Yemeni writers have been expressing resentment against the US over drone attacks and the growing influence of the American Ambassador to Yemen.
The BBC’s Natalia Antelava provides anchor Marco Werman with a reality check from the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.
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Marco Werman: Hi, I’m Marco Werman. This is The World. Of all the Arab Spring uprisings, the one in Yemen is the only one to have ended with a negotiated solution. The country’s longtime dictator Ali Abdallah Saleh was persuaded to step aside, ceding power to his deputy. That’s prompted many to consider a so-called “Yemen scenario” for Syria. But the reality on the ground in Yemen is still complicated. There are complaints from Islamists that they’re being kept out of the country’s nascent political dialogue and some in Yemen aren’t happy about what they call “American interference” there. The United States has taken a hands-on role in Yemen pumping in millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and ramping up military assistance for the government’s ongoing fight against al-Qaeda. Many in Yemen are grateful for American help but the BBC’s Natalia Antelava who is in Yemen this week has also found growing resentment and suspicion of the United States. Natalia joins us from the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. Natalia, who precisely is unhappy with the U.S.?
Natalia Antelava: Well, I haven’t spoken to many people who are happy with the United States and I think a lot of the anger is focused on the fact that America has been [formatting???] a war that probably many Americans back home aren’t very aware of. They have been using drones against al-Qaeda militants in the south of the country, but these drones have been killing many civilians. Interestingly, a lot of the anger against the U.S. is directed at Gerald Feierstein, the U.S. Ambassador here whose role here is seen by many as a little too prominent for a diplomat. I mean, one thing that he’s very well known for is referring to the Yemeni government as “we’” which certainly leaves many people here unhappy. He’s also seen as being very close to certain politicians in the Yemeni government and therefore being too heavy-handed, too involved.
Werman: What about Feierstein’s actions are heavy-handed, specifically?
Antelava: For example, he recently appeared on Yemeni television and said, â€œwe will not allowâ€ the release of imprisoned journalist Abdel Ilah Shaeh who the U.S. believes is linked to al-Qaeda but who is known here for exposing the killing of 35 women and children in a U.S. drone strike. So, it’s that sort of language that certainly doesn’t go down well here.
Werman: Now, there have been some articles making the rounds about Gerald Feierstein and one of them actually suggests that he is personally drawing up the target list for U.S. drone strikes. Do Yemenis believe that and what’s to support that?
Antelava: Yemenis certainly believe it. There is no evidence to support it at all. At least, I don’t have any but certainly Yemenis that I am talking to believe it. There have been actually leaked documents about him suggesting personnel changes at the Interior Ministry, for example. Whether they stand up or not is another matter, but the Yemenis do believe that his involvement is that heavy-handed.
Werman: Now, you’ve been covering the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Natalia. The Ambassador Feierstein has been quoted as saying that the U.S. is contributing $175 million to providing food, supporting a national dialogue in elections, helping rebuild the south of the country and helping displaced people in the north. That would seem to be a pretty good strategy to win hearts and minds. Is it working?
Antelava; Well, I think the money that the U.S. is spending on the humanitarian effort is nothing compared to what it’s spending on military, on the strikes, on training the Yemeni army and many people believe a lot of that money goes into the pockets of corrupt officials here. So, the U.S. is certainly not winning hearts and minds in Yemen right now. In fact, I’ve heard reports that in some refugee camps…some camps of the internally displaced people, people have been refusing aid with USAID logo on it. Now, these are only reports but considering the anti-American sentiment that I am hearing in the streets, it’s something that I personally would believe.
Werman: Natalia, we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much.
Antelava: Thank you.
Werman: The BBC’s Natalia Antelava speaking with us from Sana’a, Yemen.
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