By James Bachmann for Global Risk Insights
On March 20, two suicide-bombings were carried out against multiple Shia mosques in Sana’a, Yemen, killing well over 100, including an influential Shia cleric. While Yemen has been plagued by violence for years, this bloody and provocative attack against the Yemeni Shia population highlights a metastasizing problem in the region. Shortly after the attack, Islamic State’s new Yemeni affiliate – established recently in November 2014 – declared itself responsible for the attacks.
These attacks have not coincidentally followed on the heels of multiple other attacks in the region by new IS affiliate groups. Just two weeks ago, IS’ affiliate in Libya wrested control of a number of major oil fields and launched numerous attacks throughout the country, gaining considerable resources and land. On March 18, IS’ Tunisian affiliate killed 25 tourists – mostly foreign – in a Tunis museum in a bloody shooting rampage.
This spate of attacks shows that IS is no longer content with relegating its fight to Iraq and Syria but has determined that an important part of its strategy should be to throw as many nations as possible into turmoil and unrest. Despite its growing setbacks in Iraq, IS is beginning to realize this goal.
Tunisia, Libya and Yemen highlight a wider problem
Until relatively recently, Tunisia was the success story of the Arab Spring. However, jihadist violence has now increased uncertainty and dragged the country back into political instability with significant economic consequences.
Libya is on the verge of state failure as the country remains beset by violence while the government remains exiled from the capital and under attack from cadres of IS militants.
Yemen’s situation is possibly the most dire. Violence from al-Qaeda and now IS militants has halted most basic government functions and torn social cohesion as amply demonstrated by the recent mosque bombings. Furthermore, Yemen’s oil and water supplies are dwindling fast and with it its main source for national revenue and its agricultural lifeblood.
It is not difficult to see that Yemen is heading for state failure – a development that would permit IS to thrive amidst the lawlessness.
Yet, IS’ spread throughout these countries could potentially affect a wider area than just the nations where it has established a presence.
Oman could suffer greatly as a result of the IS presence in Yemen. Oman has remained a regional success story with little domestic political unrest and a fairly vibrant economy. However, with Yemen on the brink of failure and IS’ penchant for attacking countries that have joined the anti-IS coalition, Oman’s proximity to IS’ new Yemeni affiliate could have serious consequences.
While Oman’s majority Ibadi Muslim population would be an unlikely incubator for domestic IS cells, it is possible that a concerted cross-border terror campaign by IS from lawless Yemen would upset the stable but precarious political and social balance Oman’s monarchy has maintained with great effort.
Oman could potentially become the next Tunisia and sink into a measure of instability, if the government is unable to protect the population from jihadist violence. If this occurs, it is would undoubtedly harm foreign direct investment flows and economic health, vital for Oman’s growth.
However, Oman is only one example of the effect that IS’ new terror campaign across the MENA region could have on numerous countries’ economic health and investment quality. Until IS is eradicated from the region, its attacks will continue to spread, causing untold economic, social, and political problems for millions of people.