Monday 6 June 2011

Yemen gets rid of another dictator, but what next?

President Saleh looks almost certain to be the third dictator to be ousted during the 'Arab Spring'. He left Yemen for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia two days ago, following a rocket attack on his Presidential compound, and would find it almost impossible to retain power back home.

In power for over 30 years, he has been popular with the West for his support for the 'war on terror'. It has meant that we were happy to sell him weapons to use on his own people, and were slow to condemn the horrendous attacks on protesters over the last 10  weeks.

Despite Saleh's departure, Yemen is not a successful product of non-violent revolution, and it is unclear who will fill the power vacuum. The tribal power grab is certainly not a peaceful one, and elements connected to al-Qaeda are present in some parts of the country.

What becomes clearer with each passing moment, as the Arab Spring turns to Summer, is that the gains of Tunisia and Egypt are not being replicated in Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. Each country is different, and will require different solutions.

Two common threads are these: First, the West has responsibilities to these nations based on its colonial history and modern political involvement. Put simply, our foreign policy has built up horrific dictators that we have been prepared to 'do business with'. This cannot be allowed to continue. The second common element, is about non-violence. The more the opposition groups are armed, the more likely things are to turn into prolonged bloodshed.

We need to find ways of supporting those who bravely resist the despots we have helped create. Not with bullets, but with diplomacy, targeted sanctions, international courts challenging human rights abuses, and foreign policy not based on what is best for business, but what is best for the people in those countries.

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