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What is hoped-for following 'Decisive Storm'?

‘here is no doubt that the conclusion made by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states that they had to take part in “Operation Decisive Storm” was the toughest they have had to make; not because of the difficulty of implementing the attack but because they know that Arab weapons should not be used in military operations inside an Arab country. It is also certain that their assessment led them to conclude, albeit belatedly, that there was a growing danger so large that it was threatening their neighbour, Yemen. The childishness of the Houthis, combined with their sense of empowerment and arrogance, did not leave the GCC with many options. It was strange for the man pulling the Houthis’ strings to decide to conduct military exercises along the Saudi border. Those taking part were not a regular army; holding the exercises at that very moment was additional proof of the lack of proper management, the absence of wisdom and the failure to realise the repercussions of such provocative actions.

The Houthi militias advanced toward Ta’izz while disregarding totally the wishes of the people in the city who appealed repeatedly to keep their city arms-free and out of any useless battles that could only bring more division, sorrow and harsh living. Then they continued their march toward Al-Anad Military Base on the road between Ta’izz and Aden. At the time I expected the Houthis to stop and be content with the victories that they believed they had accomplished. However, their leaders did not pause for a moment to reflect and assess the cost of the bloody episodes they had been through since the “master” decided that governance could only be in the hands of whoever he alone deemed fit. He has been plotting something else for Yemen and the Yemenis.

For the past four years, everyone has been panting to appease the “master” and win his consent for everything the Yemenis agree on, but he has always lifted the ceiling of his illegitimate ambitions. Whenever his deputies obstructed an agreement that won majority approval everyone would rush to win his pleasure so as to avoid driving the country to the edge of internal wars. Obviously, this situation has filled the young man with arrogance. Never before in his life had he known anything beyond his home town, Saadah, moving between its villages and caves to escape the oppressive campaigns launched against it. He does not understand that countries cannot be run according to personal whims, desires and lusts. He does not comprehend that the use of weapons against his fellow citizens will neither guarantee his own safety nor accord him anything more than temporary acceptance gained through force.

The foolishness of the Houthis has emanated from wrong signals and unstable factors. They failed to comprehend the consequences of the fluctuating signals and factors because those affected by the outcomes end up with altered interests and shifted inclinations. As a result they continued to live with the illusion that everyone on the inside would submit to them by force and that the outside world would deal with them and accept their reckless behaviour. What the “master” did not take into consideration is the fact that the situation may be forced upon the people on the inside but the repercussions that extend well beyond the borders would have to be paid for by the one who did not understand how peoples and countries are run.

I shall not return to the actions of the Houthis and the measures they have imposed on the people. These are already known. Nor shall I talk here about their association with Iran, for this is something they already proclaim. Nor shall I delve into the details of what they should have done and what they should have avoided. Nor, indeed, shall I discuss the role played by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. What goes through the minds of the Yemenis at the moment is this: when will “Decisive Storm” come to an end and what will happen when it does?

Following the launch of the Saudi-led aerial offensive, people have been divided between those who welcome it and are happy, and those who oppose it and are angry. Regrettably, this split is along sectarian and regional lines. The southerners are glad because of the halt of what they call the Houthi-Saleh campaign. The inhabitants of the Shafi’i regions hope that “Decisive Storm” will end the historic injustice that excluded them from the rights of full citizenship for many decades. Those in the north believe that the destruction inflicted upon them is collective punishment for an act that is rejected by a majority who had nothing to do with it. The dangers of what comes after the “storm” lie in-between these opposing sentiments. Commenting on what has taken place, Maysaa Shujaa Al-Din commented: “The Yemenis should not exaggerate in their zealous reactions to this intervention because it is a legitimate intervention within the context of international norms. In terms of political convention, it is an understandable option following the occlusion in the political horizon caused by a party that practices political futility, that suffers from Gaddafi syndrome and that is in control of a strategic position. The solution here lies in stopping the war by means of internal pressure in the form of popular and organised political action in order to stop the abuse by the Houthis.”

There is no war without cost and casualties. The Houthis are the Yemenis who know about this more than most because of their own tragedies. In fact, most Yemenis have experienced destruction and the burial of their dead with each round of political renewal. I am dismayed that they have not learned anything nor remember such chapters in their lives. They keep reproducing them whenever they have the opportunity to do so. The armed tribes in the far north of Yemen in particular take war to be a vocation from which to earn a living. This pattern was established in the years that followed the revolution of 26 September 1962. Should the Yemenis wish to live in peace, the starting point should be the restoration to state authority of the regions seized by the tribal chieftains to develop them and establish the rule of law upon all of the people instead of the rules of the sheikh, the jurist or the master. Only then will disarmament become a natural thing. Inevitably, the confrontation will be hard once “Decisive Storm” is over and when the edifice of the Yemeni army will come to naught and all its equipment is completely destroyed. The fear is that the armed militias will take over and dominate, for they have no fixed bases and no known installations. As such, the next authority will be without any regular, national military authority. Restructuring will require many years because all of the forces that were under the control of the former president and have been used by the Houthis in their recent manoeuvres would have been uprooted.

The other more serious dimension that should be attended to is the recognition that Yemen is at a crossroads between rebuilding on inclusive foundations or on regional fragmentation. It is natural that the majority of citizens wish to stay away from the hegemony of the scared centre in Sanaa. However, this will not happen through the random response to every frantic desire. What is more important is to begin serious dialogue away from the silly behaviour of the past three years and to focus on rebuilding state institutions at the national level. Any talk about dividing the country without the existence of institutions that are in charge of the intended and sought after provinces will be a prelude for renewed conflicts that have so far exhausted the country and consumed its human and natural resources.

When “Decisive Storm” is over it will be mandatory upon the Gulf Cooperation Council states to recognise that Yemen is an integral part of them. It is neither logical nor expected that the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf capitals will forget that this country is their safe prospective human reservoir. They should not need another crisis to remind them of this.

* The author is a Yemeni ambassador and writer who also worked as foreign ministry undersecretary

from Asharq AlAwsat, 28 March, 2015

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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