An­other Arab Spring?

The war in Ye­men could lead to an­other Arab up­ris­ing.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Dr. Raza Khan

As in the Mid­dle Eastern coun­try of Ye­men with the state hav­ing al­most evap­o­rated, suck­ing in neigh­bour­ing and re­gional Mus­lim states into the con­flict, the Mus­lim world is fac­ing yet an­other mega cri­sis of the 21st cen­tury af­ter the Septem­ber 9, 2001 ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the United States. Mil­i­tants be­long­ing to the Houthi tribes, in­hab­it­ing the north of Ye­men, have cap­tured the Ye­meni cap­i­tal Sana’a while mak­ing strides to­wards an­other im­por­tant city, Aden. For­mer Pres­i­dent Abdo Robo Man­sour Hadi has fled the coun­try to Saudi Ara­bia due to the ad­vance of Houthi mil­i­tants. As Houthis are pre­dom­i­nantly Shi­ites, the north­ern neigh­bor of Ye­men, Saudi Arab, with its Wa­habist rulers, has started pre­emp­tive strikes on the Ye­meni ter­ri­tory on the pre­text that the civil war there poses a threat to its sovereignty and se­cu­rity. Af­ter a month of air-raids Saudi Ara­bia an­nounced a halt to pre­emp­tive strikes but the dec­la­ra­tion re­mained vague as Riyadh re­port­edly con­tin­ued air

bom­bard­ment, how­ever, on a re­duced scale.

Saudi Ara­bia has cob­bled a coali­tion of the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil (GCC) coun­tries to back Hadi and fight the Houthis. Th­ese coun­tries in­clude Saudi Ara­bia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emi­rates. Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies have blamed Iran for sup­port­ing the Houthi mil­i­tants as part of its plan to es­tab­lish hege­mony in the re­gion. Iran on the other hand charges Saudi Ara­bia with back­ing the un­pop­u­lar Hadi regime for the only rea­son that the lat­ter had made Ye­men a de­pen­dency of Riyadh.

There are var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic rea­sons for the cri­sis in Ye­men, in­clud­ing lack of good gov­er­nance and ex­is­tence of in­fla­tion, poverty and un­em­ploy­ment. The role of Saudi Ara­bia, Iran and other neigh­bour­ing and re­gional coun­tries in stok­ing the con­flict. More­over, be­hind the scenes, Wash­ing­ton has also con­trib­uted to the ex­ac­er­bat­ing of con­flict in Ye­men but for rea­sons other than gen­er­ally de­bated.

The very strong re­ac­tion which Saudi Ara­bia has demon­strated to the cap­tur­ing of many parts of Ye­men by the Houthi mil­i­tants and their ad­vanc­ing to­wards the South is the large-scale apprehensions which the rul­ing fam­ily of Saudi Ara­bia, the House of Saud, has re­gard­ing the threat to its power base. Like­wise, the rul­ing jun­tas of the neigh­bour­ing tiny Arab states also fear for their power base. Th­ese Arab-Gulf rul­ing fam­i­lies and oli­garchies fear that dis­af­fected el­e­ments within their ab­so­lutist and au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes, in­clud­ing pro-democ­racy op­po­si­tion groups as well as mil­i­tant and ter­ror­ist out­fits, would like to oust rul­ing dy­nas­ties once they have a suc­cess model in a neigh­bour­ing state like Ye­men. It is im­por­tant to note that the Houthi up­ris­ing in Ye­men is not en­tirely sec­tar­ian in ori­en­ta­tion as the tribes are sup­ported by the Sunni fol­low­ers of the for­mer Ye­meni pres­i­dent, Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh.

On its part Iran is try­ing to some­how bring Shi­ites in power in Ye­men in the post-con­flict con­sti­tu­tional ar­range­ment when­ever it is ar­rived at. This would put ex­treme pres­sure on Saudi Ara­bia, a re­gional ri­val of Iran.

The Saudi-Iran ri­valry in the Mid­dle East and Gulf re­gion is symp­to­matic of the cen­turies-old an­i­mos­ity be­tween Arab and Persian cul­tures, which even pre­date Is­lam. This ri­valry man­i­fested very strongly dur­ing the Ab­basid rule be­tween the 8th and 13th cen­turies and af­ter­wards dur­ing the Ot­toman Em­pire, of which both Ara­bia and Per­sia were parts, from the 15th cen­tury on­wards. In fact, this ri­valry has roots in the claims of su­pe­ri­or­ity by both sides and the strug­gle for power be­tween them dur­ing the Mus­lim Em­pires and in­de­pen­dently af­ter the First World War, dur­ing which the Ot­toman Em­pire prac­ti­cally van­ished. In re­cent times in Iraq and Syria, Iran has sup­ported the Shi­ite regime of the Alaw­ite dy­nasty (Syria) and the Shi­iteled Iraqi gov­ern­ment. Saudi Ara­bia and its Arab al­lies have had sup­ported Sunni po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tant groups in both Iraq and Syria.

The Ye­men cri­sis is fun­da­men­tally the re­sult of in­ter­ac­tion of the in­ter­nal fac­tor of lack of good gov­er­nance and the ex­ter­nal fac­tors of the fears of Saudi Ara­bia and its Arab al­lies and the Ira­nian wish of re­gional hege­mony.

How­ever, the role of the US in the lat­est Mid­dle Eastern cri­sis can­not be ruled out. Like all con­flicts in the Mid­dle East or the rest of the Mus­lim coun­tries, the cri­sis in Ye­men is ‘made in USA’. Ra­tio­nal for­eign pol­icy of any coun­try re­gard­ing an­other coun­try or re­gion is for­mu­lated keep­ing in view the lat­ter’s dy­nam­ics and sit­u­a­tion(s). With Pres­i­dent Barack Obama at the helm of af­fairs in the US, he would like to re­solve or fix the many con­flicts of the Mid­dle Eastern and Gulf re­gion in­stead of leav­ing them to fes­ter. Wash­ing­ton has the great­est stakes in in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics and hence con­flicts and sta­bil­ity across the globe. There should there­fore be an ex­haus­tive anal­y­sis of the sources of con­flict in the Mid­dle East. There is no deny­ing the fact that one of the big­gest sources of con­flicts in the re­gion has been the au­thor­i­tar­ian, dy­nas­tic regimes and their poli­cies, which in­stead of serv­ing the peo­ple’s in­ter­est are formed and pur­sued for the so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic ag­gran­dize­ment of dy­nas­ties and royal fam­i­lies.

Th­ese con­flicts would be peren­nial un­less the com­mon peo­ple’s in­ter­ests are not taken care of and given pri­or­ity in poli­cies of the states. This could only be en­sured when rep­re­sen­ta­tive or demo­cratic sys­tem of gov­er­nance could be set up in dif­fer­ent states. In Arab coun­tries, ex­cept Kuwait to a cer­tain ex­tent, there are no truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ments in place. Even in Iran the state only has a demo­cratic façade as no true demo­cratic regime ex­ists there. So the US Demo­cratic Party, which his­tor­i­cally has been at the fore­front of sup­port­ing demo­cratic par­ties and gov­ern­ments across the world, would like to evoke demo­cratic set ups in dif­fer­ent dy­nas­tic regimes of the Arab-Gulf coun­tries.

The US would ini­tially like to see the cri­sis to es­ca­late so that a new po­lit­i­cal or­der, that is con­sti­tu­tional and demo­cratic in form, would emerge in Ye­men as well as other Arab coun­tries. Although the US is back­ing the GCC coun­tries in their fight against the Houthis and other mil­i­tant groups in Ye­men, but this seem­ingly is a pol­icy to push th­ese coun­tries deeper into the con­flict so as to ex­pose weak­nesses of th­ese states and regimes, in or­der to at­tract the demo­cratic groups to ex­ploit the sit­u­a­tion and trig­ger an­other Arab Spring. Against this back­drop, US pol­icy is sound and may bring rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity in the fi­nal anal­y­sis.

Iron­i­cally, Mus­lim coun­tries apart from Pak­istan and Turkey, have failed to play any worth­while role in re­solv­ing the Ye­men cri­sis and rec­on­cil­ing the Arabs and Ira­ni­ans. The Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Is­lamic Coun­tries (OIC) has com­pletely failed to even dis­cuss the is­sue or of­fer a so­lu­tion. With such deep sec­tar­ian di­vi­sions among Mus­lims, it would be very dif­fi­cult to bring them to­gether to a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment of the is­sue and re­lated prob­lems. Pow­ers like the US must play their role to end the cri­sis.

An in­ter­est­ing sit­u­a­tion emerged af­ter the US-led west suc­cess­fully bro­kered a nu­clear deal with Iran re­cently. Un­der the deal Iran would prove that its nu­clear pro­gramme is only for peace­ful, civil­ian pur­poses and it would not de­velop cen­trifuges and would not in­dulge in weapon­s­grade en­rich­ment of nu­clear ma­te­rial. How­ever, the deal may not have an im­pact on Iran’s Mid­dle East pol­icy of sup­port­ing the Shi­ites, in­clud­ing the Houthi mil­i­tants as it is a mat­ter of the state’s cul­tural pol­icy rather the very rai­son d’être of the Ira­nian state. On its part the West may also have no prob­lems with the pro-Shi­ite Ira­nian pol­icy and would like to use it as a check on the ex­trem­ist Sunni regimes of the re­gion.

Con­flicts and cri­sis are be­com­ing deeper in the Mid­dle East and en­tire Mus­lim world. The Ye­men cri­sis rep­re­sents the sit­u­a­tion. No ad­e­quate so­lu­tion can be found un­less a re­al­is­tic anal­y­sis of the con­flicts and cri­sis is done. It would show that un­demo­cratic and un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive regimes and their per­sonal and fam­ily ori­ented poli­cies are fun­da­men­tally re­spon­si­ble for dif­fer­ent con­flicts in the Mid­dle East. How can the sit­u­a­tion be rec­ti­fied? The an­swer is an in­tel­lec­tual revo­lu­tion in Mus­lim world.

The writer holds a doc­toral de­gree in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and is an ex­pert on South Asian, Mid­dle Eastern and Af-Pak re­gions.

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