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Concocting a conspiracy: The Arab Spring, the Huthies and ISIS

"We have to be cautious regarding what is being concocted for us in secret". Have you stumbled against this sentence today in a newspaper of some sort? You must have. For this is an overused current sentence that is reiterated by so many writers and even officials as well. It is simply an excuse to justify mistakes, revolutions and successive crumblings in the region while failing to reform. So, what has happened, and whatever is happening, is nothing but "a conspiracy concocted in the dark". But what if there was no conspiracy and that the problem is real and that we are simply using the wrong remedy to treat it? Then, the problem will only recur after having grown bigger and more incurable.

There are three issues in our midst whose essence seems to be lost amid various conspiracy narratives: the Arab Spring, ISIS and the Huthies. So, what is the truth about every one of them?

The Arab Spring is an historic inevitability that had to happen. It was the outcome of the accumulation of mistakes and failures by ruling regimes. A historian might be able to trace the roots of failure to the erroneous founding of most of the Arab states in the aftermath of the First World War. Should historians disagree there, they would not disagree if they were to focus on what followed, on the era of military coups and the seizure of power by a zealous colonel or a lieutenant with no more than a meagre level of education. They were the ones who abolished the educated political class that preceded them accusing it of corruption and of despotism. They ended up sinking deeper and deeper into the swamp of corruption and despotism. Having suffered from lack of expertise and mismanagement, they caused the economy to recede, education to deteriorate and injustice to spread widely. A ruling elite that monopolised authority and wealth came into being. It was necessary for the people to boil in rage. Some individuals refuse to accept this objective analysis and prefer to claim that it is a foreign conspiracy, an American project, and an American act whose seeds were sown a decade ago by U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfield and has only now come to fruition. Consequently, they believe, we must confront this plot and besiege its executors from among the youth and political parties. These are mere illusions, opposing the force of history; but it will not impede the Spring's dynamic toward freedom, sharing and a better life. They may only delay them before another explosion that will be much harsher than the previous one.

"The Huthies are an Iranian conspiracy". This is what dominates the minds of many politicians and writers. Yet, this claim is an oversimplification of a genuine phenomenon that is contributing today to the formation of the new Yemen. Indeed, the Huthies do not hide their relationship with Iran and it is no secret that the latter supplies them with money and weapons. Yet, Iran would not have made them had they not been there in the first place. The correct interpretation is that they are "the belated vengence of the Zaydiyyah" which was subjected to an intellectual and political onslaught following the downfall of the Imamate, which did resist fiercely and was only completely defeated in the wake of a tough civil war. The outcome was counter harshness from the Republican Yemen, which marginalised the Zaydi sect, especially in its political aspect seen by the republicans as threatening to their legitimacy.

The political aspect within Zaydiyyah is very deep indeed and is a fundamental component of the sect. The situation was augmented by the ideological onslaught on the sect waged by the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood who penetrated deep even into the sect's strongholds in northern Yemen. This is what provoked "Zaydi fundamentalism". Following this objective interpretation, conspiracy theories abound. There are those who claim that former President Ali Abdullah Salih was the first to support the Huthies. Then there is the other theory that claims that they are nothing but an Iranian tool. Both theories are correct; they did indeed cooperate with Salih and they did welcome the aid that came from Iran and went far in doing so. However, it would be a mistake to view this relationship as one of "subordination"; it should be seen as one of mutual interests.

Comprehending the founding causes of the Huthi establishment and the essence of their existence will help in dealing with them in aversion of their evil or cooperating with them in accomplishing stability within Yemen, which is of interest to its neighbours. Expressing rage and saying that they are "an Iranian creation" might serve the purposes of an inciting article aimed at mobilisation but will not serve the purposes of a strategic political action.

As for ISIS, there has been an abundance of "conspiracies" ranging from claiming they are an Iranian, American, Syrian or Iraqi creation to claiming that their Khalifah is Jewish who is depicted in pictures with U.S. Senator John MaCain. Some have even been quoting former U.S. State Secretary Hilary Clinton as saying she assisted in creating them. Of course, none of this is true.

ISIS is a furious religious political movement. It is the alternative when we abolish peaceful political interaction. We are, in this case, left with nothing but an angry young man who declares loudly "I've come to you with slaughter". Such a young man rejects democracy and peaceful alternation of power; he does not believe in compromises nor does he accept the notion of power sharing. This is a movement that sees itself as the sole embodiment of truth. Ideologically it belongs to a radical literalist (Zahiri) scriptural school that is so selective in its approach to interpretation of the scripture with the aim of bolstering and justifying its rage and its vision of a puritanic form of Islam that is cleansed of all variant sects. This is even a more extreme vision than that of Alqaeda and we need to be brave in order to trace it back to its true roots so as to be able to confront it intellectually. Those to whom ISIS belongs deny it and it insists it belongs to them. I prefer to attribute it to Juhayman and his movement of "the reckoning group" with admiration for some, but not all, of Sayyid Qutb's ideas. Perhaps one of the things that weaken the confrontation with ISIS is the quarrel over its affiliation.

In the time of settling scores it is usually useful to push it away in the direction of the foe such as saying it is the military or terroristic arm of the Muslim Brotherhood without noting that they hate the Muslim Brotherhood and excommunicate them as much as they hate the Iranians and excommunicate them, and some of us continue to insist that they are the creation of the Iranians. Politics, by its very nature, is "filthy". An analyst may find ambiguities that point to the existence of relations between Iran and Al Qaeda and that Bashar Al-Asad kept a blind eye with ISIS became active, and even that both kept a blind eye toward each other. Some people like to explain this in terms of subordination. Yet, just like their Huthi enemies, ISIS play the game of politics and exchange of interests and go through temporary stances that may change with time and in accordance with a spreadsheet of profits and losses. In as much as ISIS is "radicaly Islamic" it is skilfully "Machiavellian". It is very much similar to someone who "gambles" with all. So far, it has been the one that won the recent round of play.

In conclusion, the Arab Spring is a force that will continue, just like water, to dig its way to the end. It would be better to nurture it. It does indeed need a bigger brother to nurture it until it comes to fruition in the service of all. As for the Huthies, they are an essential Yemeni component. It is true they benefit from Iran, but their roots are purely Yemeni. They have dug their way and they have become a principle player in shaping the new Yemen. It is inevitable for those who seek a stable Yemen to deal with them. As for ISIS, it too is a product of its environment, which is a combination of bigotry, anger, failure and despotism. There is a relative relationship between them and the Arab Spring. Yet, they diverge when they look up to the future. Once we have learned their ideological roots, we will know their points of weakness. Only then would we be able to defeat them.

Translated from London Al Hayat, 16 August 2014.


The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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