The crisis in Yemen: Past & present


Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi

THE Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen has recently submitted its report to the UNHRC blaming all warring parties — the government of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, as well as the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and armed groups responsible for the catastrophic humanitarian crisis that has been causing immeasurable suffering for millions of civilians during more than four years of civil conflict. Fairly speaking, the Yemeni crisis has had deep roots of conflict among centripetal and centrifugal actors. And undeniably, without a strategic plan addressing Yemen’s domestic political, economic and social issues, a short-term western bombing campaign is fatal to Yemen’s future.
The soaring Yemen conflict started in the sadly misnamed Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. Mass protests, a near-assassination of the then president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and related pressure from neighbouring petro-states compelled Saleh to step down in favour of his Vice-President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The political chaos was also caused by attempts of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to overthrow Saleh’s government. And yet, with Saudi Arabia and its allies indecisive of the impending situation in Yemen, an opening has been created for Iranian influence — a Saudi Arabia’s bete noire seems to have intensified the role of centrifugal forces in Yemen.
By focusing on the Houthis, AQAP seems enabled and orchestrating its reach further than it has been. By all means, forces— loyal to Hadi’s predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been ousted during the 2011 Arab Spring— supported the rebels. And resultantly, Yemen’s power struggle escalated and subsequently in February 2015, after the Houthis seized government buildings, placed Hadi under house arrest, and set up an illegitimate presidential Council, the then President managed to escape from the capital to the southern port city of Aden. Within two months, the rebel forces were expanding southward. Consequently, Saudi Arabia announced the launch of an international military campaign against the Houthis. Thereafter, a civil war seemed to have been involving a multitude of actors that led to the death of tens of thousands of soldiers, rebel fighters and civilians.
Geographically, the south outside of Aden has been less developed than the north, notwithstanding the problems in the north. But the Hadhramaut has had a long history of ties, first of all to Southeast Asia where many of these families became prominent in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore-and some of course went to Saudi Arabia. The area east of Sana’a-Ma’rib, Al-Jawf, ever remains the core problem for any government, unusually for Yemenis— long and fairly violent tribal disputes in the said area. This area was royalist of course, for a long time after the penetrating forces of revolution. There are also people who have been feeling that they haven’t been receiving the goods that they justifiably expect in terms of roads, clinics and so forth. But most of this is absolutely beyond the ability of the government to deliver. Merchants in Hudaydah are set by the corruptions and ties, and feel completely isolated. Therefore for the government in Yemen, there are the people who have had a feeling that the government isn’t doing much for them. Recently, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) announced that more than 70,000 fatalities have been reported between January 2016 and April 2019. Today, with Yemen again being struck by a foreign military intervention led by American-British-supplied bombs and intelligence and British Typhoon fighters resulted in terms of a broader geopolitical struggle—trying to change the erstwhile dynamics yet this western mission remains so far unpredictable. First it was the Cold War, and its prefabricated and ill-suited objectives of modernization-cum-development which wreaked havoc on the traditional Yemeni economy.
Meanwhile, the Security Agency introduced charges – not yet enforced – targeting the Yemeni Baha’i community, including revoking the citizenship of some Baha-causing deportation of Haydara’s family. In August 2016, Yemeni authorities arrested 60 attendees – including children at a community service programme. Whilst in October 2017, Baha globally marked the bicentenary of the birth of the Faith’s prophet-founder. In Sana’a, a group of Baha held a small celebratory gathering at the home of one of the detainees, Walid Ayyash. Security forces rammed an armoured vehicle into the door of the house, burst in, opened fire, and detained Ayyash’s brother. Four additional Yemeni Baha were imprisoned.
Because of five years of conflict thousands of civilians have been dead and 3 million people are internally displaced. The crises’ impact on the country’s infrastructure remains devastating, with major overland routes and airports severely damaged. After Afghanistan, Yemen is another regional theatre that’s awaiting the start of negotiations between the Americans and the Houthis. The Wall Street Journal reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intends to open direct talks with the Houthis and table a peace agreement on the Saudis. If this happens so, it would consolidate a new diplomatic strategy under which, like in Afghanistan, it’s better to deal with the enemy directly rather than depending on other actors as intermediaries, both militarily or diplomatically. As for the Western powers, the Houthis are considered Iran’s de facto proxies in that region, who are ultimately giving Tehran an important foothold in the southern Arabian Peninsula and on the Red Sea. Over the past four years of fighting, they have become the very symbol of the battle America and its Arab allies are waging against Iran’s expanding influence in the Middle East.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.

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