Germany's development minister said ahead of his trip to Yemen this weekend that German aid to the country would prevent terrorism. Others say that Yemen - the poorest country in the Arab world - is a hopeless case.
Niebel will meet with Yemeni leaders this weekend
It is in Germany's own security interest to provide humanitarian aid to the impoverished nation of Yemen on the Arab peninsula, according to Germany's Development Minister Dirk Niebel.
"My conversations with the [Yemeni] government will further strengthen our cooperation and thus add to Germany's safety," the minister said in Friday's issue of daily newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt, released one day before he was to travel to the country.
But Niebel said the German government's development aid - which totaled nearly 80 million euros ($103 million) for 2009 and 2010 combined - would also help nip terrorism in the bud.
Niebel also said he planned to talk to Yemeni leaders about civil rights restrictions in the country, adding that, "This [restriction of rights] sometimes protects terrorist activities but clearly extends further to compromise other areas such as press freedom."
Yemen - which receives German aid money aimed at providing education, clean drinking water and wastewater management facilities - captured the world's attention last October when a series of parcel bombs posted to Chicago synagogues from Yemen were discovered on two airplanes, prompting Germany, along with the US, Britain and France, to stop all freight from the country.
The minister has also vowed that Germany's money will "in no way reach terrorists."
Parcel bombs posted from Yemen were found in two planes last October
Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development declined Deutsche Welle's request for an interview on Niebel's visit, but Rolf Tophoven of the Institute for Terrorism Research and Security Policy expressed his skepticism at the notion that aid to Yemen could stave off terrorism.
"Of course, generally, if you have the strategy to build up, for example, the people in an occupied country, and you give them the idea that they have something to lose by doing terror, then this strategy can work," Tophoven said.
"But I think that this strategy only has a chance of working in stable states, which have more or less a kind of stabile government and government infrastructure."
That is, however, not the case in Yemen, where tribal skirmishes bordering on civil war still have a hold in the country's north, and separatists in the south are working to sabotage the government.
Meanwhile, the same political instability that makes it hard to ensure aid money is put to good use is part of the reason why terrorism is flourishing in Yemen in the first place.
According to Tophoven, Yemen, together with Saudi Arabia, has ascended in the constellation of terrorist hotbeds, taking its place as one of four major bases for al Qaeda camps, training facilities and operations, the other three being the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, Iraq and Maghreb.
Yemen has battle to do with rebel tribes in the north and separatists in the south
Another challenge to Niebel's thesis is that many of Yemen's terrorists are not even Yemeni. As US and Pakistani forces push al Qaeda and Taliban fighters out of the Pakistan-Afghan border region, these terrorists often flee to other politically unstable areas, like Yemen's separatist southern regions.
"All the terrorists have to do for protection is just be in an area where people are sympathetic to their cause," said Hildegard Behrendt-Kigozi, director of Yemen operations for the German Development Service (DED).
"If people who want to hurt the Yemen government see that you don't like the government - or you try to harm internationals so that the Yemen government gets less assistance - then they would see you as an ally and even help you so you can't be caught," she added.
Behrendt-Kigozi does, however, believe that humanitarian work can play a role in preventing terrorism. But it's not just about pumping in more money, she said.
"In a way it helps to be seen, to have our work seen," she said, adding, "If normal Yemeni people have a positive view [of us], they will do something to stop people who are going more towards becoming radicals."
Despite civil war and separatism, Behrendt-Kigozi sees a strong sense of solidarity among the people of Yemen and believes the best way to prevent terrorist ideology from spreading is to cultivate friendship between the Yemeni people and the West - the development minister's apparent aim.
Tophoven, however, foresees Yemen heading the way of Somalia and plunging into total chaos: an ultimate breeding ground for terrorists, and a waste of German aid money.
Author: David Levitz
Editor: Martin Kuebler