Cablegate: Yemen's Big Brother: What has Saudi Arabia Done

DE RUEHYN #1053/01 1700926
R 180926Z JUN 08

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 SANAA 001053


E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/01/2018

REF: A. IIR 6 906 0126 07
B. IIR 6 906 0078 08
C. IIR 6 906 0051 08
D. IIR 6 906 0041 08
E. SANAA 517
F. SANAA 385
G. IIR 6 906 0305 07

Classified By: Ambassador Stephen A. Seche for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (U) AMEMBASSY Riyadh and AMCONGEN Jeddah have cleared this


2. (C) Yemen has a long history of relations with Saudi
Arabia based primarily on their 1500 km shared border, which
has led to extensive social, religious and business ties.
Yemenis perceive the relationship as heavily balanced in
favor of Saudi Arabia, which remains involved in Yemen, to
the extent necessary, to counter the potential threat of
Yemen's unemployed masses, poor security, unrest, crime and
the intentions of foreign countries (Libya and Iran) that
might create a threat on Saudi Arabia's southern border.
Yemen, on the other hand, growls at the hand that might feed
it. It is resentful of Saudi Arabia's preeminence and is
weary of Saudi involvement in its domestic affairs. Despite
this, Yemen receives substantial development assistance from
Saudi Arabia and seeks Saudi help to open doors to
organizations it wants to join, like the Gulf Cooperation
Council. Consequently, Yemen has, on occasion, swallowed its
resentment and acquiesced to Saudi wishes. END SUMMARY.


3. (U) The independent English language newspaper Yemen
Observer reported in November 2007 that Saudi King Abdullah
Bin Abdulaziz said Yemen's security is "inseparable" from the
Kingdom's security. Yemenis see this as both a signal of
solidarity and a cause for concern, for if inseparable then
Saudi Arabia has cause to meddle in Yemeni affairs.
Extremists and terrorist elements are active in Yemen, and
the lack of central authority in Yemen means that Yemen is a
fertile breeding ground and a potential training area for

4. (U) Rumors persist in Yemen that Saudis fund many of
Yemen's internal conflicts. Saudi Arabia supported and
funded royalist forces in Yemen in the 1962 revolutionary war
against Egyptian-backed republicans. Again in the 1994 civil
war, Saudi Arabia supported the southern secessionists
against the Saleh government. "" reported on
November 14, 2007, that King Abdullah met with Yemeni
opposition figures in London, lending credence to Yemeni
allegations of Saudi interference in current North-South
relations. Yemeni privately-owned newspaper al-Shari' wrote
that senior Saudi officials met exiled Yemeni leadership in
August 2007, opining that these meetings usurped Saleh's
attempts to secure meetings with the same exiled Yemenis.
Al-Shari' asserted that this interference gave Saudi Arabia a
degree of control over the developments in the south.

5. (S) The ROYG has been unable to resolve its conflict with
the al-Houthi Zaydi adherents in Saada, which borders Saudi
Arabia. According to a Yemen-based Saudi official (ref A),
Saudi Arabia doubled its border guards along the Saada border
in March 2007 due to fighting. In a worst case scenario the
al-Houthi conflict could spill over the border, requiring a
Saudi reaction.

6. (C) Basha Bashraheel, editor and owner of Aden-based
independent newspaper al-Ayyam, alleges that private Saudi
nationals are helping the al-Houthis in their fight against
the ROYG, a claim echoed by Majid al-Fahed, the Executive
Director of the NGO Civic Democratic Initiatives Support
Foundation (CDF). Al-Fahed, a Saada native, said that most
tribes in Saada are part of the larger tribal confederation
of Qudah, most of whom live in Saudi Arabia but who retain
tribal loyalties. On the other hand, Hassan Zaid, leader of
the banned al-Haq party (a Zaydi party accused by the ROYG of
being pro-Houthi), told PolOff that the ROYG received
official Saudi assistance to pursue the war.


7. (U) Saudi Arabia and Yemen praise their cooperation on
counterterrorism, but give few details. The Saudi News
Agency reported on November 13 that Crown Prince Sultan said
Yemen and Saudi Arabia were jointly fighting 'deviant

SANAA 00001053 002 OF 005

thought' that was at the root of terrorism. On March 27, AFP
reported that Yemen handed over to Saudi Arabia four Saudi
nationals suspected of ties to al-Qaida. Since signing a
2003 extradition agreement, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have
exchanged dozens of terror suspects. ROYG successes in
counterterrorism over 2007 pale in comparison with Saudi
Arabia's. To date, Yemen appears to have learnt and gained
little from the two countries' cooperation.

Illegal Immigrants

8. (S) Bashraheel told PolOff that, during the month of
December 2007, Saudi Arabia chartered one or two Saudi
Arabian Airlines jumbo jets per night to return Yemeni
illegal immigrants to the Sana'a airport at Saudi expense.
He added that most of these illegal immigrants turned around
and crossed back over the border. Saudi Ambassador to Yemen
Ali bin Muhammad al-Hamdan reiterated these statements to
PolE Chief, saying he considered illegal immigration to be
the biggest issue in the bilateral relationship. Al-Hamdan
noted that 10,000 illegal immigrants try to cross the border
each month. He confirmed that Saudi Arabia repatriated as
many as 400,000 Yemenis in 2007. There are up to 800,000
legal Yemeni residents in Saudi Arabia, necessitating
constant ROYG dialogue with the Saudi government. These
Yemenis make it easier for illegal Yemenis to blend in and
find work and a place to live in Saudi Arabia.

How Yemenis think Saudi Arabia Sees Them

9. (S) Yemenis are aware that other Arab nationalities,
including Saudis, see them as backward uncivilized people.
In ref B, Yemeni Colonel Handhal, commander of al-Badieh
military airfield near the Saudi border, said that Saudis
treat Yemenis as second class citizens. This second class
designation may extend to the official level as well. Shaykh
Mohammed Naji al-Shaif, a senior GPC Member of Parliament and
an apparent heir to be the Bakil Shaykh of Shaykhs (Note: The
Bakil, the most populous tribal confederation in Yemen, are
concentrated along the Saudi border. End Note.) told the
Ambassador that President Saleh had hoped to be close to
Saudi King Abdullah. He added that the al-Sauds had "played
with Saleh before, but now they know him" and so Saleh finds
himself on official visits to Saudi Arabia meeting Crown
Prince Sultan instead.

Smuggling and the Border

10. (U) Saudi Arabia and Yemen successfully concluded border
demarcation talks in 2000. Actual border demarcation,
however, continued until 2006. Border authorities from both
sides held a first meeting on August 12-14, 2007 to discuss
technical assistance. Yemen now attends monthly border
security meetings with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and Yemen
claimed, in a November 15 article by Malaysian official news
agency Bernama, to have continuous and direct information
exchange on nationals crossing the border. A SABA news
article from January 8 quoted Saudi Deputy Minister of Trade
and Industry Abdullah al-Hamoudi saying Yemen and Saudi
Arabia "would discuss issues of unifying administrative
procedures to facilitate the process of transporting goods."
SABA reported on January 9 that Saudi Arabia would provide
Yemen with x-ray machines at all its border crossings with

11. (C) On a less positive note, on January 12 the Yemen
Observer newspaper reported Saudi Arabia began erecting
barriers, including ditches and barbed wire, on a part of the
border susceptible to illegal crossings, which triggered
mobilization by Yemeni and Saudi border guards. (COMMENT:
Though Yemeni authorities later disavowed the story, aerial
photographs and protests by Yemenis resident along the border
suggest animosities were real. END COMMENT.)

12. (S) Post reported in ref C that an Indian Military
Advisor to Saudi Arabia, Colonel Raj S. Yadav, said that
Saudi-Yemeni relations were passive-aggressive, adding that
Saudi Arabia would like Yemen to do more on the Saudi-Yemen
border, but isn't willing to force Yemen to tighten its
borders. Major General Mohammed Ali Mohsen Saleh, a half
brother to Yemeni President Saleh and Eastern Regional
Commander, admitted that though Yemeni-Saudi cooperation was
good, the border was just too big and there were just not
enough soldiers to adequately monitor all of it (ref D).

13. (U) There is substantial smuggling across the
Yemeni-Saudi border, which enriches Yemenis. The Associated
Press reported on February 6 that between October and
December 2007, Saudi authorities arrested 880 alleged

SANAA 00001053 003 OF 005

smugglers, many of whom were Yemenis, along this border. In
that same period, Saudi border authorities captured 100
kilograms of explosives, 400 weapons, 50,000 pieces of
ammunition, 100 sticks of dynamite, 2,000 kilograms of
hashish, four kilograms of marijuana and 40,000 pills.
Yemeni News Agency reported on January 25 that Yemeni police
seized around 600 kilograms of hashish in Amran governorate
in northern Yemen close to the Saudi border. (COMMENT:
Since Qat is the drug of choice in Yemen, the hashish was
mostly likely bound for Saudi Arabia. END COMMENT.)

Agreement on International Issues

14. (U) Yemen agrees with Saudi Arabia on many issues
pertaining to the Arab world, including how to resolve the
Darfur crisis in Sudan, condemnation of political
assassinations in Lebanon, what is needed to prevent nuclear
proliferation in Iran, appeals to Somalia for peace,
non-proliferation and nuclear inspections for Israel, and the
importance of Iraqi unity, sovereignty, security and
stability. Going further, Yemen's recent venture into the
Palestinian Hamas/Fatah divide (ref E) is seen in some Yemeni
circles as an extension of Saudi Arabia's own proposal for
Arab-Israeli peace.

15. (U) Despite their general agreement on issues, Yemen
Today magazine reported in its March issue that Saudi Arabia
is one of the opposing voices to Yemen's desire for accession
to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Nonetheless, Yemen
has won Saudi approval for membership in the World Trade
Organization (WTO).

16. (C) The ROYG intended to go to the Arab League Summit in
Syria, but after Saudi Arabia spoke to the ROYG, Saleh
announced in March that Yemen would not be represented at the
head of state level (ref F). (Comment: Yemen's willingness
to acquiesce to Saudi wishes deserves more study by the USG
in our attempts to advance USG interests in Yemen. End

Development Assistance

17. (U) Yemeni Ministry of Foreign Affairs Gulf and Arab
Countries Department Head Ambassador Abdulkader Hadi told
PolOff that Saudi Arabia is one of Yemen's most important
development-assistance donors. At the November 2006 London
conference, which Saudi Arabia was instrumental in
organizing, Saudi Arabia pledged USD 1 billion to Yemen. The
English-language Yemen Times newspaper on November 14, 2007
reported that at a mid-November conference between the two
countries Saudi Arabia donated USD 652 million to Yemen's
development including improving facilities at four hospitals,
a power plant in Marib and a number of technical training
centers. Arab News reported on November 15 that the Saudi
government signed additional contracts for locust control
(training Yemeni and providing vehicles and equipment) and to
finance Saudi exports to Yemen.

18. (U) Yemen also receives training and exchange
opportunities from Saudi Arabia. Arab News reported on
November 15 that Saudi Arabia was increasing scholarships for
Yemenis from 100 to 150. (Comment: These scholarships may be
intended for Yemenis resident in Saudi Arabia. End Comment.)
The article went on to report that seats at Saudi
universities for Yemeni expatriate students went up from 20
to 50 and an additional 25 Yemenis would be given admission
to Saudi technical and vocational training institutes.
Yemen's official news agency SABA further reported on
February 25 agreements for mutual visits, exchanges and
seminars at colleges of petroleum and minerals in Yemeni

Tribal Assistance

19. (S) Yemen's proximity to Saudi Arabia and their history
means that many tribes in Yemen share common ancestry with
Saudi tribes. Yemenis contend the Saudis are paying shaykhs
in Yemen for information, to ensure leverage over Yemeni
domestic politics and for the allegiance of the shaykhs and
their tribes. Bashraheel told PolOff that the now deceased
Paramount Shaykh of the Hashid Confederation, Shaykh Abdullah
al-Ahmar, had been receiving large payments from the Saudi
government. He contended these payments would now be paid to
his son Shaykh Hussayn Abdullah al-Ahmar. Nabil Basha, a GPC
member of Parliament, corroborated this, adding that Hussayn
was receiving three to four billion Yemeni riyals a month --
less than his late father, who reportedly received seven
billion Yemeni riyals a month. While few contacts are
willing to speculate on the total sum Saudis pay annually to

SANAA 00001053 004 OF 005

Yemeni shaykhs, Saudi Arabia's 2007 national day reception
suggests that these Yemeni contentions are probably not far
off the mark. Almost every shaykh of any stature was
invited, leaving the diplomatic community as a side event
(ref G).

Saudis of Hadrami Origin

20. (C) Another interesting dynamic in the Yemeni-Saudi
relationship is the large number of affluent Saudi nationals
of Yemeni, more precisely Hadrami (from Hadramout
Governorate), descent. According to Saudi Ambassador Ali
al-Hamdan, these families and other Yemenis in Saudi Arabia
send considerable amounts of money to their extended families
in Yemen.

21. (U) Hadrami Saudis include the billionaire families Bin
Laden (family wealth is estimated at USD 5 billion), Bin
Mahfouz (USD 4 billion) and Bouqshan Shaykh Abdullah Ahmed
Bouqshan (personal worth is USD 3.2 billion). On March 26
and 27, Shaykh Bouqshan sponsored an investment conference in
Hadramaut. In a Yemen Today magazine interview from March
2008, Bouqshan said since his first visit to his ancestral
homeland in 2002, he has completed large development
projects, including a road network, an electrical network,
four schools and a hospital for his home town in Wadi Do'an.
He has invested USD 305 million in companies in cement, fish
and tourism, and is now considering investing in a
petrochemical plant in Yemen.

Economic Integration

22. (U) The Yemen Observer reported on January 12 that the
ROYG was establishing three free commercial and economic
border zones, two of them with Saudi Arabia. These zones are
aimed to combat poverty and unemployment. (Note: Vocational
training centers for Yemenis are to be collocated. End Note.)
Yemen Today reported that Yemeni illegal migrants could
cause "embarrassing political situations... if they (GCC)
opened their markets to Yemeni laborers," and said this could
be offset by offering employment locally. The Yemen Observer
reported on March 30 that Saudi groups desired to invest in
free trade zones in Yemen and construction projects,
including projects on the island of Socotra.

Oil and the Yemeni Succession

23. (C) A British diplomat based in Yemen told PolOff that
Saudi Arabia had an interest to build a pipeline, wholly
owned, operated and protected by Saudi Arabia, through
Hadramaut to a port on the Gulf of Aden, thereby bypassing
the Arabian Gulf/Persian Gulf and the straits of Hormuz.
Saleh has always opposed this. The diplomat contended that
Saudi Arabia, through supporting Yemeni military leadership,
paying for the loyalty of shaykhs and other means, was
positioning itself to ensure it would, for the right price,
obtain the rights for this pipeline from Saleh's successor.

Religion and Unrest

24. (C) Wahabism, teachings from the Hanbali school of Islam
that predominate in Saudi Arabia, is becoming more
influential in Yemen. Locally referred to as Salafis,
followers of Wahabism are taking key positions in a number of
Yemeni institutions. Ali Muhsen al-Ahmar, the Northwest
military commander and one of the prime contenders to succeed
Saleh, has long been recruiting Salafist soldiers to fight
al-Houthi insurgents in Saada. (Note: Salafis are Sunni and
the al-Houthis are Shia. End Note.) Increasingly
conservative in his actions, Ali Muhsin is considered a
Salafi by many. Secretary General Hassan Zaid of the banned
al-Haq party told PolE Chief that the opposition Islah party
is now almost exclusively Salafist with only a few token
moderates. (Note: Zaid's al-Haq party is a co-member of the
opposition Joint Meeting Parties with Islah. End Note.)
Mohamed Aboulahoum of the GPC told PolE/E Chief recently that
there were now ten Salafi-controlled mosques in Sana'a, with
lesser numbers in other major Yemeni cities. He pointed out
that the mosque near him has space for 150 students in its
school. He noted that if the other mosques are equally
equipped, then Salafi-controlled mosques have the potential
to turn out 1,500 ardent Salafists in the capital alone.
"That's how they will increase their influence," he said.

25. (C) Professor Mohamed Mutawakel of the opposition Union
of Popular Forces (and an active leader within the JMP) told
PolE Chief that he believes the Saleh regime is actively
seeking to increase the prevalence of Salafi teachings in

SANAA 00001053 005 OF 005

Yemen. When PolE Chief asked why Saleh, who is from a
predominantly Zaydi (Shia) area, would advance the interests
of a foreign Sunni religious group, Mutawakel explained that
Salafis believe that as long as a government is in any way
Islamic, Muslims should not try to overthrow it. Zaydi
teaching, by contrast, admonishes adherents to work to change
any government that fails to "achieve justice." Mutawakel
believes, as do other embassy contacts, that the ROYG
considers a Salafi presence as a pacifying force in a country
facing unrest in both the north and south.


26. (C) There would appear to the room for the USG to work
with Saudi Arabia to influence the Yemeni regime to address
short-comings in Yemen's counterterrorism efforts and
security, both areas in which Saudi Arabia has shown
capacity. They include combating violent extremist thought,
rehabilitation programs for extremists, and handling of
returned Guantanamo detainees. These efforts will have to
maneuver through a minefield of ROYG suspicions of Saudi
intentions for Yemen. The USG nevertheless should consider
how to use Saudi Arabia to address development in Yemen to
ameliorate the potential danger Yemen poses to stability in
the region. The British government already has a clear
policy, reiterated in donor meetings, of including talking
points on Yemen for UK Ministers visiting Saudi Arabia. The
Dutch Embassy has approached PolOff to ask for coordination
on a donor approach to Saudi Arabia's possible involvement.
Given their long, shared border and evident Saudi concern
about the effects of an unstable Yemen, we should be able to
convince Saudi Arabia that it needs to act in its own best
interest to ensure that its southern neighbor meets the
serious economic and political challenges that confront it.
The USG advocacy, however, must be tempered to ensure that
Saudi Arabia knows the USG does not/not aim to make Yemen a
vassal state.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Werewolf: Gordon Campbell On North Korea, Neo-Nazism, And Milo

With a bit of luck the planet won’t be devastated by nuclear war in the next few days. US President Donald Trump will have begun to fixate on some other way to gratify his self-esteem – maybe by invading Venezuela or starting a war with Iran. More>>

Victory Declared: New Stabilisation Funding From NZ As Mosul Is Retaken

New Zealand has congratulated the Iraqi government on the successful liberation of Mosul from ISIS after a long and hard-fought campaign. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Current US Moves Against North Korea

If Martians visited early last week, they’d probably be scratching their heads as to why North Korea was being treated as a potential trigger for global conflict... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On The Lessons From Corbyn’s Campaign

Leaving partisan politics aside – and ignoring Jeremy Corbyn’s sensational election campaign for a moment – it has to be said that Britain is now really up shit creek... More>>


Another US Court: Fourth Circuit Rules Muslim Ban Discriminatory

ACLU: Step by step, point by point, the court laid out what has been clear from the start: The president promised to ban Muslims from the United States, and his executive orders are an attempt to do just that. More>>


  • Pacific.Scoop
  • Cafe Pacific
  • PMC