The escalating political conflict in Yemen has led to the arming of almost every faction in the country's complex landscape, from the government and tribes
to northern rebels and Al-Qaeda. The ongoing conflagrations -- along with kidnappings, assassinations and other politically motivated crimes -- combine to
produce a security situation that is, as it has been for most of the last five decades, precarious at best.
Despite the consequences, the Yemeni government has done little to combat weapons proliferation. In fact, their involvement may actually be exacerbating the
problem. The army, which is plagued with unprofessionalism and armed to the teeth, has been given a dangerously prominent role in society. One consequence
has been the placement of military encampments and poorly managed weapon stockpiles in urban areas. Accidents are an all-too-frequent occurrence.
"Iron Mountain," in Yemen's southern port city of Aden, gets its name because during the British occupation it was literally tunneled out and used as a
weapons storage facility. In 1995 the mountain reportedly exploded in a shower of shrapnel,
rubble, and rockets that miraculously resulted in only a handful of causalities. In a similar incident last October, the arms depot of the First Armored
Division in Sana'a blew up, sending rockets flying -- killing one, injuring 5, and damaging a number of area houses, as documented on YouTube.
The Yemeni army also has a barracks inside Sana'a University. "How can we study inside the university if there are tanks, weapons and military camps next
to us?" asks Majed Al-Shoaibi, a media student at the university. Shoaibi is spearheading an ongoing campaign against what he and others consider an
"occupation" of the campus. The protest movement is calling for the demilitarization of the university, as well as the removal of political and national
security agents. So far, it has seen only mild success. Though the 200 or so troops roaming freely as recently as a month ago have been reduced in number
and made less public, soldiers remain a presence on campus.
One step toward uprooting Yemen's entrenched gun culture would be enforcing laws that are already on the books. "We have [a] package of laws that is among
the most advanced legal frameworks in the Arab world, but the implementation of laws, this is the problem," says Ahmed Saif, director of the Sheba Center.
The only real effort at enforcement came in 2007, when the prime minster issued decrees banning weapons in major cities and limiting the number of armed
guards that officials were allowed to hire. Between 2007 and 2010, the government confiscated hundreds of thousands of unlicensed weapons and temporarily closed hundreds of weapons shops -- laudable
achievements for such a short time period. Alwajih Abdulghani Ali, the commander of Yemen's walking patrol police, who was on the front lines confiscating
guns, believes the campaign was effective because, unlike in the past, "the Ministry of Interior really decided to prevent [the carrying of weapons in
public]." He adds, "It was a tight security plan and they worked it well."