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Yemen beyond Sana’a: what the minutiae implies

September 19, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Naturally, the main media focus on Yemen since the liberation of Aden has been on Sana’a. The liberation of Sana’a is amongst the major indicators to show that the anti-Houthi coalition is on its way to achieving the aim of dismantling the Houthis and removing them from power. Information on Sana’a is also a lot more accessible in comparison to areas like Taiz where electricity is sparse and telecommunications are unstable.

Aden, seen as the coalition success story, is slowly falling into further instability. It is not a post Houthi haven of stability, as of yet. The country in the wider scheme is still at war and as long as the Houthis have managed to recapture and sustain Taiz, Aden will always be at threat.

Currently, the province is being reconstructed, under the sponsorship of the UAE. Infrastructure is being rebuilt, hospitals are slowly but surely starting to open and security measures are improvised. The reconstruction industry in Aden was also seen as a hub for employment, as Yemenis were being hired to reconstruct their cities.

However, there are many reports of workers still not being paid. Post Houthi Aden is also seeing a lot of political instabilities that may reflect the unrest in the remainder of the country. Assassinations of political officials have been taking place without any group claiming responsibility for them, further proving that Aden is far from secure, or politically stable.

The sectionalist sentiments in southern Yemen are now facing resistance from the unity government in Riyadh. Hirak’s victory in liberating Aden from the Houthis has evidently boosted the popularity of the sectionalists, especially because their operations were highly funded and armed by the GCC. We must remember, however, that this was a one off military alliance to achieve a common military goal, rather than the base for a long-term political alliance.

When Prime Minister Khaled Bahah arrived in Aden on 16 September he was largely greeted as a hope for stability. Rajeh Badi, the government spokesperson, stated that his return to Aden is permanent and he is there to liaise with the political factions to form a government, in what is developing as Yemen’s new capital city. Though, on the same day, a church in Aden was burnt down, again no group claiming responsibility.

Upon Bahah’s arrival, Badi announced that the unity government would no longer allow the old South Yemen flag to rise in Aden. However, at the same time, the hotel that Bahah is reportedly to be staying at, Al-Qaser Hotel, had the flag raised. This does not mean a civil war is inevitable, nor does it necessarily mean tensions between Hirak and the government in exile will resort to violence, but to be able to understand what may come of Yemen, policy makers must keep a heavy eye on Aden.

The unity government itself is facing its difficulties, as it has been reported that president in exile Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, along with many other high ranking government officials, wants to kick Bahah out of his post. Bahah is one of the more popular figures amongst the Yemeni public. As Hadi is seen as deluded and out of touch with the Yemeni people, any action against Bahah would be complicated because of his popularity.

To understand the scope of the violence in Yemen, the airstrikes should not be the main focus. Despite the airstrikes being indiscriminate; targeting civilian populations as well as diplomats (a high ranking official told Gulf News that the house of the Omani ambassador to Yemen in Sana’a was hit by a coalition airstrike on 18 September), Taiz, which is under a Houthi siege is suffering immensely and also silently.

A Houthi tactic has been to indiscriminately shell one of their strongholds whenever they fear they will be forced to retreat or that they are threatened in another area. They have also kidnapped and torturing journalists who speak out about their terrorist actions, and assassinations. Taiz is currently completely shut out from the rest of the world, as Aden was from March to August, as the Houthis are in control of the borders and are blocking aid, food and medicine at a time when the dengue fever epidemic is escalating and the need for blood transfusions in the whole of Yemen has doubled. Paramedics are now unable to function and, with the Houthis shelling random hospitals and forcing them to shut down by stopping their electricity supply, they are forcing the people of Taiz to live in conditions that are becoming increasingly uninhabitable.

The easiest aspect to understand in the Yemen conflict is the airstrikes and the easiest party to blame is the Saudi-led coalition. Though, it is important to remember that the military strategies and the power dynamics in September are not the same as they were in March. The military strategy of the GCC has advanced as they gain more understanding with the ground forces, as well as continuing the airstrikes, which are becoming increasingly indiscriminate. Both former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis are still in control of much of Yemen and the battle ahead is long. Attention to the small details is what gives a real understanding of the conflict and the small signs are what will help assess coherent strategies as well as post conflict political issues that must be addressed to make sure Yemen does not fall back once again.

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