“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself” – George Orwell.
I find this one quote from George Orwell to be particularly fitting to Yemen’s war, and more to the point, to Saudi Arabia’s attitude towards Yemen’s war … a war the Kingdom both engineered and unleashed on its unsuspected neighbour, back in late March 2015 to ward off Iran’s alleged influence.
Yemen’s war was never meant to last, actually it was almost as if it was never meant to be, insofar as the speed and force Saudi Arabia ambitioned to use against the already poverty-stricken nation aimed to crumble whatever political resolve it had left. Yemen’s war was meant to be no more than a media addendum, a passing cloud over the world’s ability to voice outrage before the unwarranted loss of civilian lives.
Today Saudi Arabia wishes nothing more but to pretend that Yemen’s war is in fact NOT, for doing otherwise would force its Royals to face up to those realities they would much rather not only deny, but keep secret from their own political consciousness.
Branded “the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe” by the United Nations, Yemen’s war has claimed to its cannons tens of thousands of lives, displaced millions of civilians and condemned well over 50 percent of the country’s total population to the pangs of hunger. Four years into the bloodiest war the Peninsula has witnessed in several decades, if not a century, Yemen stands condemned – caught in a cycle of military interventionism, political demagoguery and hyper nationalism.
And while many efforts have been spent towards peace so that communities could be spared the aberrations of a conflict that is fast devolving into a genocide, it is unlikely any meaningful deal will be brokered any time soon. Why you may ask?
Quite simply, I have come to believe, because Yemen’s war proper has little to do with Yemen or even the infamous Houthis – the men Saudi Arabia conveniently flagged as Iranian agents on account of their faith.
Like many of their countrymen hailing from North Yemen, the Houthis are Zaidi Muslims, a school of thoughts which belongs to Shia Islam and has thus been declared unholy by reactionary Wahhabist Saudi Arabia.
But in truth, not even Saudi Arabia, and by that I mean its leadership, really buys into such sectarian rhetoric. A convenient weapon of mass manipulation sectarianism has become a mean to justify a bloody end, a narrative of division allowing nations such as Saudi Arabia to rally public opinion to their military whims and with one smooth cry of unholiness, rationalise wanton murder and foolish military campaigns. You will admit, crying: “ the heathens are coming” has been a useful distraction!
It also proved to act a powerful conductor for all manners of geopolitical analyses and theories detailing Yemen’s place within the budding Shia Crescent Iran is carving, on what was formerly known as Sunni territory. If only politics was as simple as the claims of a few religious zealots for whom proselytism is an end in itself!
Saudi Arabia attacked Yemen for it feared not the Houthis or their so called Iranian alignment – Zaidism its needs to be said is not a euphemism for Iranianism … former President Ali Abdullah Saleh after all was a Zaidi and he never particularly warmed up to Iran and instead preferred to align himself with leaderships such as that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Saudi Arabia attacked Yemen for Yemen was about the break free from its influence to reinvent itself sovereign on its land … that and evidently a flurry of other crucial factors such as Yemen’s geography, its military strength, its arable lands, and most crucial of all: Yemen’s unsympathetic stand towards Israel.
If we consider that Saudi Arabia’s sole existence has always been to act a buffer and a protector to Israel’s sovereignty, one can see why Yemen’s peace might not be a priority to many world powers, however counter-intuitive such position may run. To that, we must add a series of conflicting regional ambitions. Aden here sits a perfect example of the many agendas which have fed a conflict that exists on more planes than we can care to admit. A recent article by Simon Henderson in The Hill highlights that perfectly.
Yemen has become the ground regional powers play up and act out their differences. From Oman’s objection to Saudi Arabia’s Al Mahra (Eastern province of Yemen) meddling, to the UAE support of an independent South Yemen and Qatar’s wishes to break Riyadh’s tentacular powerplay, Yemen sits a convenient geopolitical soundboard.
Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen was a knee-jerk reaction to an irrational fear of Iran, and a misreading of both Iran’s regional ambitions and Iran’s ties with Yemen. If the Houthis see in Iran a convenient political ally, the love affair stops there. Sorry folks but there is no Shia plot to take over the world … just a clever game of geopolitics.
Truth be told, Saudi Arabia’s brutal military campaign in Yemen was the fertilizer the Houthis needed to consolidate their own political powerbase.
Hardened to the demands of power and legitimised in their resistance to the Kingdom by a people who now view them as freedom fighters, the Houthis de facto ‘own’ North Yemen – a reality which is unlikely to change anytime soon in view of the gapping power vacuum Riyadh so diligently created. To make matters worse for Riyadh the Houthis have demonstrated, drone in hands, that they can bring war to Saudi Arabia proper and give the Kingdom a taste of its own medicine; a realisation that could unravel Saudis’ sense of security at a time when the country’s territorial integrity is strained.
War you see has had a corrosive effect Saudi Arabia failed to anticipate. From a breakdown in relations with three of its south-western provinces – which provinces were, prior to the controversial Treaty of Taif (1932), under Yemen’s sovereignty and whose people to this day, feel more in common with Yemen than they do with the Kingdom, to the fear of drone attacks on its key infrastructures, Riyadh precipitated a series of crises it never saw coming. And then of course there is the ever growing financial deficit Riyadh has been forced to run to sustain its alliances … America’s support does not come cheap.
Stuck in a war it cannot win and it doesn’t want anymore Saudi Arabia cannot afford however to retreat. Beyond a simple matter of pride, a point that should not be discounted, Riyadh is much too concerned about what would come the day after peace is brokered to even fathom an armistice.
As long as chaos reigns, agendas remained somewhat blurry enough to remain manageable – and no, Yemenis’ suffering matters little to those who view power as their matrix.
The only real roadblock to peace lies therefore in the uncertainty it would bring now that new socio-political and religious faultlines have been unearthed.
The trick now would be to architect Yemen’s reconstruction before negotiating an end to the conflict, bearing in mind the many demands all regional actors will raise.
By Catherine Shakdam
Source: New Eastern Outlook