Yemen at the centre of regional and international conflicts

Yemen at the centre of regional and international conflicts
Comment: Yemen has long been the stage for regional and international machinations, and is now at epicentre of the latest struggle for power.
5 min read
28 Mar, 2015
Yemen today stands at the intersection of powerful regional interests. [Anadolu]

Yemenis have long suffered the burden of their country's strategic location, as they occupy an ideal ground for international power struggles, in addition to suffering from the cross-border loyalties of their political elites. Ever since the Himyarite king, Sayf ibn Dhi-Yazan (d. 574) sought the military intervention of the Sassanid Empire to expel the Abyssinians, which led to the Sassanids occupying the country, Yemenis have been paying for this deadly duality. The stupidity of the Himyarite king has thus become part of the diplomatic legacy carried by Yemeni elites, and Dhi-Yazan has ironically been transformed into national hero, while the country has since become a scene for regional and international conflicts.

The republic of northern Yemen was not stable from 1960 until after the Jeddah agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia in 1968, after they agreed to respect each other's interests in Yemen. After the regional reconciliation came the Yemeni accord that ended the war between the republicans and the monarchists, however Yemen's two parts continued to be a hotbed for the competition between the capitalist and socialist camps. It was only with the end of the Cold War that a condition for Yemeni unity was achieved.

At the intersection of regional and international interests

It was only with the end of the Cold War that the conditions for Yemeni unity was achieved.

Throughout his time in power, Ali Abdullah Saleh utilised the interests of regional and international powers in Yemen to cement his authority. This was done through concessions, such as facilitating the work of foreign companies and entering into border agreements with Saudi Arabia, or through blackmailing foreign powers with al-Qaeda and the terror threat.

Later, when the Yemeni revolution took place in February 2011, foreign interference in Yemeni affairs resumed once more. A political settlement was reached that reflected the interests of regional powers and ensured competing factions shared power through the "Gulf Initiative". Thus Saleh was granted immunity and preserved as a local force that could be utilised in the future.

Saleh currently is fighting a bloody battle, driven by his personal grudges and ambitions for regaining power, with the same mentality and strategies that he had used while he was president. Through his planning and support, Houthis have come within 10 kilometres of Aden, and it is notable that the speakers in the recent UN Security Council meeting did not mention Saleh or his role in the current crisis, and did not issue any accusations or warnings.

The way in which the international community has dealt with Yemen in this transitional period has also exacerbated the political crisis. Instead of solving Yemen's problems, the international community has fuelled them by supporting one Yemeni faction against the other, which has further heightened the internal polarisation between competing regional projects.

This polarisation became clear after the Houthis took control of Sanaa in September 2014, which was followed by the appearance of an Arab Gulf alliance in support of the legitimacy of president Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The alliance did not defend Hadi for his own sake, but to counter the Houthis, who represented Iran's ambitions in the region. Meanwhile, Iran entered the Yemeni conflict in support of the Houthi coup, solidifying its presence as a real force on the Yemeni and Gulf political scenes.

In the past few weeks, the regional and international conflict in Yemen has taken a dangerous turn that further complicates the situation in Yemen, which verges on a civil war between two forces sponsored by regional powers. Regardless of our predictions about the solution to the Yemeni crisis, which will be a foreign solution, the country today is not subject to the will of Yemenis, but subject to foreign interests and agreements on a number of issues. The American - Iranian rapprochement, the war on the Islamic State group (IS), the events in Syria, in addition to shared Gulf - American interests on one hand and Iranian - Russian interests on the other, will all play a part in formulating the position of these powers toward events in Yemen.

A bargaining chip

Just like in Iraq, Syria and Libya, political developments are affecting all aspects of daily life, from security to health to food supplies.

Therefore, in light of this complex intersection of disagreements between international competitors, their actions will make Yemen a bargaining chip rather than serve Yemen's best interests. The international competitors will most probably decide to further complicate the Yemeni scene to gain better leverage for their political and economic interests. Furthermore, while the UN Security Council praised the regional sponsors of the political settlement in Yemen, those sponsors are working to strip the country of what remains of its national sovereign decision making ability by calling for the implementation of Chapter VII of the UN charter, to further enable their Yemeni players to influence (or destroy) Yemeni life and subject it to the ongoing power play.

Just like in Iraq, Syria and Libya, the fast pace of political developments is affecting all aspects of daily life, from security to health to food supplies. The complexity of the Yemeni scene has reached unreal proportions, while Yemenis today can only helplessly watch the results of the corruption and immaturity of political elites, the alliance between various Yemeni political forces and the influence of regional and international powers playing out. All of these forces have no regard for the country, other than its utility as a bargaining chip.

The most infuriating thing in the current state of Yemeni plunder is for local and foreign players to present themselves as saviours, while they are the reason for Yemen's suffering. Further, all the solutions presented by these players are the same solutions that have entrenched failure in Yemen. Yemenis are responsible for the current situation, first and foremost, however that does not relieve the world of its humanitarian duty, not give it the right to be condescending toward Yemenis and have them pay the price for the world's conflicts, greed, and insanity.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.