Analysts Say Yemen, Egypt Largely Intertwined
SANA'A – Two headlines, two entirely different takes.
"Free Egypt faces the Pharaoh," nearly filled the first page of the recent issue of Al-Sahwah, the official weekly newspaper for the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Yemen, the Al-Islah Party.
Meanwhile, "Egypt continues its fight against terrorism," topped Yemen Today, a daily paper owned by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
News from Egypt has led Yemeni headlines for weeks now. But while some media outlets take the Muslim Brotherhood's side, others firmly support the Egyptian army and current interim government. Many say the Egyptian news stole the limelight from Yemen’s internal issues.
Indeed, developments in Egypt became, to a great extent, the most discussed subject among friends, colleagues, and common people. You can hear such conversations on the street and at offices, during wedding parties and on public transportation. Overwhelmingly, Facebook and Twitter posts from Yemeni activists have been about the Egyptian news.
"It's natural that Yemeni people and political parties show a great deal of interest in and attention to Egypt's recent developments because Yemen is closely intertwined with Egypt, with the relationship between them dating back centuries before the advent of Islam. It has continued since throughout historic stages until now," Abdul-Ghani Al-Iryani, a political analyst, told The Media Line. "Also, that's due to the fact that Islah is largely intertwined with the Muslim Brotherhood. … The last two Muslim Brotherhood supreme guiders have worked here for some time."
Political analyst Abdulbari Taher agreed with Al-Iryani, adding, "The historic and strong cultural, social, and political links between Egypt on one hand, and the other Arab states, especially Yemen, on the other has made Yemenis feel that what's happening in Egypt will have inevitable, serious effects on their country."
The religious, social, and political situations in Egypt and Yemen have been somehow linked since the Pharaoh’s era. For instance, Yemeni revolutions against its tyrant King in the north or against the British colony in the south in the 1960s came as a direct effect and support of Egyptian revolutions, Taher told The Media Line.
"It's easy to notice that Yemeni political parties are either extensions of or modeled after parties in Egypt,” he said. “This is the case for left-wing parties, nationalist parties, liberal parties, or Islamist parties."”
For evidence of this, look no further than party positions regarding recent events in Egypt. While leftists and liberals supported the ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Islamists and some sympathizers strongly stood by the Muslim Brotherhood and considered the military coup to have thwarted democracy and the people's will.
The polarized stances have been clear in the government's official position on the ouster of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
After days of hesitation, and under alleged pressure from Saudi Arabia, Yemen announced on Monday its support of Egypt’s interim government.
With the aim of mitigating the anger of Islamists over the official position, neither President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi nor Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa issued the official statement. Instead, the Foreign Ministry was left with the task.
Although many Islah followers expressed anger and disappointment following this announcement of support for the coup, senior Islah leader and former presidential candidate Fatahi Al-Azab told The Media Line that his party is not too upset with the statement as it was not representative of the whole government.
Foreign Minister Abu Baker Al-Qirbi, who made the statement, is a member of Saleh’s General People Congress Party, which holds half of National Unity Government’s seats.
Joint Meeting Parties, an alliance of six political parties, of which Islah is the biggest one, holds the other half of government’s seats. Most JMP members support the Egyptian military, reflecting the greatly divided position concerning Egypt’s latest developments.
Taher said Morsi’s ouster will most certainly have adverse effects on Yemen's Islamist Islah Party, which has become an essential partner in the National Unity Government.
Al-Azab, the former presidential candidate, disagreed.
"Yemen has a roadmap defining its future as well as the roles of the different parties, including Islah," he said, referring to the internationally backed, Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered deal that saw Saleh relinquish power after holding office for 33 years. "Actually these events won't have so much effect on Islah's political future in Yemen because it has its own popularity base.”
"There is a likelihood that the ongoing 'illogical crackdown' on the Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters in Egypt would make the Islamists there turn to violence and become militant groups. If that happened, other moderate Islamist parties including Yemeni ones will likely follow suit," said political analyst Al-Iryani.
Abdusalam Mohammed, the chairman of Abaad Studies and Research Center, agreed with Al-Iryani, adding, "Egypt’s democracy setback aborts moderate Islamist groups’ ambition for change. This will prompt some of their members to join jihadist groups because these violent groups’ methodology for change will prove to be more useful."
Now militant groups have started to exploit what happened in Egypt to attract the disappointed and frustrated young moderate Islamists, Mohammed told The Media Line.
Plagued with great economic challenges and home to the most dangerous affiliate of Al-Qa'ida’s global terror network, Yemen could be hard hit by Egypt's turmoil.
The United States and the entire international community have been making great efforts to prevent Yemen, the poorest Arab state, from becoming a failed state, due to its strategic location near one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, through which 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.
While the dismissal of Morsi and subsequent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt may weaken Islah, it might very well boost morale in Saleh’s General People Congress Party and encourage the remnants of the former regime to seek their way back to power, said Taher, adding this could adversely affect the political and security situations in the country.
Mohammed agreed with Taher, saying, "Their attempts to get their hands on power again will create a political crisis which could be exploited by militant groups like Al-Qa'ida to operate freely and plan more attacks on foreign interests in Yemen and abroad."