, and not without reason. The government’s writ does not extend to much of the Yemeni hinterland, where the kidnapping of foreign terrorists has become a favorite pastime. Were its its revenue to dry up, government power could recede back to small urban pockets. For the past two years the government has been combating a low-level insurgency around the northern city of Sa’dah. The revolt by the Shab al-Muminin, the Believing Youth, was ignited in the summer of 2004 when the government tried to arrest its leader, former MP Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi. The initial round of fighting lasted until September, when al-Houthi was killed in a firefight with the military. When the government failed to honor a pledge of amnesty, a second round of fighting broke out in March 2005 under the leadership of al-Houthi’s elderly father. The al-Houthi Rebellion is shrouded in secrecy, since the government has prohibited reporters from traveling there, but independent estimates put the cost of the fighting at more than $1 billion and more than a thousand killed.
The fighting was supposed to end in February when, in the midst of a cabinet reshuffle, Salih replaced the governor of Sa’dah, General Yahya al-Amri, who had played a major role in sparking the revolt. The new governor, General Yahya al-Shami, presided over the release of 627 al-Houthi followers from prison. Since then, sporadic episodes of violence have threatened, but not completely derailed, the fragile peace.
The Red Sea coastal area of Tihama and the relatively wealthy eastern province of Hadramaut are also believed to be ripe for fragmentation. Malarial Tihama, whose scrubland coastal plain resembles East Africa more than the rest of Yemen, lacks the military or financial power to secede. But if government power were to diminish in the face of an economic crisis, Tihama could acquire significant autonomy by default. It already has a thriving black market trade from Africa. Driving down the coast, one is more likely to meet alcohol smugglers than government soldiers. The people in Tihama resent the perceived government bias against them, offering as proof of this the fact that the highest position someone from the region has attained under the current government is minister of agriculture.
Hadramaut, historically a separate entity, is a different story altogether. This eastern governorate, whose name translates as “death has come”, has a landscape that gradually changes from bleak to accursed the further into the interior one goes. Somewhere deep in the rocky gorges and nearly inaccessible wadis, where the thermometer routinely tops 110 degrees, is the legendary Bir Barhut, the well where the souls of the unbelievers are said to be thrown after death to be tormented by hellfire, snakes and scorpions. But contemporary Hadramaut has escaped the curse of its past. It has much wealth—mostly from Hadramis living in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia—and little stomach for a protracted secession struggle. Still, many in San‘a believe that Hadrami merchants have contingency plans to withdraw from the state if the government collapses or proves incapable of ruling. One possibility is that Hadramaut would be gobbled up by Saudi Arabia, just as the former Yemeni province of Asir was lost to the Al-Saud in 1934.
The Saudi Role
How Saudi Arabia reacts to the coming economic crisis in Yemen remains one of the key wildcards in Yemen’s future. Saudi Arabia has exerted considerable influence over its southern neighbor during the past forty years, mostly by subsidizing factional divisions, which prevent any single group—government, tribe or military—from achieving outright superiority. Put a bit differently, Saudi Arabia has traditionally desired a certain degree of instability in Yemen, but not outright chaos. It is not clear, however, what policy Saudi Arabia will pursue if its neighbor begins to fall apart. The Saudis may well grab for territory—especially potentially oil-rich territory near the Saudi-Yemeni border—as well as influence. If that becomes Riyadh’s policy, the Yemeni state will not survive as we know it today.
Who, then, would pick up the pieces? Those with the best chance of replacing a rapidly receding or collapsed state could easily be militant salafis searching for a final refuge—thus making true Muhammad’s apocryphal saying about Yemen. The Saudis might live to regret contributing to such a situation, but the United States could only consider such a turn of events a disaster. Yemen therefore bears careful watching. Creative, forward-leaning efforts to help it deal with its economic and social challenges are in order. The United States has somewhere between five and 15 years to make a difference in Yemen, and it will probably need them all. Whatever such help may cost, it will pale next to the price to be paid for Yemen as a failed state.