Yemenis Must Be Friends, Not Enemies
National Yemen, February 22nd 2015
Strength and security are two of the criteria on which countries base their foreign policies. Almost all countries feel the need to be regarded as strong by their neighbors in order to ensure their own security.
Countries can wage war against their neighbors if they regard them as threats, or sometimes, instead of war, may seek to increase their strength through various alliances. Other methods of ensuring security without resorting to violence are economic sanctions and blockades. Yet another method, despite being forbidden under international law, is supporting armed elements within a neighboring country. All these methods are utterly ruthless and lead to death or suffering among innocent civilians.
Events in Yemen today may be interpreted as the result of these ruthless methods in the international system. Regional and global powers are making various calculations regarding Yemen, and that has condemned the country to many years of instability.
The internal dynamics stemming from the social and political structure of Yemen certainly play a role in what is going on. Factors such as divisions, alliances, civil war and, more recently, the weakening of the army, the failure to ensure security and a worsening economic situation have led to the current state of affairs in Yemen.
Countries rarely interfere directly in others as they used to. Such interventions are both costly and have no place in international law. Countries therefore look for other means to ensure their interests when they regard them in danger in neighboring countries. The preferred method under those circumstances is "to seek elements in a neighboring country that will act in the light of one's own interests."
Those elements may sometimes be a terror organization, or a minority group, and sometimes the country's army or a political party. These elements may be supported directly through arms or financial assistance, or else the support may be indirect. Indeed, some support is so professional that the group being supported imagines it is acting in the light of its own ideals, but may actually, albeit unawares, be fighting for the interests of another country.
One can often see such a picture in the Middle East: Although Hizbullah's activities against Israel in Lebanon are well known, the influence of Iran is clear. A similar state of affairs can be seen in Yemen, too.
Two main forces are jockeying for influence in Yemen. Behind one is the Shi'ite influence of Iran, and the other the Sunni influence of Saudi Arabia. The USA can also be added to the equation from time to time. Despite being the two main branches of Islam, there is a ruthless struggle between Shi'ism and Sunnism in the Middle East. This struggle, that began in Lebanon and worsened in Iraq, has now spread to Syria and is now manifesting itself in Yemen.
Although the Ansar Allah Movement, known as the Houthis, denies any links with Iran, many countries are in fact certain that they exist. Statements about Yemen from Iran, which no longer feels any need to conceal its relations with the Houthis, only serve to confirm these suspicions.
Iran considers the gains made by the Houthis in Yemen more as a victory for the Iranian Islamic Revolution than for a friendly group whose rights have been restricted. So what is the reason for Iran's seeking such a victory in Yemen? First and foremost, it is to annoy Saudi Arabia, which it regards as a threat and then to establish control over the Red Sea, one of the main arteries of global oil traffic.
Although the Houthis have been to some extent successful in taking over the Yemeni state, they appear to lack the strength to maintain the government. It is in fact almost impossible for them to do that in the face of a large Saudi backed Sunni opposition.
Saudi Arabia previously regarded Shi'ite popular movements in Bahrain as a threat to its own security and intervened directly in the country; there is now a strong possibility of a similar intervention in Yemen. However, this may lead to al-Qaeda, which is fighting the Houthis, attracting support from Sunni tribes on the grounds of a Shi'ite threat. Such a state of affairs could make the situation even more intractable for both Saudi Arabia and for the USA.
It is obvious that the Sunnis cannot achieve power without taking the Houthis into consideration. Even though the Houthis claim to be in control, it will be impossible to impose their authority everywhere in the country. Yemen's political situation resembles a parliament in which no party has the majority required to form a government. The groups are calculating how to establish their own administrations rather than the interests of the country. In the event that this struggle turns into a worsening conflict, the Sunnis and Shi'ites in Yemen will suffer similar harm to those in Syria. In the event that Saudi Arabia and Iran step up their security expenditures when oil revenues are falling, the resulting crisis could very well trigger a kind of Arab Spring in those countries. In that case, the situation in Yemen may end as little more than a Pyrrhic victory (*).
However, Almighty God commands believers to be united, to stand as one against denial, to regard and love one another as brothers, to be compassionate, forgiving and protective of one another and to avoid any division or fragmentation.
The believers are brothers, so make peace between your brothers and have fear of God so that hopefully you will gain mercy. (Surat al-Hujurat, 10)
* A Pyrrhic victory is one achieved at the cost of enormous losses, in which the winning side is too weakened to win another one, and even its future survival is in doubt.