In­ter­na­tional ac­tors re­main silent on the es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence be­tween Saudi and Ira­nian prox­ies in Ye­men, while Saudi Crown Prince Mo­ham­mad Bin Sal­man hides be­hind the re­forms that the coun­try has un­der­gone re­cently

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Opinion - Ab­dul­lAh Keşvelİoğlu* *As­so­ciate Re­searcher at TRT World Re­search Cen­tre.

Civil up­ris­ings that turned the Arab World up­side down pushed Ye­men into a long-last­ing con­flict. Ye­men’s Pres­i­dent Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh be­came the fourth leader to step down from of­fice dur­ing the Arab Spring in 2011 af­ter 33 years of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule. Saleh’s deputy Ab­drab­buh Man­sour Hadi be­came the new pres­i­dent promis­ing democ­racy with a new con­sti­tu­tion and fair elec­tions. How­ever, the trans­for­ma­tion process not only failed to heal so­ci­etal fault lines but al­so­turned Ye­men into a bat­tle zone of re­gional ad­ver­saries; Iran and Saudi Ara­bia.

Pres­i­dent Hadi’s transitional gov­ern­ment failed to make the nec­es­sary re­forms. The op­po­si­tion was also deeply frac­tured among Is­lamists, so­cial­ists, tribal al­liances, Houthis and the south­ern in­de­pen­dence groups. End­less ne­go­ti­a­tions among the op­po­si­tion it­self and the gov­ern­ment made lit­tle progress to form a con­sen­sus for the fu­ture of the coun­try. Nearly four years later the revo­lu­tion Arab world’s poor­est coun­try en­tered a civil war. Un­for­tu­nately, the Ye­meni peo­ple’s at­tempt to bring democ­racy to their coun­try drifted the coun­try in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. Al-Qaida in the Ara­bian Penin­sula’s pres­ence in the coun­try, the Houthi up­ris­ing, frag­men­ta­tion in bu­reau­cracy and armed forces be­tween Saleh’s and Hadi’s sup­port­ers drifted Ye­men into a con­tin­u­ing quag­mire.

The Houthis are a the­o­log­i­cal move­ment that has found sup­port in the north­west­ern re­gions of Ye­men along­side the Saudi Ara­bian bor­der. The group, whom are of the Shi­ite sect of Is­lam, has been get­ting sup­port from re­gions with sole Shi­ite power such as Iran. For the Sunni cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tion of Ye­men, they have al­ways been an is­sue. Be­tween 2004 and 2010 they got into a low-pro­file con­flict. Al­though the sides reached an agree­ment in 2010, it was halted when the Houthis showed sup­port for the street protests that led to Pres­i­dent Saleh's res­ig­na­tion.

In 2014, Saleh and the Houthis aligned their forces to over­throw the Hadi gov­ern­ment. Houthis’ part­ner­ship with Saleh and his tribal al- lies ex­tended their le­git­i­macy be­yond the Shi­ite mi­nor­ity. In Septem­ber 2014, the Houthis with the sup­port of Saleh’s forces cap­tured the Ye­meni cap­i­tal Sanaa and dis­solved the par­lia­ment and oc­cu­pied key po­si­tions of the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Pres­i­dent Hadi some­how had the chance to es­cape be­sieged Sanaa and fled to his home city Aden to con­tinue fight­ing.


The Saudis formed a coali­tion with their al­lies in the Gulf to help the Hadi gov­ern­ment. For Saudi Ara­bia and its Sunni al­lies in the Gulf, the Houthis are a big­ger threat than they ap­pear to be in Ye­men. The pos­si­ble suc­cess of Shi­ite Houthis in Ye­men poses a risk which might trig­ger Shi­ite re­volts in the Gulf. More­over, Houthi ex­is­tence along­side Saudi Ara­bia’s Ye­men bor­der is mak­ing Saudi Ara­bia vul­ner­a­ble to Iran’s in­fil­tra­tion. This is the case of mis­sile at­tacks on the Saudi Cap­i­tal Riyadh from Houthi-held ar­eas in Ye­men. Al­though the Houthi ex­pan­sion has been largely stopped by the Ye­meni gov­ern­ment and the coali­tion, they are far away from vic­tory.

Saudi ef­forts to break the part­ner­ship be­tween the Houthis and for­mer Pres­i­dent Saleh have been suc­cess­ful. How­ever, Saleh was killed in De­cem­ber last year by the Houthi forces right af­ter he an­nounced the di­vorce. Al­though Saleh’s group has joined the coali­tion against Houthis, they are weaker with­out Saleh in charge. It is not only the op­po­si­tion that ex­pe­ri­enced a breakup; the Saudi backed gov­ern­ment and the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE) backed South Ye­meni groups have also had a breakup. The UAEbacked groups, which have been try­ing to re­store in­de­pen­dent South Ye­men, had been fight­ing along­side Pres­i­dent Hadi’s gov­ern­ment forces up un­til early this year, un­til their break­down.

The fate of the con­flict in Ye­men closely re­lates to lat­est de­vel­op­ments in Saudi Ara­bia. The Saudi King­dom is go­ing through a se­ries of rad­i­cal changes. While the coun­try is lib­er­al­iz­ing the so­cial and eco­nomic sphere with top-down re­forms of Crown Prince Mo­ham­mad bin Sal­man (MBS), the young prince is be­com­ing the one man of the Arab King­dom.

Saudi Ara­bia’s Ye­men cam­paign has been a tool to si­lence pos­si­ble op­po­si­tion against re­forms in the do­mes­tic scene. The con­flict in Ye­men and a tough stance against Iran are be­ing used to strengthen MBS’s rule. The lat­est lib­er­al­iza­tion re­forms in the so­ci­ety and the econ­omy have also at­tracted much con­sent from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Un­for­tu­nately, re­forms in Saudi Ara­bia at­tract much more at­ten­tion than the coun­try's Ye­men pol­icy that has led to a com­plete fail­ure and dis­as­ter.

Tak­ing into ac­count all these and the lit­tle mil­i­tary progress in the field, Saudi Ara­bia in­ten­si­fied its ae­rial bomb­ings and put an air, land and sea block- ade around Ye­men to cut off Ira­nian sup­port to the Houthis. Though the block­ade has done lit­tle ef­fect to stop the Houthis, the Ye­meni peo­ple are liv­ing in a hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter under the Saudi block­ade.


While there is no hope for an im­mi­nent res­o­lu­tion be­tween the sides, the hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter has been grow­ing day by day. More than 13,000 civil­ian causal­i­ties have been recorded by the United Na­tions. Man-made famine has been threat­ened lives of more than half of Ye­men’s 27 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion. Two mil­lion peo­ple fled from con­flict zones and large swathes of ru­ral ar­eas con­trolled by al-Qaida in the Ara­bian Penin­sula are liv­ing in camps. More than 15 mil­lion peo­ple are de­prived of food, safe wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion. At least 600,000 peo­ple have been ex­posed to cholera in an out­break due to the block­ade and col­lapse of Ye­men’s in­fras­truc­ture.

While the hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions work­ing in Ye­men are fac­ing hard­ship, lit­tle can be done to help the peo­ple in need. The hu­man­i­tar­ian crises in the coun­try have al­ready ex­ceeded the one in Syria. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, un­less the sit­u­a­tion changes in 2018, Ye­men’s hu­man­i­tar­ian crises will be the worst in the past 50 years.

A Ye­meni child sits on a con­crete bar­rier on a street in Sanaa, Ye­men, April, 7.

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