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Appearances – I explain Yemen to Canadians

My global media preeminence (see here and here) appears to have spread to a distant, wintry land known to its inhabitants as “Canada.” I discussed the escalating civil strife in Yemen today with host Theo Caldwell of The Caldwell Account on the Sun News Network, sometimes considered Canada’s equivalent of Fox News. The show was aired live and will only be rebroadcast on Canadian cable — and not everywhere in Canada at that — but I’ll link to a transcript, audio, or video if and when available.

For now, my main points:

1) Yes, the violence in Yemen is bad and getting worse. No, we shouldn’t panic yet. Yemen has a long and unhappy history of regional and tribal strife, with North and South Yemen only uniting in 1990, but so far the violence has not exploded into civil war.

2) Yemen’s strategically important not because of oil — it produces a mere 0.3 percent of the world’s total — but because of its location at a chokepoint in the Red Sea, threatening the sea lanes (and oil tankers) in and out of the Suez Canal, which by the way is already troubled by Somali pirates coming from just across the narrow sea.

3) The Yemeni franchise of al-Qaeda — AQAP, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — is the strongest al-Qaeda branch remaining — but that’s not saying much.

4) Yemen’s dictatorial president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has played a double game much like Pakistan’s, sometimes coddling Islamic extremists as means to his own ends, sometimes cracking down on them to appease the U.S.

5) The most powerful figure in the opposition, Major General Ali Mohsen al-Amar, has protected the demonstrators with his troops but is not a nice guy either: He was Saleh’s No. 2 until recently and his chief enforcer in repressing northern rebels.

And one point I didn’t get to on the program:

6) Yemen is in Saudi Arabia’s backyard. They’ve intervened there before, most dramatically by waging a proxy war with Egypt for influence in the 1960s, and they were already intervening before the Arab Spring to combat Yemeni rebel groups and al-Qaeda. If the Yemenis don’t find a solution for themselves, the Saudi monarchy will find one for them — whether they like it or not.

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