Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
For the past couple of years, Yemen has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Let us for a moment just forget about a coalition trying to pull Yemen out of the dark tunnel of miseries. For a brief moment, just forget about the Arab Spring that saw the toppling of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh following a popular revolution. Let us just focus on the wasted Yemeni talents that were utilized to build other countries except their own. For many years and until the 1970s, we in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states saw hundreds if not millions of Yemenis come and go. They were the most talented tailors, masons, carpenters, mechanics, electricians, shopkeepers and many more. Almost each and every Yemeni I have so far come across in Saudi Arabia is multi-talented. For decades, the Yemenis constructed roads, hospitals, schools and homes all over the Kingdom. Yes, they were talented but it was us, the Saudis and members of other Gulf states who benefited from their talents. They showed their talents here but not in their own country, Yemen. Ironically, in Yemen, they had other talents. Their talents in Yemen were overshadowed and held back by very two main factors, chewing Qat leaves and bloody tribal disputes. The habit of chewing Qat is a slow anesthetic for the whole country. The hundreds of thousands of Yemenis who crisscross the Saudi-Yemeni borders would normally take home with them millions if not billions in hard cash. This money is usually not spent on the construction of the country but on social events that involve lavish spending on Qat. And because of Qat, the average working hours of any Yemeni is only a few in a day. In Saudi Arabia, Yemenis can work as long as 16 hours a day. They wake up early in the morning and continue till midnight with a few hours of rest in between. In other words, the Yemenis are known to be the most hardworking people with multiple talents only when they are outside Yemen. Yemen did not only get hard cash from its people working in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states but it also received billions of dollars in financial aid. But none of those funds were utilized to build Yemen. And as for the bloody internal and tribal disputes, the Yemenis never worked hard enough to live together. The Yemenis really never settled their differences. Yemen saw the most horrible bloody disputes that killed hundreds of thousands of people during the past decades. In 1996 and part of 1997, I was stationed in Jazan when I was still in active duty. I drove and flew in helicopters along the Saudi-Yemeni border. And most important, I was in Alkhobar market, which is situated near the Yemeni borders. The Yemeins would bring their produce and other stuff and sell it. But it was very easy to notice the very wide social divide between the Saudi and Yemeni lifestyles and per capita incomes. Due to poverty in Yemen, it was very easy for an outsider to manipulate the behavior of Yemenis. Saudi Arabia had always been serious about seeing lasting peace and prosperity in Yemen because they are our neighbors and it is very important for Saudi Arabia to see a stable Yemen. But, it was very easy for me and anyone else to notice the steep divide between the Yemeni tribes and families. And this is one of the reasons that no central Yemeni government ever had any full control on the people or the country. And to add salt to the wound, many of the past military coups cost Yemen hundreds of lives and destruction of the already bad infrastructure. This is why many people around the world knew that the chaos in Yemen was a matter of time before it would explode. Iran intervened in Yemen and created more division among its people. Now it is time for the Yemenis and the outside world to join hands to save this country. This country needs to get rid of poverty and work to build better education and health care system. The Yemeni talents can do it but they must be utilized to build the country and not destroy it. Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Waste of Yemeni Talent reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.