Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world

April 6, 2008 § 24 Comments

At least that’s what this AP article would have us believe! The article ends with this charming description of Yemen:

Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, is Osama bin Laden’s ancestral homeland and has a persistent al-Qaida movement that has attacked and killed foreigners on several occasions.

It is true that either al-Qaida or a movement inspired by al-Qaida has attacked and killed foreigners in Yemen. But — the “poorest country in the Arab world” and “Osama bin Laden’s ancestral homeland” — that’s just lazy and incomplete journalism.

By what standard is Yemen the poorest country in the Arab world? Is it because every single hectare of land has not been penetrated by Western development agencies? Is it based on some World Bank calculation of GDP and other bullshit statistics? To label a country as the “poorest country in the Arab world” is placing all kinds of Western-guided standards on a population which has seemingly rejected many of these practices.

Furthermore, the discussion of “poverty” in the context of “terrorism” (the AP article was a brief on an explosion at a foreigner housing compound in Sanaa) is fraught with all sorts of errors and latent suggestions for “solutions” to this poverty. Specifically, the World Bank is already very active in Yemen — so, by connecting “poverty” with “terrorism” could be a possible impetus for the Bank’s further encroachment on Yemen’s local economic structures. Poverty is not at the root of terrorism.

As for the claim of Yemen being Bin Laden’s “ancestral homeland” — this might be true, but it’s probably also true for, like, half of the Arabs in the Middle East! Many of the Shi’a of Jabal Amal (southern Lebanon) also claim ancient roots in Yemen from companions of the Prophet Mohammad, but this fact is not mentioned in every article about southern Lebanon! The attempt to portray Yemen as this dark country, full of “poverty” and relatives of Bin Laden is irresponsible at best, and a propaganda tool for Western companies and development agencies at worst.


§ 24 Responses to Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world

  • Jane says:

    Over 42% OF Yemenis live on under USD 2.00/day. Half of children under five are stunted from chronic malnutrition. The average income is around $725.00 for the year.
    About 70% of women are illiterate. There is no doubt that Yemen is full of poverty and is the poorest country in the Arab world by far.

    About 3/4 of Yemenis live in rural areas which are sorely lacking basic services including health care, educational facilities, water and electricity. But even a major city like Taiz only gets public water once every 40 days. About 30% of the country has any sort of sewage system. Kudos to the AP for highlighting the miserable condition that most Yemenis live in.

    The major contributing factor to Yemen’s persistent and worsening poverty is the rampant corruption of the dictatorial regime led by Ali Abdullah Saleh and his family and tribesmen. Unfortunately corruption is so bad that reform minded ministers are thwarted at every turn and the contributions of donors are squandered, misspent or in some cases, unspent. Really, millions and billions in donor funds are a total waste, subject to elite capture and rarely benefit their intended recipients. The 4.6 billion pledged at the Novemeber 2006 donors conference has had little positive impact.

    With 70% of Yemen’s national budget derived from oil revenue, the oil is expected to run dry within a decade. Economic diversification has not progressed and most of the agricultural land is used to grow the semi-narcotic shrub, qat, the business of which only further transfers funds from the poor to the rich.

    So no, its not all about bad western labels stero-typing misunderstood Arab countries, sometimes its about millions of starving children subjected to an brutal and uncaring government, and by any human standard, they are poverty stricken.

    But I do agree that terrorism and poverty have little correlation. 🙂

  • arabicpress says:

    I agree with you that sometimes “by any human standard” poor means poor, but the statistics that you quote have all been gathered by the World Bank and other western development agencies. I am not saying that these statistics are inaccurate, but I do say that they are based on western concepts of “development” and do not always reflect the realities that people faced. Many times, if societies do not adhere to standards of western “development” then they are labeled as “underdeveloped” or “poor,” but at times, it is merely a difference of local economic solutions vs. global capitalism.

    I disagree that “the major contributing factor to Yemen’s persistent and worsening poverty is rampant corruption.” Undoubtedly, there is corruption in Yemen and surely it has contributed to poverty, but there is also a whole network of development agencies and foreign companies that have deepened this type of poverty. Believe it or not, “donors” who give money to Yemen do not always have alleviating poverty as their primary goal, in fact, one of the central goals of “poverty alleviation” projects is actually to incorporate “rural, underdeveloped” groups of people into a market economy.

  • Jane says:

    Well I get what you mean about development aid. However its important to keep in mind that corruption in Yemen occurs on a grand scale. The word “kleptocracy” was invented to describe Yemen. Corruption pervades every government office and bureaucratic institution. Of the goverment’s approx 1.5 billion dollar governmental budget, one third is allocated to oil subsidies. Of that, over 80% is lost to oil smuggling by regime affiliated individuals. Another third of the budget is spent on the military, and a good portion of that is for weapons purchases which are then illegally sold around the region by military commanders. Even child smuggling to Saudi Arabia is accomplished in conjunction with some members of Parliament. Health Ministry officials are also the retailers of smuggled medicines which total an astounding 70% of all medicine in Yemen, many of which are counterfeit or expired.

    Poor governance, or rather the capture of the state by elite criminal gangs, is an internally generated configuration. Yemen was cut off from Western aid during the 1990’s and it is only since 9/11 that the US took a renewed interest in Yemen’s development. In fact, poverty in Yemen began to spiral after Yemen’s 1990 UN vote against Gulf One when Saudi Arabia expelled nearly a million foreign workers in retaliation, drying up an important source of funds in Yemen- expatriate remittances. So while donor policies (like the World Bank’s insistance on reducing oil subsidies) does have a negative impact on the poor, the prevelence of child hunger in Yemen is largely due to unfettered executive authority and the criminalization of the state. In my view anyway…

  • Jane says:

    Actually its 1.5 trillion riyals for the government budget, sorry, I’m pre-coffee.

  • leazah says:

    i feel so bad but im hoping to change this situation

  • ahmed says:

    Through the pat week i was telling my sisters that yemen is not the poorest arabic countrie.But after i saw this article i was shocked.Yemen mkes me hte were i come from mainly i do come from yemen but it doesn’t mean i hate it.Yemen is poor but if you visit it you wont think its poor.Yemen could be rich the problem is the president tkes all thetaxes for just like the day william the conqure ruled england.What yemen needs is to stop the gat and start working and strat devoliping, the president dosnt give shit and sit on his ass the whole day waiting for his money to come.Mybe yemen isn’t the only countrie that there president robbes the money,for a example egypt the presisent takes the money but the people work and yous thre money in there countrie.In yemen people go to differnt countrie like saudi araibia and yous the money there and live decades the so if you go to saudi araiba you will fins lots of people from yemen from there surname but the problem dont want to admit that there yemenies because of embarissment.So i hope some does read this and helps yemen.

  • abdulrahman says:

    you are right Yemen can be the best of the best but the problem is the president.

  • abdulrahman says:

    i love Yemen more then anything and i become the world best fighter of taekwondo for Yemen only.

  • abdulrahman says:

    Yemen was called the two heaven because it was all green but after that the people just look for there pocket money money like the president..
    my dream that Yemen become a gold and more. then heaven again inshallah all from the god and we have to pray

  • s.korean says:

    that’s sad… that they are the poorest country in the arabs… i’m pretty happy that i’m not a yemenis, but i still feel sorry…

  • and i feel bad if some one talking about yemen badly without knowing yemen well.

  • and i feel bad if some one talking about yemen without knowing yemen well.

  • Nabil says:

    When you look at the people of Yemen , they not just living in apt 1bedroom or 2., they live in a house, most of the people of Yemen owned their houses, ask some one who have been in Yemen or live there, they will tell you about Yemen,,

  • Amodi says:

    I am very proud because i am yemeni.Corruption is the major problem of

  • yemeni and proud says:

    Stop this shit , all these ppl who are talkin abut th president Ali Abdullh , dont forget what he has done to the country , he did alot of things and the best thing was the unification of north and south, why do u ppl always look at the negative parts, remove ur black glasses and look at every thing with an open eye,,,,
    this is just not fair………..
    be logical while judging

  • HELL NO !! yemen is not a poor country stop the SHIT people think that yemen is a poor country just because they see some people poor and some destroyed houses and i want to tell all of those people that yemen is not poor yemen is only poor about 20 to 30% because yemen dose not have alot oil .. and its rich about 90 to 80% … if you have any questions mail me at … FUCK ALL THE PEOPLE THAT SAY YEMEN IS POOR !!


  • miss abri says:

    am wonderin why people talk shit about a country the;ve never been,am proud to have come from the country that all arab countries have originated from,the ones who talk shit about this baeutiful country are mantally ill.its funny somebody from south korea talking shit about yemen.its crazy he doesnt see his own country poor them they have to join the military practise they whether like it or not!!!!it has got one of the sadest history ever,but i dont blame them for not noticing this coz they have those tiny eyes who cant see your mouth

  • laila says:

    TO everyone in this world ,I am yemeni and proud .If yemen was poor in money [econmic]but it rich with wisdom,faith,and separate of its kindess in people.Yemen is history ,mother for everyone ,but its the heaven in this earth.Yemen is my country what ever i go its the best thing that i should be proud of.Yemen will stay the” happy arabia “.To everyone Yemen just united in 1990.Later on , everyone will see yemen the land of saba will come back and no body cares if anybody say bad things about yemen .It still the land where all arabs came from .from bahrain to morroco.and god bless yemen and all yemenis………

  • laila says:


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