Yemen : An Overshadowed Conflict

CAN WE CONTINUE TO IGNORE THE WORST HUMANATARIAN CRISIS TO HIT OUR GENERATION?

This week, we have a guest writer Aparna Babu George writing for Legally Flawed. She is an LLM candidate at the prestigious Cambridge University, and is sharing her insight about the conflict affecting Yemen. Not only is she writing about the current situation, but she also throws light on how this situation came to be and what the way forward is. So read on more to find out about the Yemeni Conflict.

No conflict in the Arabian Peninsula is ever really an ‘internal matter.’ Nay, no conflict in the world is ever really wholly an ‘internal matter.’ How does a people who is used to years of suppression, subservience and supplication rise en mass against their own government (read autocratic and arbitrary dictator)? Apart from fuming anger and discontent, there has to be an external catalyst in the form of weapons, propaganda or men. Today the war that has plunged 4,00,000 Yemenis into one of the worst humanitarian crises ever cannot be said to be one being fought for their interests. It has largely become a ground for a proxy war between the Sunni majoritarian Saudi Arabia who has just witnessed a spate of reforms in its territory and the Shia dominated Iran which has started experiencing rumblings of discontent from its people, quite unknown in the post Islamic revolution period.

So what’s happening in Yemen?

Since its unification in 1990, Yemen has known only one vanguard. And his name was Ali Abdullah Saleh. Compared to his contemporaries like Gaddafi and Mubarak, Saleh is viewed as a moderate who did a lot to lift his country from the depths of poverty. Simultaneously attached to him are allegations of human rights abuse and rampant corruption. To his credit, Saleh was one of the ‘victims’ of the Arab Spring who voluntarily stepped without the need for physical depose.

As with most countries in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen is geographically proximate to Saudi Arabia while being bordered by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. And again as with most nations in that peninsula that is Sunni dominated, Yemen is widely influenced by Saudi in most of its internal matters. The strain in the relationship began in 2009 when the Shia Houthi-waged (a minority in the country) insurgency started reaching the Saudi-Yemen border. Though the Houthis have long been accused of receiving support, both in terms in of money and men from Iran, this stands denied to date. Anyway, things were brought under control with the signing of a ceasefire.

Yemen Conflict

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Children look on into ruins in Yemen

How did it come to this? 

The Arab Spring of 2011 was fertile ground for groups like Al Qaeda of Arabian Peninsula (which is the Al Qaeda affiliate operating from Yemen) and dissidents like the Houthis to sow the seeds of conflict. As with most countries, Yemen did not see an easy transition when in 2011 Saleh decided to call it quits. The Houthis grabbed the opportunity and began acquiring control of territories to the north of Yemen, with demands growing for autonomy to Shia dominated pockets. It was also during this time that the AQAP established an emirate on Yemeni soil, much like the one we fearfully saw IS building up in Syria and Iraq much later.

Mentioning AQAP here is significant as this affiliate of the Al Qaeda has been time and again dubbed as the worst of the lot and one that saw direct handling by Bin Laden from his exile in Afghanistan. Though much later, AQAP emerged as one of groups that disowned ISIS for its notorious cruelty, this was more of an issue of the latter not offering bayah (pledge allegiance) to Al Qaeda Central than anything else.

Who are the Hadis ? How did they become a part of this?

It is into this burning turmoil that Abrabbuh Mansur Hadi was pushed into, to take on the mantle of leadership. Hadi was and is poorly cut out for the task and at one point the Houthis even exhibited their support for Saleh, the man they had thrown out. With his support, the Houthis successfully took over the country forcing Hadi to run to exile.

In all this, both groups have had the tacit and covert backing of the international community. While the Houthis are supported by Iran, the Yemeni regime has significant support from the United States and the rest of the Gulf.

As of today, Saleh is dead, Hadi is reportedly under house arrest in Saudi, the threat of ISIS has long been extinguished and there is little trace of the AQAP emirate. But somehow the war has dragged on.

Current Situation

One question that looms large is, “what are they fighting for anymore?” There is no way the return of Hadi is going to save the day as even during his short tenure a lot of Sunnis had lost faith in the transition government and expressed sympathy to the Houthi cause. On the other hand, the Houthis branded by multiple countries as a ‘terrorist organisation’, is now considered unfit to rule. Today Yemen has become the battleground for the powers-that-be to promote their propaganda. For instance, the AQAP has been supplied with weapons to aid in the elimination of the Houthi threat by countries including Saudi and UAE. This is a dangerous scenario that may come to bite these nations in the back, much like what happened to the US with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Even today, mosques in Yemen give sermons adhering to sectarian agendas, not helping in diffusing the conflict at all. What Yemen needs, and what the world needs now, is to remove their guns and refill their pens. Theresa May, British Prime Minister, had stated in an interview that she wanted a political solution to the whole debacle. The Arab League Council, at their most recent meeting, declared their unconditional support to the Hadi regime while vowing to restore stability to Yemen. Iran has already pushed for talks about a ceasefire with the European powers. Everyone seems to be tired of the fighting and wants a dignified end to it without being branded as the one who ‘lost.’

A concerted effort directed at bringing all stakeholders to the table for discussions is essential, in the absence of which the middle east will never be the same again.

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