Ancients today may remember the lyric: “Bloody Mary’s chewing betel nut” from the musical “South Pacific.” Pacific Islanders chewed it for the low grade high it provided, ignoring, as it is addictive, the accompanying red smile it produced. In Yemen, the equivalent is qat (or if you prefer, khat.) And it doesn’t give you red teeth.
Yemen is the poorest of the Middle East places; a cheap drug happy to grow there is well received. And also exported for a few bucks of export income, if mainly locally. That is not why Yemen is in the news though; rather it is a result of wider interests. Nobody really cares about Yemen. Generally, anyway. Even Yemenis, so long as they have enough Qat.
But the Middle East is presently aflame between Sunni and Shia Moslem interests, a proxy war between top dogs Saudi Arabia and Iran. Yemen has just become a failed state, the elected government fleeing the advance of Shia rebels and the Sunni tribes so far standing aside, excepting a local al-Qaeda branch. Al-Qaeda note, is Sunni Moslem, not Shia Moslem.
The advancing Shia rebels are encouraged by the primary Shia power, Iran. They are so far, succeeding.
But this bothers neighboring (Sunni) Saudi Arabia and (Sunni) Egypt. So they have invaded Yemen to stop the advancing Shia rebels. Clear so far? The Shia Yemenis making progress are in fact, a minority. The Sunni Yemenis are a majority but are to date, not piling on. The government has fled; the reels are winning, it is a civil war. Now the Saudis and Egyptians are invading as if it were their business. It is not, though it is a real concern.
The concern results from Shia Iran moving in on the Shia reels. No Sunni Arabs are happy withy Shia (non-Arab) Iranians pushing into Arabia. That perennial battle has proceeded since Biblical days, back and forth. Got that so far? (If so, kindly explain it to me, I will appreciate that.)
From a White House release today, it seems that President Obama is with the Sunni side of this, opposing Iranian interests. While he is also busy handing Iran the nukes it demands. Foreign policy can be confusing. So can Presidents. Perhaps it simply comes down to inability to stop Iran from acquiring what it wants. Foreign policy is also basic realism, sooner or later.
I hope you grasp this, there will be a quiz next Tuesday. Bottom line is, two things:
1. Persians (Iran) and Arabs have been at odds for several thousand years and show no signs of slowing down.
2. Arab Islam is split between Sunni and Shia (Think Catholic and Protestant) and neither feels ready to allow the other hegemony. Or at bottom, a right to live. Add that those Persians (Iran) are Shia, though not Arab.
All that is without tossing in Jews and Israel.
So now, you understand what is and isn’t going on in Yemen. Here, have a few Qat leaves to chew; you’ll feel better.