Yemeni-Saudi Relations: Waiting for the Big Guys to Step in? [Archives:1998/06/Viewpoint]

February 9 1998

Shrouded in lots of mystery and intrigue, Yemeni-Saudi relations have become a source of continuing agony and pain for the two neighbors. Ostensibly, the key issue of dispute is the borderline separating the two countries. But as this problem is tackled, other issues clearly come up to the surface.
First, let us talk a little bit about the border problem. Yemen and Saudi Arabia share over 2,000 kilometers of borderline extending from Al-Muwassam on the Red Sea to Point 19 degrees North and 52 degrees East, where Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia meet. The two countries agree on the starting and finishing points of the border. The two countries also agree on two key portions of the border. They agree on the maritime border, and they agree on the border demarcated by the Tayif Agreement of 1934, which runs from Al-Muwassam to Jabal Thar. What they do not agree upon, at least not in its entirety, is the line running from Jabal Thar to Point 19N/52E. Even this portion was more or less ironed out in a series of discussions at various levels of official hierarchy. At some point, an agreement was almost at hand.
Second, what are the ‘other’ issues that color the relations between the two neighbors? From the Yemeni side, this is clear – it wants to be integrated into the regional framework. Beyond the visible economic advantages for the two sides, such an arrangement will reduce the level of mistrust and political misunderstanding. Yemen is willing to entertain any form of integration ranging from a full membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to various forms of bilateral cooperation and a loose association with the GCC.
Saudi Arabia, however, does not seem to know what it wants. It wants to influence the direction of events in Yemen. Basically, it wants the status quo preserved. So, it is disturbed by the dynamic change that is taking place in Yemen, especially the democratization process. But that is not all. Social transformation in Yemen, leading to a more visible public role for Yemen, and cultural evolution leading to a less strict version of Islam are also points of contention. In addition, Saudi Arabia has been pumping money to the traditional sectors of Yemen (tribal leaders and sheikhs, religious ulema, etc.) in order to strengthen their hand in the continuous struggle for power as the country’s modernists continue their efforts to establish a liberal society.
The steep ups and downs in the relations between Yemen and Saudi Arabia are doing a lot of harm. At the very least, they create tense situations leading to more mistrust and animosity. The two sides stand to gain enormously from reaching an acceptable arrangement to cover the border as well as the other issues that are of importance to the two sides.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh and King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz are both wise leaders who realize the dangers that come from a dispute between them. In case of continued inability by our leaders to resolve this matter, the right to decide on this dispute could be taken away from them. The big guys of the new world order have involved themselves in much smaller issues than this. Beware!

By: Pro. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf  Editor-in-Chief and Publisher