Director of Programs at the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies. Political analyst, writer and commentator for the Middle East with a special focus on radical movements and Yemen. A uthor of Arabia’s Rising — Under The Banner Of The First Imam.
For all the ink which has dropped from journalists’ pens, and for all the many words which have been spoken from analysts’ lips we have yet to really learn of Yemen’s war — this war which since March 2015 has claimed over 10,000 lives, displaced several millions, maimed tens of thousands, and put over 1 million children to endure starvation.
Yemen’s war has not just been mislabelled, it has been mis-told, mis-analysed, and above all mis-calculated — among other things. To put in simple terms, the public has been grossly misinformed, misdirected and overall lied to, so that Saudi Arabia could exert control over the media and political narrative.
I would like to make clear that everything you have read so far, and everything which will follow is based on facts — not fiction, not opinions, but cold hard facts. I ambition here to hold a mirror to Yemen’s war and anticipate what fallouts, repercussions and dynamics this conflict will ultimately carry for Yemen, and the broader region.
Before I do this however I will need to reset your political clock to zero, and reframe Yemen political reality away from the fiction Saudi Arabia has weaved so that it could project, justify, and rationalize its own geopolitical agenda. Do remember this word: agenda.
Yemen was dragged into war because a nation refused to play into the agenda Saudi Arabia outlined, and defined.
Yemen has suffered a brutal war of aggression for its people dared imagine themselves free and independent.
Yemen’s war, the way it has been told, the way it has been reported on and the way it has been analysed so far has always been from an outsider’s perspective. In many ways Yemen has been talked over, rather than talked about — never mind talked to.
Allow me to reclaim Yemen’s narrative and tell Yemen’s war from a Yemeni perspective. As I walk you through the events which led to this war of economic and political attrition, I will attempt to determine trends and pinpoint what developments we could, and should expect will take place across the Arabian Peninsula, and to a greater extent the region altogether.
Saudi Arabia has been at war with Yemen long before its grand coalition of allies decided to unilaterally wage a vengeful military campaign against this poorest nation of Southern Arabia. Yemen has battled against Saudi Arabia’s own brand of imperialism long before March 25, 2015 came knocking against it borders — quite literally one might add.
An analysis of Yemen’s political history tells us that Yemen’s misfortune against Wahhabi Saudi Arabia began the very moment its people rose against the tyrant of the time — Imam Muhammad al-Badr, to proclaim themselves a free folk in 1962. Interestingly enough Saudi Arabia was then on the Imam’s side, even though his rule was an affirmation of a tradition different from that of Saudi Arabia’s. Back then, Zaidism was not yet the enemy — or rather, Wahhabism had found in the nationalism expressed by pan-Arabism a greater, and more immediate contender to its authority, hence its determination to eradicate it.
It is important to look at Yemen from a regional standpoint. Events in Yemen cannot be analyzed as standalones — whatever trends have moved within Yemen, whatever ideas or political persuasions the nation has carried, entertained and followed need to be considered within a regional framework. Whether or not we care to recognize it, Yemen is a child of Arabia; it sits a living political entity — a product of its people’s will.
Pan-Arabism as it were, has a lot to do with what is happening to Yemen today. And while the ideology did in fact recede since the 1960s, the political independence, and sovereignty it promised did not. In fact, I would argue that Yemen’s Resistance movement — which you may know under its colloquial name: the Houthis, revived this sleeping dragon; only this time nationalism came to be expressed through Shia Islam’s most sacred principle: Resistance against oppression.
Speaking on the death of pan-Arabism Professor Emeritus James Jankowski from the University of Colorado made incredibly insightful comments. He noted: “As a political movement, pan-Arabism has receded since the 1960s. Just as the context of the post–World War II decades provided the necessary medium for its earlier flourishing, so changed conditions since the 1960s have contributed to pan-Arabism’s fading. The gradual consolidation of the power and legitimacy of what were initially artificial Arab states; the end of overt imperialist domination, thereby undercutting much of the reason for inter-Arab solidarity; the growing acceptance of the reality of Israel; the increased clout of the Arab oil monarchies, regimes apprehensive about what Arab unity might mean for them; not least the growth of the rival transnational ideology of Islamism, many of whose spokesmen view Arab nationalism as an alien, Western-inspired concept designed to subvert Muslim unity: all these developments of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s have worked against significant movement toward Arab political unity.”
Back in 1962, when Yemen was still an abusive monarchy, Riyadh was only too happy to “protect” it from the evil grip of pan-Arabism, and the political emancipation it promised. Today, because Yemen finally embraced its right to political self-determination the kingdom has chosen to rain death on the sovereign nation, arguing political restoration to rationalize its desperate pursuit for control.
Another fact to consider is that back in 1962 Iran 1979 Islamic Revolution had not yet happened. Political bias aside, one cannot deny that Iran’s ouster of the Shah completely, and forever changed all geopolitical parameters. As pan-Arabism died suffocated by covert imperialism, drowned in Arab monarchies’ petrodollars, Iran anchored itself in Resistance, reclaiming Shia Islam as THE legitimate source of power.
Saudi Arabia declared war on Yemen in March 2015 to prevent another Arab nation to embrace Resistance as the affirmation of Yemen’s national sovereignty and popular legitimacy.
Wahhabism declared war on Zaidism because it recognized the inherent freedom Shia Islam not only offers but guarantees, as opposed to the feudalism and political enslavement Wahhabism preaches.
With this brand new perspective in mind I will ask you to reconsider the events which led to March 25, 2015.
Little could Yemenis have suspected then — 1962, that their claim for self-governance against the Imamate would prompt the kingdom to actively seek their enslavement. As pan-Arabism rose a giant against monarchies in the Greater Middle East — a new political dawn on the back of the broken bones of imperialism, Saudi Arabia recognized in Yemen both the key and the cornerstone to its ambitious hegemonic future. Symmetrically Yemen carried within the seeds of the kingdom’s destruction — a ticking geo-political bomb of sort.
It is important to remember that if Yemen stands today a broken shell of a country, a petri dish for all things radicals, and a poster child for “failed state”, it is because Riyadh made it so. Yemen’s misfortune, its crippling poverty and diseased institutions are the products of decades of latent colonialism.
Hussain Mousavi, a political analyst noted in an interview with the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies: “The institutional history of post-Imamate Yemen has been misconstrued. Although Yemen defines itself still as a republic, political power remains rooted in tribalism, and nepotism — both the attributes of Arab monarchies. To see Yemen through a “republican” lense, is missing Yemen’s realpolitik. I would argue that Yemen has very much functioned as tribal monarchy, where real power has been held by the tribes, and not the people — a set-up which is eerily reminiscent of that of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and even Jordan. Yemen always was a pretense republic, to prevent any REAL populist political ambitions.”
If the kingdom was ever to reign all mighty over Arabia, unruly Yemen — this one geostrategic jewel — would have to be tamed to the crown of al-Saud.
“The geopolitical importance of Yemen cannot be ignored. The country controls entry into the Red Sea (towards the Suez Canal) and the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, which although less important than the Strait of Hormuz, is the point of passage for oil and gas on its way to Europe,” wrote Alain Gresh in April 2015 in a report published for The New Arab.
He added, “Stability in Yemen is also a vital strategic goal for Saudi Arabia. The late King Abdulaziz famously told his sons: “What is good for you and what is bad for you comes from Yemen.””
In this bitter battle for hegemonic control Yemen has been a lamb brought to the slaughter, a playground for a newly evolved form of asymmetrical imperialism — one which has relied on proxies to carry its will, while muddying the political waters to hide its hand: control, through the establishment of an energy monopoly.
Saudi Arabia’s agenda in Yemen is simple in that it is absolutely egocentric! Saudi Arabia needs Yemen if it is to ever achieve control: socio-political control, control over natural resources, geo-military control, economic control, and of course religious superiority. Riyadh’ success remains dependent on its ability to bring Yemen to heel and kneel. Understand this and everything else will more or less fall into place. The only agenda the kingdom EVER had in Yemen was a colonial one, an imperial one. Yemen was never meant as a buoyant democracy … And while Yemen did in fact manage to reinvent itself a republic among a sea of absolutist monarchies, its institutions were so severely infiltrated, and set up for both political and economic feudality, that its republican claims were but an institutional mirage hiding behind the reality of tribalism.
Yemen’s present lies in the understanding of its past, and those dynamics which were set in motion long ago. With a symmetry which does not lack a certain poetry, it appears that Yemen’s true liberation from the shackles of feudalism — as expressed by Saudi Arabia imperialism, would come by way of the Houthis — a tribe of northern Yemen which history is link to the Imamate.
Hailing from northern Sa’ada in Yemen Highlands, the Houthis are first and foremost a tribal faction which loyalty remains forever attached to al-Houthi clan, the custodian of a religious heritage few have been able to comprehend, let alone encompass.
Sheikh Abdel-Malek al-Houthi stands not a mere tribal leader over his tribesmen, he is northern Yemen’s religious leader, and he is together Yemen’s past and its future — a bridge in between traditions and a desire to rise state institutions rooted in popular legitimacy.
And though many have seen in Sheikh al-Houthi an ambitious leader in search of a fief, it needs to understood that his ambitions lie far beyond the political. His house stands above the political fray, the Custodian of an Islamic religious tradition which stretches back to the birth of Islam.
While it cannot be denied that many within the Resistance movement continue to serve very selfish ambitions: whether political or pecuniary, Seyyed al-Houthi is rooting for Yemen to affirm itself by embracing and reaffirming the very tradition Wahhabism has worked to annihilate. Unlike Saudi Arabia which speaks a radicalism which should freeze the spine of even the most cold-blooded, and cynical of analyst, Zaidism proclaims pluralism, freedom of choice — the very principles democracy leans on.
Looking at those dynamics it is difficult to understand why the world has been so intent on denying Yemen the courtesy of its own liberation against the tyranny of radicalism.
It is revival Seyyed Abdel Malek al-Houthi is after, not political diktat.
While I will circle back to this through my writing I would like to make clear that the weight of the religious in Yemen’s history is of utmost importance. And I am not just referring to Wahhabism — or as mainstream media like to call it: Islamic radicalism.
If there is a war being waged against Yemen and its people, there is another conflict, more insidiouswhich has been waged against its religious identity: Zaidism. Because Zaidism, like all other expressions of Shia Islam essentially, and absolutely stand in rejection of any, and all forms of absolutism, Wahhabist Saudi Arabia has worked, ambitioned and plotted to lay it waste.
Behind the glitz and political glam the kingdom has so diligently projected onto the world hides a need to enslave all.
Should Yemen fall, Riyadh would rise a titan over the world oil route, wielding energy security in the face of the stealthiest of military power.
Bearing in mind that it was Saudi Arabia which inspired the rise of Terror, through the promotion of Takfirism — the foundation upon which Wahhabism has rested upon and thrived on, I would argue that world powers need stand with Yemen’s Resistance, and not the kingdom. If not out of respect for its popular will, at least out of self- preservation.
Yemen, a history lesson
It is now 1918 and the formerly grand and powerful Ottoman Empire is breathing its last. As inner tensions and wars have eroded the empire, the Ottomans withdrew from Yemen — a territory which had proven unbending and unyielding to the will of the Sultan. Although an Ottoman colony on paper, Yemen was never exactly a loyal vassal … a reality the Ottomans had learnt to contend with for the sake of geopolitical supremacy. Since Yemen could not be conquered the Ottomans entered into an alliance with the Imams of Yemen, thus ensuring that Arabia would be contained away from the influence of another super-power: Persia (modern day Iran).
As WW1 ended, Yemen witnessed the departure of the Ottomans. Free from foreign diktat, Imam Yahya took control of the country (northern Yemen). He would remain as Imam of Yemen (king) until his death in 1948. During his rule, Yemen joined the Arab League (1945) and the United Nations (1947). Imam Yahya’s rule was fraught with political opposition — his reign would end in blood as he was assassinated in a failed coup attempt against his Imamate. It is his son Ahmad, who took over until his death in 1962.
Imam Ahmad’s rule would be one of repression, and violent oppression — the desperate attempt of a reigning house to grab hold of power despite thinning popular support, and legitimacy. As we delve into Yemen’s political history it is important to remember that no governing system can ever truly hold if not rooted in popular support. Whether a republic, or a monarchy, no political system can be sustained without a degree of compliance.
Ahmad’s rule became known for its totalitarianism, tension with the British over their presence in south Yemen, and pressure to support the Arab nationalist regime of Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser. The United Arab Republic (Egypt) had had a special relationship with Yemen in the past. In March 1958, Yemen joined it to form the United Arab States, but this association was dissolved in December 1961, shortly after Syria seceded from the United Arab Republic.
Interestingly much of today’s issues: territorial, and geo-political can be traced back to pre-Republic Yemen, at a time when imperialism was still openly flaunted as a political norm.
Even then the seaport of Aden was a point of contentious, with the Imam of Yemen arguing the city was legally part of its territory, and should therefore be returned to his dominion. A claim the British were only too keen to deny due to the geo-strategic advantage and commercial vantage point the seaport offered the Empire.
On 19 September 1962, Imam Ahmed bin Yahya died and was succeeded by his son, Imam Mohammed al-Badr. A week later, a rebellion of revolutionary forces led by the army overthrew the new Imam and proclaimed the Yemen Arab Republic. Following his overthrow, Imam al-Badr managed to escape from Sana’a, the capital, and, with other members of the royal family, rallied the tribes in the northern part of the country. With financial and material support from external sources, the royalists fought a fierce guerrilla campaign against the republican forces. The revolutionary Government accused Saudi Arabia of harbouring and encouraging Yemeni royalists, and threatened to carry the war into Saudi Arabian territory.
Riyadh’s meddling in Yemen’s affairs had begun … The horrors and bloodshed Yemen has been put through serves a testament to a long overdrawn race for control — a pursuit which has grown exponentially across the decades, acting a mirror to Yemen’s intrinsic geostrategic worth.
If Yemen is poor, unruly, and grossly under-developed that it is not to say that its lands do not hide immense potential. Many experts, among whom Marwa Osman, Lecturer at LIU University in Lebanon, would argue that Yemen’s failure to launch was engineered to keep it under tight Saudi patronage.
“Yemen stands a victim in a race for power the public still remains unaware of. If a monarchichal Yemen fitted within al-Saud plans for grandeur, in that it would have not offered any form of political challenge to the House of Saud, a free and independent Yemen was never going to be tolerated … especially one which could have followed in the footsteps of the Islamic Revolution,” Osman said in an interview.
The role of Iran’s Islamic revolution here is not to be understood from a religious standpoint, but from one of popular emancipation, and resistance against imperialism. While Iran reinvented its institutions on the basis of Shia Islam, its core values are universally shared: social-justice, equality before the rule of law, popular sovereignty, civil liberties and human rights.
Labelled an institutional chimera on account its rise caused imperialists many upsets, Iran’s Islamic Republic was never offered the courtesy of the truth … but that would be the subject of another discussion.
Should Yemen had been allowed to reach full economic and political maturity, Saudi Arabia would have likely been eclipsed as THE regional superpower.
There is more to Yemen than meets the eye. Maybe one day soon we will learn to push passed our collective arrogance and see this one nation’s potential.
Faced with the loss of his kingdom, Imam al-Badr slammed Egypt for its “betrayal”, accusing President Nasser of fomenting a grand plot of destabilization. Egypt denied the charge.
Still, at the beginning of October, large numbers of United Arab Republic forces were dispatched to Yemen at the request of the revolutionary Government to assist the republican forces in their fight against the royalists. Whether or not Egypt did in fact planned al-Badr’s deposition to open a new Pan-Arab front at the heart of Arabia, Cairo nevertheless ended up supporting Yemen’s revolutionaries against what it saw as an impediment to Arabs’ emancipation from imperialism, and covert colonialism.
The new Government was recognized by the United Arab Republic on 29 September and by the Soviet Union the next day, but other major Powers with interests in the area, including the United Kingdom and the United States, withheld action on the question of recognition. The revolution was supported by Egypt who supplied troops and supplies, while al-Badr was supported by Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The newly emergent forces representing republicanism and social progress were concentrated in the major cities, while the monarchist, reactionary, and theocratic royalists launched a successful counterrevolution from the countryside with the support of the rural population.
The proximate cause of the conflict was the arrival of U.A.R. Egyptian troops in Yemen to support a palace coup by republican revolutionists on the night of 26 September 1962. Saudi Arabia, fearing the revolutionary upsurge on its borders, reacted by sending supplies and money to the pro-royalist forces behind the deposed Imam Muhammad al-Badr, who led the royalist counter-revolutionists. From the republican standpoint, Saudi assistance (never in the form of troops) constituted interference in the affairs of the Yemen. From the Saudi standpoint, the U.A.R. military presence on the Arabian Peninsula constituted a threat to its monarchy and its oil fields. The belief was that the U.A.R. sought to extend the Yemeni revolution to all of southern Arabia and bring about the collapse of the Federation of South Arabia, as it was then called.
In the early months of 1963, the conflict was intensified on all fronts. The total Egyptian forces rose from 12,000 to an estimated 28,000, with a sharp increase of Russian and Soviet bloc personnel. While the U.A.R. started to withdraw its forces in the early days of May 1963, the ships and planes that ferried troops to Egypt invariably returned with replacements in systematic rotation. Consequently, there was no net reduction of Egyptian forces in the Yemen, nor did Saudi Arabia fully terminate its aid to the royalists.
The British government endeavoured, not wholly successfully, to discourage Aden-based operations in support of the Yemeni royalists. The British mercenaries fighting with the royalists were “a private enterprise.” The presence of an Imam in Yemen was essential to both the Zaidis and Shafeis. In the absence of an Imam as temporal-spiritual head of Yemen, by early 1964 the people were staying away from Friday prayers. While the Imam did not have to be drawn from the Hamid aL-Din family, no other family qualified for the position had sufficient stature or the appropriate personality. The British Government was “not necessarily anxious” to restore the Imamate, believing that the Yemeni consensus might favour such a development.
Interesting how time can change alliances but never ambitions. It is the Houthis, the heirs many have argued of the Imamate, who today have been labelled the designated enemies, while President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and his loyalists have been portrayed as the carrier of institutional legitimacy.
While roles might appear reversed, a closer look actually reveal how very symmetrical today’s war is from 1962.
In an 01 April 1964 letter to the President of the UN Security Council Yemen charged that the United Kingdom had committed more than 40 acts of aggression against it since September 1962, culminating in the air attack against Harib on March 28. A British letter of March 28 stated that the attack had been launched to protect the South Arabian Federation after a series of Yemeni air and ground attacks during the month of March. The Security Council convened on April 2 to consider the charges and counter-charges.
The United Nations Yemen Observation Mission UNYOM (July 1963-September 1964) was established in July 1963 to observe and certify the implementation of the disengagement agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Republic. The tasks of UNYOM were limited strictly to observing, certifying and reporting in connection with the intention of Saudi Arabia to end activities in support of the royalists in Yemen and the intention of Egypt to withdraw its troops from that country. In his report dated 3 May 1964, the Secretary-General stated that there was no progress in troop reduction towards the implementation of the disengagement agreement and that no actual end of the fighting appeared to be in sight. The mandate of UNYOM ended on 4 September 1964 and its personnel and equipment were withdrawn.
There had been a substantial reduction in the strength of the Egyptian forces in Yemen but it seemed that the withdrawal was a reflection of the improvement in the situation of the Yemeni republican forces rather than the beginning of a phased withdrawal in the sense of the agreement. There were also indications that the Yemeni royalists had continued to receive military supplies from external sources.
Egyptian efforts to defeat the royalist forces and destroy their civilian support bases proved particularly difficult in the mountainous terrain of northern Yemen. Frustrated by the successful royalist guerrilla tactics, Egypt employed chemical weapons they had developed in the 1950s and obtained from the Soviet Union; defensive equipment was also obtained from the Soviets. Egypt was the first Arab state to use chemical weapons. Despite having signed the 1925 Geneva Convention, which outlawed the use of chemical weapons, Egypt employed chloroacetophenone tear gas, mustard blistering gas, phosgene, and nerve agents repeatedly from 1963 to 1967.
Egypt denied ever using chemical warfare during its support of the new republican forces, but early accounts and evidence of chemical warfare came from journalists in the area. On June 8, 1963, Soviet-made Egyptian air force airplanes dropped chloroacetophenone tear gas bombs on numerous royalist villages south of Sa’ada, near Saudi Arabia. Egypt allegedly used the bombs to terrorize or kill not only the village inhabitants but also the royalists hiding in caves and tunnels.
A cease-fire took effect 16 September 1964. The Soviets impressed upon Nasser the need to come to terms with King Faisal, given the Soviet desire to avoid strengthening the U.S. position in Saudi Arabia. In the face of an increased danger of armed uprising in Egypt, immediate relief from the Yemen problem appeared necessary. To the Russians, preservation of the existing U.A.R. regime was a pressing matter in light of their decline in Iraq and Syria. If for their own sake alone they had to save Nasser and the Yemen, peace was the first step.
Under the terms of the cease fire, withdrawal of U.A.R military forces were to begin as of 23 November 1965 and be completed by 23 September 1966. The result was a shattering military and diplomatic setback to the U.A.R. Throughout this continued military and political stalemate, the split between the pro-Egyptian and moderate republicans had widened and intensified. The revolutionary republican forces split into opposing factions over the issue of Egyptian support. This dispute led to the ouster of the ruling junta in 1966 and its replacement by a pro-Egypt regime. The change of government was followed by a sweeping and bloody purge of the Yemeni armed forces and the administration.
In January 1967 a poison gas attack occurred on the Yemeni village of Kitaf. This was the first use of nerve agents in combat. During this air raid, bombs were dropped upwind of the town and produced a grey-green cloud that drifted over the village. According to newspaper accounts, 95% of the population up to 2 km downwind of the impact site died within 10 to 50 minutes of the attack. All the animals in the area also died. The estimated total human casualties numbered more than 200. Another reported attack took place on the town of Gahar in May 1967, killing 75 inhabitants. Additional attacks occurred that same month on the villages of Gabas, Hofal, Gadr, and Gadafa, killing over 243 occupants. In addition, two villages in Saudi Arabia near the Yemen border were bombed with chemical weapons.
The Yemen conflict reached its decisive turning point with the outbreak of war between Israel and the U.A.R. on 5 June 1967. Egypt was reported to have withdrawn 15,000 men, 150 tanks, and all its heavy artillery from the Yemen during the week of 5-12 June. Estimates of the number of Egyptian troops in Yemen before this withdrawal varied between 40,000 and 70,000.
The conflict lasted until 1967 when Egyptian forces withdrew, Saudi aid to the royalists was halted, and the opposing leaders reached an agreement. The withdrawal was supervised by Morocco, Iraq, and the Sudan and was completed on 15 December 1967. The arrangement was vigorously denounced by President Salal, who shortly thereafter was ousted in a republican coup.
The new state was called the Yemen Arab Republic, and Saudi Arabia recognized the new republic. Subsequently the Soviet Union carried out a massive emergency military airlift to the Yemen, including for the first time the use of Soviet Air Force pilots for combat missions. The effect of this has been to deny a royalist victory and motivate Saudi Arabia’s resumption of military aid to the royalist tribesmen. The Yemen appeared attractive to Soviet plans because of its location on the Red Sea opposite east Africa, about a thousand miles south of Cairo. The Soviet construction of a modern jet airport for the Yemen was viewed by the U.S. with natural concern, for the USSR could use it to develop access to east Africa, improve air connections with India, and open shorter routes across Africa to Latin America. The U.S. and Great Britain were in fundamental disagreement as to the scope and nature of the problem.
Yemen civil war officially ended with the Compromise of 1970, a political agreement between the republican and royalist factions. A republican government was formed in Yemen, incorporating members from the royalist faction but not the royal family.
Then began a covert colonial campaign against the budding Republic. Since Yemen could not be broken through war, Saudi Arabia reverted to a more insidious form of control — utilizing engineered chaos to better rise a master over Arabia.
Wahhabism in this equation would come to claim its pound of flesh.
Yemen political past, and the future it wants to carve
If you have bear with me so far you must have now realised that Yemen is pretty much dealing today with dynamics which were put in motions decades ago — even more so since it is a people’s freedom Saudi Arabia has tried to derail so that it could better imprint its violent theocratic model on the last free bastion of Southern Arabia.
Yemen’s political history is a complicated one — one filled with tales of wannabe conquests, tribalism, and an insistent yearning for independence. If Yemen has yet to be set free from the yoke of imperial powers, that is not to say that its people lack the ambition. This war actually stands a brilliant testimony of Yemenis’ desire to self-govern, and reclaim control over not just their land but themselves.
For great many decades now Yemen has never ever been truly allowed to set its own political course. Instead, it has been coerced, co-opted and betrayed so that foreign powers could manifest their bidding — to hell with Yemenis and their sovereignty! In this game of thrones Saudi Arabia of course has played centre-stage — a corrosive political entity against the aspiring republic. But if Riyadh has stood a parasite to Yemen’s freedom and national sovereignty — together a malignant suffocating hand, and a deathly plague, the kingdom found much support in its Western allies.
You only have to take one good look at Saudi Arabia’s war room to understand which powers have engineered Yemen’s demise from the very beginning.
By King Salman’s own admission, both the United States and the United Kingdom have assisted the kingdom in its military aggression against Yemen — offering weapons, intelligence, and expertise to their ally. The real question here would be to serve whose agenda? And though many experts have attempted to weigh in in terms of an answer, I’m afraid is not that simple.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell told the Telegraph: “Britain’s humanitarian and foreign policy are pursuing different ends.
“The Yemenis are being pulverized by the Saudis while we try to get aid in through ports, which are being blockaded and while British ordnance is being dropped there.”
I remember how in an interview I conducted with George Galloway for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s website earlier this year (2016), the veteran politician insisted that Western powers are playing Riyadh as a proxy — an imperial outpost of sort in their pursuit of global control.
While his comments make perfect sense in that they fit within a narrative of global imperialism … or as I like to call it hyper capitalism, I believe Saudi Arabia is actively working to outmatch its makers, to become THE one political master-puppet. Money after all speaks louder than military might those days. But I’ll get back to that later.
…Allow me to stray away from Yemen for a second to delve into a concept which I believe is key to understanding most of the conflicts, and tensions playing out today: globalism. Well it’s actually more than that — globalism after all is merely the expression of capitalism gone wild, a degenerate form of imperialism … and vice versa.
It was actually Lenin who back in 1916 defined imperialism as the highest expression of capitalism. I would venture and say that Mr Lenin was right on the money. Yemen is of course a perfect example of capitalism gone wrong.
As Phil Gasper explained in his writings: “LENIN DID not claim that there was no imperialism before the late 19th century. As he explicitly noted, “Colonial policy and imperialism existed before the latest stage of capitalism, and even before capitalism. Rome, founded on slavery, pursued a colonial policy and practiced imperialism.” But, Lenin added: “general” arguments about imperialism, which ignore, or put into the background the fundamental difference of social-economic systems, inevitably degenerate into absolutely empty banalities, or into grandiloquent comparisons like “Greater Rome and Greater Britain. “Even the colonial policy of capitalism in its previous stages is essentially different from the colonial policy of finance capital. What Lenin was attempting to explain was the extremely virulent form of imperialism that began to emerge in the late 19th century, resulting in the scramble for Africa from the 1880s, and the increasing tensions between the major powers that eventually led to world war.In calling it a stage of capitalism, Lenin was saying that the new imperialism was fundamentally an economic phenomenon.”
At its very core Yemen’s war is an imperial war, a neo-colonial conflict which seeks the enslavement of a nation for the sake of control. Of course there is a sinister, darker eugenics agenda to this war which experts have for far too long refused to admit to. I am not referring here to the infamous Sunni-Shia divide … this divide only exists in Riyadh’s mind, a fabrication it concocted to shield itself from the political, social and religious emancipation Shia Islam inherently offers, while rationalizing its own extremism: Wahhabism.
Let us remember that if the world has come to abhor and fear Islam it is because its expression has been tainted by the abomination which is Wahhabism — this ideology of Takfir which requires all infidels to die by the sword of its righteous crusaders. An apocalyptic dogma based on bloodshed, Wahhabism calls for the murder of all those who do not bow to its will, most of all Muslims.
One of the reasons Saudi Arabia hates Yemen so much is that its Islam, is not that preached by Riyadh.
And while Riyadh’s ambitions in Yemen are anchored in capitalism, certain actors in the kingdom have pursued a very Wahhabist agenda, adding a sinister sectarian undertone to al-Saud military pursuits.
A report in January 2016 by the Campaign against Arms Trade (CAAT) found the UK has received £5.6 billion ($8.19 billion) for arms deals with Saudi Arabia, since Cameron became prime minister.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) warned that British weapons are central to the military campaign that has “killed thousands of people, destroyed vital infrastructure and inflamed tensions in the region.”
“The UK has been complicit in the destruction by continuing to support airstrikes and provide arms, despite strong and increasing evidence that war crimes are being committed,” he said.
“These arms sales should never have been approved in the first place. The Saudi regime has an appalling human rights record and always has done.”
In an interview with the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, David Mepham, Director of Human Rights Watch UK, noted: “Human Rights Watch has put out numerous reports about what the Saudis are up to in Yemen — that the British are working hand in glove with the Saudis, helping them, enhancing their capacity to prosecute this war that has led to the death of so many civilians. I think it’s deeply regrettable and unacceptable.”
Regrettable is one way to put it! All horrors aside why would so many nations spent so much fire power and political efforts on one distant impoverished nation, if not to fulfil a predetermined agenda? Think about it for a second. Why would Saudi Arabia deploy such energy against Yemen if not in the pursuit of something bigger than political restoration? It would be foolish to believe that former President Hadi is worth billions of dollars in military expenditure.
No? Not convinced! Consider this then — back in 2012 Yemen called upon the international community to cauterize its financial haemorrhage with an injection of $9 — 10 billion. “Yemen needs a lot of money to rebuild, to achieve prosperity, to eliminate poverty, unemployment and thereby also terrorism. It needs billions of dollars, tens of billions of dollars,” former Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa told the press back in January 2012 ahead of a Friends of Yemen meeting.
Was Yemen helped out of poverty and instability? Was Yemen ever offered a real way out of the mess its rich oil neighbours plunged it into, while they basked in a false sense of security? The answer to that question is: of course not! With Yemen rendered impotent, all Persian Gulf monarchies could sleep soundly on their crowns.
The second however Yemen demonstrated any real desire to reclaim its land, reclaim its resources, and reclaim its free will, an entire coalition came charging against its borders. I don’t recall the same passion “to save Yemen” back in 2012, back when Yemen was allegedly transitioning to democracy.
Yemen was never transitioning to anything. Yemen was merely witnessing a change of the guards. Power was still safely holed up in Riyadh, subservient to the financial largesse the kingdom has always been so willing to extend in exchange for political servitude.
Just as the House of Saud played its part in bringing the Ottoman Empire down, thus allowing for Britain to manifest its dreams of control in the Middle East, so it worked to bring Arabia to heed the command of its powerful masters.
Yemen was never meant to be free … Yemen was always meant to yield to those powers which ambition to exploit its riches, and turn its land into a source of profit.
If 1962 marked a profound political and institutional shift in Yemen’s history, 1994 would come to seal its future with Saudi Arabia, in that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh allowed for religious colonialism to take place in exchange for a military victory against South Yemen, thus asserting his presidency on political feudalism.
Capitalism, or out of control political capitalization
What you see today unfold in Yemen is a grand push-back against Saudi Arabia’s imperialism.
What you see today — this coming together of tribal factions, religious communities, and political persuasions, is really a declaration of independence, and an affirmation that Yemen ambitions to be set free.
What the international community has failed to understand in its eagerness to support Saudi Arabia, is that it stands to de facto criminalize Resistance.
More cynical analysts would argue that criminalizing resistance is exactly what neo-imperialists have been after. Assuming that it is a fair assessment, the UN Security Council report this August 2016 offers an interesting window into the new political reality we are heading towards in Yemen — or at least the reality the Saudi-coalition would like to manifest on the ground.
Truth be told the United Nations has systematically lacked objectivity when it comes to Yemen, due to Riyadh’s involvement.
If the United Nations still claims itself an impartial party, its institutions have long fallen prey to political capitalism — putting therefore some very serious question marks over the fairness and independence of its officials, never mind the resolutions it has issued.
This decay, or institutional capitalization as I like to call it was made most evident in 2015 when Saudi Arabia bullied several UN aid agencies to not only comply with its profiling of humanitarian aid in Yemen, but actually stand by a series of aggravated human rights violations.
Under humanitarian law and international law aid cannot be profiled. This legal reality has not stopped the kingdom doing just that. Worse still, few media have ever dared raised the issue.
In early July 2015, the United Nations declared the situation in Yemen to be the highest level of humanitarian emergency. According to a UN report published July 7, 2015 over 1,500 civilians had bene killed, 3,600 had been injured, and over a million had been displaced in the ongoing conflict.
By UN estimates, about 80 percent of all Yemenis — more than 20 million people — are in need of humanitarian aid. As of July 2016 this figure has jumped to 90% concluded the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies.
In late March 2015, Amnesty International confirmed the deaths of at least six children under the age of 10 during a Saudi-led air raid that killed 25 people. The report read: “The organization spoke to medical personnel at four different hospitals where the dead were taken after being pulled from the rubble of 14 houses that were hit in a residential neighbourhood near the city’s international airport.”
Already the poorest and most vulnerable population in the Peninsula and arguably the Greater Middle East, Yemenis have seen their livelihoods and freedom of movement disintegrate under Saudi Arabia’s war momentum. In late April, Saudi Arabia bombed Sanaa International Airport, effectively trapping civilians within Yemen’s borders.
Despite mounting evidence of abuses and war crimes, it would take the international rights community several months to stand up to the oil giant. On July 27, Human Rights Watch unequivocally slammed Saudi Arabia for a litany of human rights violations. The report reads:
“Saudi-led coalition airstrikes that killed at least 65 civilians, including 10 children, and wounded dozens in the Yemeni port city of Mokha on July 24, 2015, are an apparent war crime. Starting between 9:30 and 10 p.m., coalition airplanes repeatedly struck two residential compounds of the Mokha Steam Power Plant, which housed plant workers and their family members.”
The kingdom is holding hostage not just Yemen but to some extent the international community, using the United Nations’ humanitarian institutions to wage war. It’s using institutions meant to offer relief as a means of weaponizing aid.
Hassan Jayache, a senior leader of the Houthi movement, confirmed in 2015 that local NGOs have found themselves caught in a political web, forced to surrender their neutrality to secure not just funding but access to areas where aid is needed.
“The Saudis have exerted political pressures onto local NGOs and international aid organizations, demanding that aid be restricted to pre-approved segments of the population, based on political affiliations and according to religious criteria,” Jayache said.
“In other words, Al Saud has decided to starve the Shias of Yemen, hoping to break the Houthis’ momentum.”
Mohammed Al-Emad, a Yemen-based journalist and political commentator, says Saudi Arabia called on several media organizations in the Middle East, the United States and Europe, demanding that “coverage on Yemen be sanitized and in keeping with Riyadh’s chosen political narrative.”
While Al-Emad’s claims could be considered bias, WikiLeaks published a series of confidential cables pointing to systematic media/PR manipulation on the part of the Saudis.
But if the international community had been standing silent before Saudi Arabia’s war crimes, exploiting what Al-Emad describes as a convenient media blackout to avoid addressing some sticky legal points, Riyadh’s move against the U.N. might prove one indiscretion too many for anyone to ignore.
The work of King Salman and his allies to sabotage U.N.-organized aid to Yemen started on April 17 in the wake of a UN emergency flash appeal for $274 million to respond to the most pressing humanitarian needs over the following three months.
Speaking on Yemenis’ hardship, Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van DerKlaauw stressed:
“The devastating conflict in Yemen takes place against the backdrop of an existing humanitarian crisis that was already one of the largest and most complex in the world … Thousands of families have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting and airstrikes. Ordinary families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel — basic requirements for their survival.”
Saudi Arabia immediately volunteered the exact amount requested. But the aid would come with strings attached.
Vice News reported in June 2015 that Saudi officials leaned on U.N. officials to sabotage aid deliveries, threatening to close the kingdom’s checkbook should U.N. agencies deny Riyadh’s requests.
Based on a UN memo obtained by Vice, the media outlet reported that the Saudi government imposed unprecedented conditions on aid agencies, demanding that assistance be limited to Saudi-approved areas and confined to strictly Sunni civilian populations.
“If such despicable logic can somehow be expected from a power which has wielded sectarianism to sow discord and from chaos rise a tyrant, what of the UN, an institution which claims itself impartial and fair?” said Hasan Sufyani, a leading political analyst at the Sana’a Institute for Arabic Studies.
And: “If humanitarian organizations are to be subjected to the rules of realpolitik then truly the world has reached a dark chapter in its history and reverted back to organized barbarism.
Still, no well-thinking Western powers has thought to challenge Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen. In a world system where capitalism reigns king, the rich and haughty stand above the pettiness of the rule of law.”
As a rule of thumb, and to avoid political entanglements, humanitarian organizations tend to shy away from donations which come with strings attached, especially when they fall under the umbrella of the OCHA.Meant as a supranational institution, OCHA was never intended to be manipulated as an instrument of pressure, legal absolution or, in the case of Yemen, a weapon of war.
Playing aid as both a military tactic and a PR exercise to redeem its atrocious human rights record and whitewash its war crimes in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has held the UN hostage to its policies.
By late June 2015, amid reports of a worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, the Saudi government finally announced that out of its initial pledge of $274 million, $244 million would be divided among nine UN agencies.
On the heels of this announcement Stephen O’Brien, the UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, sent a letter to the Interagency Standing Committee, a global humanitarian coordinating body, which includes both UN humanitarian agencies and outside NGOs.
Vice News confirmed the letter was attached to a Saudi press release announcing the nine-way cut, explaining how the funds would go through the recently created King Salman Center for Relief Humanitarian Works (KSC).
“Having agreed to the overall envelopes, however, the KSC would like to negotiate individual Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with each recipient agency,” O’Brien told Vice, openly admitting to Riyadh’s lobby. Vice News quoted a UN aid official in Yemen as saying: “The UN has punted and handed off the problems to these agencies. I’ve never seen that before …The charitable way of saying it is this is a compromise — the less charitable way of saying it is that they folded. It’s really unusual for a single donor to have any substantive role once they contribute funds, let alone negotiate individual MoU’s with agencies.”
When asked about this very public UN capitulation before Al Saud’s millions, O’Brien attempted to rationalize the situation by arguing a massive deficit funding gap.O’Brien wrote: “With regard to NGOs, I am aware that there are sensitivities in receiving funding directly from the KSC and we therefore must work actively to mobilize additional funds to be allocated directly, or via the Pooled Fund, to our front-line partners.”
Additionally, Cécile Pouilly, spokesperson for the OHCHR, confirmed mounting abuses against civilians when she explained: “Since 17 June, 2015 there has been further destruction of civilian infrastructure, with at least 36 buildings, including hospitals, schools, court houses, power generation facilities and communications institutions partially or totally damaged in the governorates of Sana’a, Aden, Taiz, Al-Jawf, Al-Mahwit, and Hajjah.”
Additional human rights reports since have further documented Saudi Arabia’s atrocious war crimes, and other violations — still, it is the Resistance movement, aka the Houthis which have still suffer the brunt of all criticism; surely an attempt to both demonize and criminalize a nation’ sovereign right to resist.
Yemen’s war I will argue is really about Resistance — everything else has been secondary. As weeks have turned into months, as months are threatening to turn into years, Riyadh’s hand is being revealed — its intent is finally becoming visible as its patience is fizzling out, made to shake before Yemen’s stealthy resolve.
Why you may ask? I will say for the same reason Saudi Arabia and Western powers worked to suffocate pan-Arabism — political independence is an unpredictable bed-fellow. Put more harshly, free nations do not serve capitalists’ bottom line.
Resistance and political emancipation
Let me circle back now to the UNSC August 2016 report on Yemen, and its affirmation that the Houthis have acted grand criminals of war, implying through its condemnation that Yemen’s Resistance movement carries no real legitimacy. Behind the criticism and allegations that the Houthis broke the law, it is really their right to be, and their right to politically exist which is being challenged.
Here too the UNSC has become — willingly or nor, a hired Saudi pawn. The manipulation I will admit is not as crude as it has been with humanitarian aid of course, but the intent remains the same: erode at Yemen in such a manner that both its territorial and political sovereignty will become irrelevant before the might, and right of its patrons.
Reuters wrote: “Yemen’s Houthi rebels used civilians as human shields, Islamic State militants in the country received an influx of cash and al Qaeda has improved its roadside bombs, according to a confidential report by United Nations experts monitoring sanctions on Yemen.”
Although it would be foolish to exonerate the Resistance of all crimes — wars are messy by nature and abuses are sadly inherent to all arms conflicts, grand standing on the moral conduct of a popular movement on account it has exercised its right to self-defence is not an argument, it is a political weapon of war.
The UN report said the Houthis had concealed fighters and equipment in or close to civilians in Al Mukha in the Taiz Governorate “with the deliberate aim of avoiding attack” and in violation of international humanitarian law.
The report also said the Houthis had diverted about $100 million a month from Yemen’s central bank to support the group’s war effort and that the foreign reserves of the central bank had dropped to $1.3 billion in June 2016 from $4.6 billion in November 2014.
Political and central bank sources have said the Houthis were likely to have received more central bank cash for their troops than the government because when they seized Sanaa thousands of their militiamen were added to army rosters and became entitled to state pay.
To some degree everything the United Nations has reported on is true — it is the manner in which facts have been reported on and translated which left something to be desired. Let me explain! The way we interpret facts is dependent on our own bias. However loudly we like to claim objectivity, we are all products of our prejudices, and ultimately those prejudices will shape how we perceive reality.
“Yemen’s Houthi rebels used civilians as human shields”, UN experts have claimed. Rather than reflect a factual truth, this statement offers a political interpretation of a reality the UNSC cannot fathom as legitimate since it involves a faction it self-admittedly branded as illegitimate.
Yemen resistance fighters are not using civilians as human shields; they are Yemen civilians turned armed militants out of necessity. To look onto Yemen’s battlefield and assume that the Houthis are using their people as meat for the canons make no logical sense. Here’s why — the Resistance movement has leaned on the people for its legitimacy since no elections could take place. Should the Houthis, aka the Resistance turn on the very people it is meant to represent, and defend, the people would withdraw their vote of confidence and essentially lay waste whatever power was offered.
We would do well to remember that Yemen is not being shaken by an internal conflict. Yemen is not at war with itself — it is fighting a foreign invasion disguised as a war of political restoration. I’m hoping that by now this has been made abundantly clear.
As for the money the Houthis have been accused of looting I think we would do well to remember that whatever funds were in fact used towards the war efforts actually belong to Yemen, and therefore those individuals or factions the people have vested with their trust. The UNSC argument would be valid if the Houthis had in fact acted outside the people wishes, or against elected officials.
If the Houthis have assumed authority over the state institutions, they did so out of necessity, and not design. It was Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who, back in January 2015 chose to resign (twice) to then run away to Riyadh. It was Hadi again who chose to create a power vacuum, not the Houthis, and certainly not the Resistance movement.
The public has been deceived into believing that it was the Houthis’ actions and choices which sent Yemen into a downward spiral. Confusion was mainly born from a lack of clarity in the language used by both the media and state officials. If the rise of the Houthis might have begun as the rejection of one tribal faction against repression, the values and principles they fronted were embraced by an entire nation, transforming this one group into a popular movement. The Houthis no longer represent the aspirations of one particular tribal entity, they have become Yemen, they are the Resistance, they are the expression of a popular will which legitimacy transcends and sits over all others.
The Resistance movement was formed in reaction to Saudi Arabia’s military aggression. The Houthis rose in reaction to Saudi Arabia’s nefarious influence against Yemen’s democratic aspirations. From the very moment Seyyed Abdel-Malek al-Houthi rose a leader over not his tribesmen but Yemen, it is Yemen’s will he came to carry, and represent.
State funds cannot be considered stolen if they are spent towards the people. Assuming theft, is assuming illegitimacy. And assuming illegitimacy equates to denying Yemen its right to political self-determination. Beyond a simple case of political or institutional legitimacy it is also Yemen’s right to resist which the UNSC is attempting to legislate over.
And to deny the right to resist oppression is in itself an oppression.
In political philosophy, the right of revolution is the right or duty of the people of a nation to overthrow a government that acts against their common interests. Throughout history nations have risen against their respective tyrants on the back of such principles. Comes to mind the famous phrase: voxpopuli,voxdei — “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”
The concept of the right of revolution was developed at the beginning of the Enlightenment era in the work Two Treatises of Government. Written by the philosopher John Locke, the right to revolution formed an integral part of his social contract theory, in which he tried to define the origins and basis for social conditions and relationships. Locke declared that under natural law, all people have the right to life, liberty, and estate; under the social contract, the people could instigate a revolution against the government when it acted against the interests of citizens, to replace the government with one that served the interests of citizens. In some cases, Locke deemed revolution an obligation. The right of revolution thus essentially acted as a safeguard against tyranny.
I would like to note here that it is those very principles which Iranians enacted in 1979 when they toppled the Shah.
Locke affirmed an explicit right to revolution in Two Treatises of Government: “whenever the Legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the Property of the People, or to reduce them to Slavery under Arbitrary Power, they put themselves into a state of War with the People, who are thereupon absolved from any farther Obedience, and are left to the common Refuge, which God hath provided for all Men, against Force and Violence. Whensoever therefore the Legislative shall transgress this fundamental Rule of Society; and either by Ambition, Fear, Folly or Corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other an Absolute Power over the Lives, Liberties, and Estates of the People; By this breach of Trust they forfeit the Power, the People had put into their hands, for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the People, who have a Right to resume their original Liberty.”
Revolutionary movements subsequent to this, all drew on Locke’s theory as a justification for the exercise of the right of revolution. Although some explanations of the right of revolution leave open the possibility of its exercise as an individual right, it was clearly understood to be a collective right under English constitutional and political theory.
I will here refer to the words of Howard Evans Kiefer: “It seems to me that the duty to rebel is much more understandable than that right to rebel, because the right to rebellion ruins the order of power, whereas the duty to rebel goes beyond and breaks it.”
Morton White writes of the American revolutionaries, “The notion that they had a duty to rebel is extremely important to stress, for it shows that they thought they were complying with the commands of natural law and of nature’s God when they threw off absolute despotism.” The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government” (emphasis added). Martin Luther King likewise held that it is the duty of the people to resist unjust laws.
Some theories of the right of revolution imposed significant preconditions on its exercise, limiting its invocation to the direst circumstances. In the American Revolutionary context, one finds expressions of the right of revolution both as subject to precondition and as unrestrained by conditions.
On the eve of the American Revolution, for example, Americans considered their plight to justify exercise of the right of revolution. Alexander Hamilton justified American resistance as an expression of “the law of nature” redressing violations of “the first principles of civil society” and invasions of “the rights of a whole people.” For Thomas Jefferson the Declaration was the last-ditch effort of an oppressed people—the position in which many Americans saw themselves in 1776. Jefferson’s litany of colonial grievances was an effort to establish that Americans met their burden to exercise the natural law right of revolution.
Who are we then to deny or even challenge Yemen’s natural right to resist? Yemen’s war is not just Yemen’s war, it has become the affirmation of all of our rights, and as such denying Yemen equates to denying all the right to self-govern.
Should Yemen’s Resistance lose to Saudi Arabia it is the whole of Arabia we are selling out to Wahhabism — the expression of a hate too grand for any of us not to feel dread.