Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

During my education in the United States in the late 1970s, I got the chance to travel to Mexico and Canada several times. It was not difficult to see the difference between the two borders, which both the countries shared with the world’s superpower.

The northern borders with Canada were wide open and monitored by few unarmed men and women who would just wave to people crossing between the two countries. Sometimes they would not even check travelers’ passports or other documents. I once crossed the borders without having my passport checked.

On the other hand, while crossing the US-Mexico borders or visiting American cities near the Mexican borders, one would see forces on a high alert as if they were on a battlefront with armored vehicles, sniffing dogs, helicopters with night-vision capabilities and hundreds of miles of a fence separating Mexico from the United States.

Three decades ago, former US President Ronald Reagan asked former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear Down This Wall.” It was a reference to the barrier, which had divided West and East Berlin. That barrier later became part of history and we all what happened in Germany. But the US later built a thousand miles long wall along its borders with Mexico.

Forget about bilateral economic, social, political and other agreements between the two countries, as apparently it is the social divide that shaped the relations between the US and Mexico. In other words, it is the geography that could help shape ties between many nations. Let us be frank, America and Americans never wanted to see a fence between them and their southern neighbor but sometimes one has no choice but to go the unwanted extra mile to protect one’s country from illegal crossings, smugglers or drug traffickers.

Let’s move to this part of the world and focus on Saudi-Yemen borders. The two countries share a very long border that run for more than 1,800 kilometers, which covers mostly mountainous segments rising thousands of feet above sea level. The borders separate Saudi Arabia, which is considered the region’s strongest economy and Yemen, which is one of the poorest and worst-managed countries in the world. But, Yemen matters to Saudi Arabia the most. It is a country with 30 million people and covers a large area of the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia had for many decades made huge efforts to help Yemen and the Yemeni people.

Millions of Yemenis work and live in Saudi Arabia and billions of Saudi riyals are being transferred to Yemen annually. Saudi Arabia had been giving Yemen billions of Saudi riyals that are allocated as direct financial aid or through mega infrastructure projects throughout Yemen. And it is not only Saudi Arabia that had tried to help Yemen but all the rich Gulf states and many other countries had helped this country in one way or the other. But for many decades it is the Yemenis who didn’t help themselves.

The country continued to be fractured and plagued by countless coups and clashes among themselves. Lately, a ruthless group manipulated by foreign powers tried to hijack the country. It was the Houthis who wanted to have full control of the country. A few years ago they had attacked the Saudi southern borders. This made Saudi Arabia to act and eventually the Houthis lost the battle.

The Houthis continued with their efforts to stoke unrest in Yemen and therefore continued to pose a threat to Saudi Arabia. The Houthis removed the legitimate government and started stockpiling heavy weapons and weapons of mass destruction such as SCUD missiles. Saudi Arabia and other countries tried to restore the legitimate Yemeni government but all their efforts failed. Saudi Arabia had no other alternative but to lead a coalition to save Yemen from chaos, internal instability and to eliminate any threat to the Saudi borders. Now, it has been a year since the start of the “Decisive Storm” to restore peace in Yemen.

The interests of Yemen really matter to the Saudis. We want to see a stable and prosperous Yemen. Yemen has the potential, ability and resources to eliminate the social divide. Yemenis still are welcome to the Kingdom. There are no walls or fences between the Saudis and Yemenis.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. A Stitch in Time reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.