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Obama must tell Saudi Arabia to keep Yemen's Saleh

Yemen's leader must not be allowed to return. America's interest lies in the democratic aspirations of young Arabs, not oil. Obama should shift the Saudi relationship to one of universal values.

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Each new tempest of the Arab Spring has tested America’s ties with the world’s largest oil supplier, Saudi Arabia. Now with Yemen, a Saudi neighbor on the Arabian Peninsula, poised to possibly become the next Arab country liberated from autocracy, it may be time for President Obama to rethink the US relationship with the Saudi monarchy – one too long based merely on mutual self-interests.

Events in Yemen are providing that opportunity.

The nation’s longtime dictator, President Ali Abdallah Saleh, was injured Friday during tribal-related violence in the capital. He was flown to Saudi Arabia for medical care. If the Saudis understand that recent events in Yemen are primarily a result of young people protesting – largely peacefully – for freedom and democracy, they won’t let Mr. Saleh return and they will take other steps to bring democracy to their neighbor.

Saleh’s 33 years in power may have kept Yemen relatively stable, which is what the House of Saud has long wanted. He even battled a branch of Al Qaeda, one that has tried to strike the United States.

But a lack of basic rights has only contributed to economic decline. The average Yemeni lives on about $2 a day. The call for change by young Yemenis since March has inspired the nation’s top Army general and a leading tribe to defect from Saleh. Now, in his absence, only Saleh’s sons, who are in charge of their own armed forces, stand in the way of Yemenis making the difficult transition to democracy.

The Saudi hand in Yemen has long been a strong one, wielding both troops and money at times. The kingdom also sent troops into neighboring Bahrain recently to protect that monarchy.

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