Пятница, 26 Январь 2018 00:53

The Arab World: between violence and consensus

Perhaps the most significant element of the socio-political life of the region during those years, at least to the outside observer, was violence.

The Syrian Civil War has claimed between 200,000 and 500,000 lives. As many as 70,000 people have lost their lives as a result of two civil wars in Libya. And the Yemeni Civil War counts several thousand among its victims, with the humanitarian catastrophe it is leaving in its wake has affected millions.

We have worked ourselves into a situation in which an enormous region, one that stretches “from the Ocean to the Gulf” and counts hundreds of millions of people among its inhabitants, lives in never-ending fear of violence.

Terrorism has become a part of everyday life in the “calmer” countries in the region, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey. While the number of victims of terrorist attacks in these countries is hardly comparable to the numbers of lives lost as a result of the armed conflicts mentioned above, the very threat of another attack means that people live in constant fear. And this provides the authorities with ample justification for introducing the most severe repressive measures.

We have worked ourselves into a situation in which an enormous region, one that stretches “from the Ocean to the Gulf” and counts hundreds of millions of people among its inhabitants, lives in never-ending fear of violence.

Equally damning is the fact that this is precisely how the region is beginning to be perceived by the outside world.

This perception is largely unfair.


Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia are not the only playgrounds for terrorists; so too are Barcelona, Nice, Paris, Berlin, Boston, St. Petersburg and many other ostensibly safe cities.

The majority of the political regimes in the Middle East are perfectly stable, and the reforms implemented in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Jordan following the events of 2011, have had a positive effect on the development of these countries, especially against the backdrop of the misfortune that has befallen the region as a whole.

Even the most problematic countries – Syria, and even Libya and Yemen – have not experienced a complete of statehood. What is more, modern mechanisms (elections, multi-party political systems, etc.) are becoming increasingly important for regulating political life in the powder keg that is Iraq, and also in Lebanon, which seems to transition endlessly from one crisis to the next.

Despite this, the feeling of all-encompassing violence remains. The problem here is not just the negative information environment, which paints a picture of the Middle East as a region of out-and-out chaos, but also the fundamental change that has taken place in the social and political mind-set of Arab societies. Perhaps for the first time in history, violence has become a problem for them.

To be sure, in modern western (and Russian) socio-political discourse, minimizing violence is a given and is barely even questioned. Nobel Prize winner Douglass North believed that reducing the level of violence is the main criterion for determining the development of social order.

Although this has not always been the case. Not by a long shot.

It is noteworthy that in European political philosophy, the problem of violence as such did not exist until the late 18th century. Plato, Aristotle, Augustine of Hippo, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke – none of these spared a thought for violence, per se, in their meditations on politics. They were more concerned with civil unrest, war, turmoil, rebellion, etc. In other words, the things that disrupt order. But not violence.

It was only with the writings of Immanuel Kant that the imperative of nonviolence started, rather tentatively, to take root in European social thought, at the same time that the diametrically opposite notion – the poetization of violence spearheaded by Hegel – began to spread.


While two world wars may not have been enough to put an end to such romanticism, they certainly took the sheen off for its most ardent followers. In terms of the philosophical analysis of political life, violence became almost a universal category in its own right, one that set the parameters of philosophical thinking for several generations of thinkers, starting at least with Michel Foucault. North’s theory emerged as a consequence of this process, and the requirement of nonviolence came to be seen as a natural in political science. Documents such as the Responsibility to Protect (for all its imperfections and divisiveness) were created as a projection of this this approach onto international relations.

However, this approach, generated by European experience and Western consciousness, cannot be considered universal. It has not fully taken root even in Russia, where technological breakthroughs and the victory in World War II are often cited as justifications of Stalin’s repressions.

Middle Eastern societies have never seen violence as an essential problem. We could name hundreds of works by 20th-century Arab thinkers on the problems of the nation, the state, democracy, justice, etc. But how many works are dedicated to the issue of violence? Not many.

The Iran–Iraq War took two or three times the number of lives that the Syrian Civil War has.

The growing significance of violence as a problematic issue is overlapping with another important social change that is taking place in the region, namely, the strengthening of civil society.

Nobody knows how many people suffered as a result of the repressive policies of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. The murder of 1270 prisoners at the Abu Salim prison in Libya in 1996 was just one episode. Nobody knows exactly how many such incidents actually took place.

The suppression of the Houthi insurgency in Yemen in 2004–2010 (i.e. before the Arab Spring) resulted in several tens of thousands of human casualties.

All this caused a barely audible murmur of discontent outside the region, but it was never a reason for the de-legitimization of regimes within the societies themselves.

Today, however, we are seeing the issue of violence becoming increasingly important in all the countries in the region. And this increases the demands on political regimes.

While there are political prisoners in many countries – in some cases tens of thousands – the authorities are being forced to spend ever greater efforts justifying the situation. Sometimes this is simply impossible.

From Violence to Consensus


The growing significance of violence as a problematic issue is overlapping with another important social change that is taking place in the region, namely, the strengthening of civil society.

In some countries, this is the result of reforms passed by the respective governments in response to the challenges that have appeared during the past decade. In others, it is the consequence of weakening statehood and the emerging need for socio-political self-organization of society.

The number of non-governmental organizations in Tunisia has more than doubled since 2011, and by almost 2.5 times in Morocco. The number of such organizations remains small in Jordan, but has increased by 1.5 times nevertheless, while there has only been a slight increase in Algeria, although the figure was rather high in that country to begin with. The newly established non-governmental organizations in these countries (which have managed to avoid mass violence) make it possible to involve more and people in civil. In this respect, it is not really important where they get their money – from the government (as in the case of Morocco), or from outside sources (Tunisia).

Civil society nevertheless makes itself known in states that are embroiled in armed conflicts. In Syria, the development of civil society is connected with organizations that work with refugees, as well as with numerous structures in Damascus-controlled territories and with local councils operating in the liberated territories.

In Libya, the need for self-organization among the people has forced them to form local authorities along both tribal and territorial principles.

A more active civil society, coupled with the problematic issue of violence, leads to the development of the principle of consent or compromise (taufiq), which assumes that political decisions are adopted not as the result of the victory of one side over another, but through a process in which the sides search for an agreement together.

The principle has been developed most successfully in Tunisia, where the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was able to bring an end to the civil confrontation of the government and the opposition.

The idea of Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Libya Ghassan Salamé to hold an inclusive National Congress and his putting forward of the Libyan municipalities as the basis for the restoration of the country is another indication of movement in the same direction.

The proposal once put forward by Turki bin Faisal Al Saud to arrange a Second Syrian National Congress was also based on a commitment to taufiq. The subsequent dynamics of the conflict prevented the idea from becoming a reality, however.

The roots of taufiq can be traced back to entirely different political traditions that existed in the region. The principle can be considered an element of democracy, one that involves the search for compromise between competing parties. However, it can just as well be seen as the embodiment of the foundations of Islamic political culture. The principle of consultation (shura); the primary role of experts in political decision-making; and the consensus of opinions (ijma) – all these principles have become part of Islamic political thought and point to the recognition of its “culture of compromise.” The origins of taufiqcan be found in the idea of a corporate state that was once very popular among Arab nationalists. They can also be found in the traditions of tribal self-government, if one so desires. This kind of universality makes the principle acceptable for all political powers operating in Arab societies.

At the same time, it is clear that in mature democracies, as well as in political systems based on Muslim law, regimes built by Arab nationalists and tribal societies, the culture of compromise has not always been followed.

Moreover, practice has shown us that it can only be successfully implemented when the sides in a political confrontation (armed or otherwise) have no reason to hope for a decisive victory, or if the risks of continuing the confrontation are seen as unacceptably high. This is why it was impossible to reach a compromise in Bahrain and Yemen, and why it has thus far been impossible to achieve a compromise in Syria.

Nevertheless, continued tensions, the development of conflicts in these countries and the weakening of the guardianship of the all-powerful political elites over society, coupled with the pervasive fear of violence, may very well act as an impetus for the formation of a political culture of consensus.

Article published in RIAC: http://russiancouncil.ru/en/analytics-and-comments/analytics/the-arab-world-between-violence-and-consensus/

Photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Опубликовано в Tribune
Четверг, 21 Декабрь 2017 04:41

The Middle East: Pandora's box of federalization

The specter of federalism is wandering the Middle East. On the political horizon, there are more and more federalization projects, where external and internal actors see the opportunity to get out of the cloaca of universal conflict with more and more countries and regions being created.

There is Yemen, where the number of projects of this kind has already exceeded a dozen; Syria, where a vigorous struggle for a new constitution unfolds and only the lazy does not participate; Iraq, where the Kurds recently showed the shakiness of the line between federalism and secession; Libya, where decentralization is the only chance to stop anarchy and chaos.

The most ambitious plans concern Turkey, Saudi Arabia and even Morocco. One country, Sudan, was dismembered, but this did not solve the acute internal problems of the two states that were created on the site of the former unified one.

The external actors, including those who do not even know where one  or another country is located, and who get ideas from tourist guidebooks (although we will have to wait for the return of tourism to the region), have begun drawing new boundaries with enthusiasm. They could be suspected of an ambitious desire to taste the glories of the famous apologists of colonialism, the Englishman Mark Sykes and the Frenchman François Georges-Picot, who forever left a mark in history, but with a bad taste. 

An array of political scientists have long been talking about the death of pan-Arab nationalism. Certainly, all sorts of unionist projects on the background of universal particularization seem to be out of fashion today, but how can disappear a nationalism that often only changes its face? The King is dead, long live the King! After all, it was Arab nationalism, and not the Sykes-Pico sweet couple, that created the system of states that existed in the Middle East, but recently suffered an ever-widening crack, unable to withstand the test of globalization. Even a new attempt against the sancta sanctorum, undertaken this time by the eccentric leader of the largest world power, the Arab character of East Jerusalem, is no longer strong enough to consolidate the Arabs as one would think, and even the Muslims, in the fight against the terrible threat of losing control over the sanctuary. I am sure that nationalism has not only not perished, but is preparing for a revival, although it can take new forms. Moreover, while a significant part of the local society will see in various sorts of unification projects a way to get rid of the internal conflicts that are destructive for the peoples, eroding their identity, these projects will remain unsinkable.

However, we will hope that the perverted-jihadist version of the Islamist unification project is disappearing into oblivion after the liquidation of its territorial base in Syria and Iraq. As for another radical version of the Pan-Islamic project, the Muslim Brotherhood, the rumors of its death may prove to be exaggerated.

Will the universal federalization ensure a successful way out of the crisis in the region that does not cease to amaze the world, or at least of those countries, which became classified as failed states? Perhaps this will happen. However, let us not downplay the risks that a radical change in the configuration of the state structure of any country brings, especially in the context of the traditional confrontation of unionism and particularism, Islamism and secularism. Anyway, such a restructuring should be carefully prepared, verified in all details, based on qualified expert knowledge. And most importantly, it must get the support of the population

Article published in Valdai Club: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/middle-east-pandora-s-box-of-federalization/

Photo credit: Bilal Hussein/AP

Опубликовано в Tribune
Суббота, 09 Декабрь 2017 23:49

Dialogue crucial if Yemeni order is to be restored

The assassination of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is likely to have tremendous repercussions for the country’s conflict and its future, which is expected to be split in terms of loyalties and political ideologies, aggravating the humanitarian issues. The Yemeni scene is undoubtedly complex and the future cannot be determined with any certainty because of overlapping interests and the fact it is closer to a regional and international conflict than merely an internal one.
It is believed that Yemen now needs a person who represents the overwhelming majority of its citizens, regardless of their age and political affiliation, to save the country from further bloodshed.
One should recall that the rift in the Saleh-Houthi axis started a few days before Saleh’s death. Before the assassination, thousands of Houthis and supporters of Saleh gathered in Sanaa, leading to bloody clashes near the Saleh Mosque. The rift and subsequent clashes reveal how fragile political alliances are in the region. No external party can help solve the issue if there is no domestic will to end the conflict and save the lives of the people.
Saleh has left behind a thorny issue that cannot be solved, and no one will be able to bear this very convoluted legacy. He was the president who unified Yemen in 1990, with many wars against the Houthi movement following the killing of Hussein Badreddin Al Houthi in 2004.
During the Arab Spring, which erupted in 2011, Saleh was ousted after 33 years. This led to the war that has destroyed the country’s infrastructure and seen the death toll rise in the past few months. Saleh’s cooperation with the Houthis was a secretive concordat in the beginning, but it was later fully announced. Nevertheless, this coalition was for fake political purposes rather than for true and honest reasons, due to the many contradictions between Saleh and the Houthis in ideology and interests.
A few days before the assassination of Saleh, the Houthis installed billboards on the streets of Sanaa depicting their leader and defending his right to rule the country. Such political moves show a kind of monopoly of power, at least in North Yemen. This led to the recent escalation between Saleh and the Houthis and the exchanges of criticism, with each of the two former allies plotting to eliminate the other at any cost.

Yemen needs a person who represents the overwhelming majority of its citizens, regardless of their age and political affiliation, to save the country from further bloodshed.

Maria Dubovikova

With the death of Saleh, Yemen will be the new battleground of regional and international powers, turning the whole country into a fireball or a new frontier. The Bab Al-Mandab Strait’s importance as the southern gate to the Red Sea has substantial importance in the new world order, which seeks natural resources from Africa. Yemen is regarded as a confrontation field between the superpowers, who strive to set up and then promote their military manifestation and power.
It is difficult to envisage how events will unfold in the coming weeks, as the crisis has already dragged on for nearly three years. No one could have ever imagined the Houthis would ambush Saleh until his mission was over.
No one knows how this recent rapprochement between Saleh and the Arab coalition came about, nor the conditions of their pact. However, Saleh gambled his political career and his life by agreeing on a “political divorce” from the Houthis. It is recognized that the last-minute deal between Saleh and the Arab coalition overturned the balance of power and this switching of allegiances led to the Houthis’ decision to liquidate him at any price, putting an end to his political activities and to his manoeuvers to restore his political party’s power. It appears now that his move was too late.
For Russia, it is important to see Yemen as stable and in peace. The Russian government wants to see Yemenis having dialogue without any external influence on decision-making. Moscow is very much concerned about who will take the help of the General People’s Congress, who will keep the party intact and who will open channels of communication with other parties and with the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. As Yemenis were shocked by the killing of Saleh, the Russian government is hoping that Yemenis manage to tackle this issue to start a new phase and restore peace.
The Houthis may have primarily gained the most from Saleh’s assassination; however, this might not be accurate as many developments could happen at any time and loyalties may change, leading to a rising scale of hostility toward the Houthis.

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1205421

Опубликовано в Tribune
Суббота, 09 Декабрь 2017 20:31

Will Yemen’s sectarian rift continue to widen?

Article by Sheab Al Makahleh and Maria Al Makahleh (Dubovikova).

Peace and stability in Yemen is likely to succeed only when all major players and the five permanent United Nations Security Council members take honest and true measures to end the bloodshed in this poor country, which pays the bill of other countries’ rifts and disputes and has been transformed in a battlefield of their interests.

The roots of Middle East armed conflicts are as multifarious and effervescent as the region’s social fabric. Modern challenges mirror heirloom of imperial dominance and ruthless despotism. They also echo changes in political perceptions and in relationships with political communities. Fierce non-state actors exploit legitimate complaints to fan the sparks of violence.

Since the inception of the Arab Spring in 2011, Yemen has been under the focus of global players and media. The conflict has been developing in a dramatic scenario, turning into the complicated civil war, tearing the country in all dimensions, following new and old lines of schism. Yemeni humanitarian situation was already acknowledged by the international community as a true humanitarian catastrophe, to stop which international community needs at least ceasefire agreements and start of political process. But the attempts to reach any agreement between main belligerent parties, until now have been collapsing. And it seems that the chances to reach any are totally vain.

With the killing of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, after more than 40 years of political life, 33 years of ruling the country, it is slated that the war between the Houthis and the General People’s Congress Party will open a new chapter in the Yemeni tragedy. The true war is just about to start. The reasons for the Houthi distrust of the former Yemeni president was his “contradictory” alliances: once with Saudi Arabia and later with the Houthis and then back to the Arab Coalition. Thus, the military conflict will be multifaceted in Yemen: The Houthi-Saleh, the Houthi Muslim Brotherhood (the Yemeni Reform Party), the Saleh-Muslim Brotherhood.

Amidst this shift in Yemen politically and militarily, the scene looks gloomy as the Houthis will be openly backed by Iran and other key players in the region while the legitimate government of Hadi will be backed by the Coalition and Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party. The U-turn in Saleh’s position towards the Houthis was based on an advice from the UAE to rehabilitate the forces of the Congress Party to reach a result in order to put an end to war at any cost.

With the solution of the Syrian conflict in the offing, two dynamics will define political change in Yemen for years to come. The first is identity, faith and race. The second is the young generations of Yemenis who are more than 75 percent of the population, living in poor conditions that would aggravate their future dreams and would make them victims for other countries’ political agendas and Islamist ideologies.

Peace and stability in Yemen is likely to succeed only when all major players and the five permanent United National Security Council members take honest and true measures to end the bloodshed in this poor country, which pays the bill of other countries’ rifts and disputes and has been transformed in a battlefield of their interests. The Saudi-led coalition has to reconsider its approach to the Yemeni conflict, as the continuation of the current policies or even intensification of the military actions will only aggravate the situation, enhance the Houthi resistance, strengthen the Iranian involvement without bringing the conflict to an end.

The coming few months are heating up in Yemen because there is no comprehension of the difficulties of reforms due to rival identities which derailed the political approach stemming from suspicious interference from regional countries which try to export their domestic rifts and issues to other states, turning the hotspots into proxy wars destabilizing the region and having far-going consequences. Since the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the same scenarios recur in various forms because of major players exporting their internal difficulties to their neighbors to avoid any domestic repercussions.

The picture is vibrant. Yemen is riddled with turmoil, gushes of violence and autocratic governments amidst intervention of some regional powers. Thus, it is blatant that Yemenis have an uphill battle to fight and to reach settlement themselves without listening to external factors and other countries’ demands, all of which have agendas to dictate and achieve in Yemen at the expense of Yemenis. Dialogue is the only way to stabilize the region, stop the deepening Shia-Sunni divide and stop the spread of proxy wars, as the Saudi-Iranian confrontation is getting moved into other countries, like Syria and Lebanon.

Article published in Valdai Club: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/will-yemen-rift-continue-to-widen/

Photo credit: Hani Mohammed/AP

Опубликовано в Tribune
Пятница, 17 Ноябрь 2017 22:13

How the Middle East could go the way of the Balkans

The current status of the Middle East is similar to that of the Balkans in the years before the World War I. Are we going to witness a Balkanization of the region — geopolitical fragmentation caused by other countries’ foreign policies? And what are the chances of an Iranian-Arab war or a Shiite-Sunni conflict that could lead to the redrawing of the Middle East map?
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said a ballistic missile fired at Riyadh this month from Houthi militia-held territory in Yemen was supplied by Iran, and described it as “direct military aggression” and an “act of war.” The accusation was repeated by the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in his resignation statement: “Iran controls the region and the decision-making in both Syria and Iraq. I want to tell Iran and its followers that it will lose in its interventions in the internal affairs of Arab countries.” He specifically blamed Iran for interference in the affairs of Lebanon.
Saudi rhetoric aimed at Iran has escalated in the past few weeks, and Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir accused Tehran of being behind all evil acts in the region. “The Iranian terror continues to terrorize the innocent, kill children and violate international law, and every day it is clear that the Houthi militias are a terrorist tool to destroy Yemen,” he said. “The Kingdom reserves the right to respond to Iran at the right place and time.” Last week Saudi Arabia called on the UN to take measures against Iran to hold Tehran accountable for its conduct.
Events are moving fast. They could lead to a military confrontation, including the intensification of proxy wars, and a deepening of the Shiite-Sunni divide. The danger persists as long as the two superpowers, Russia and the US, stand on opposing sides of the spectrum on many regional issues, especially Iran. Recent comments from the Oval Office make it clear that the latest events have full US approval and conform with its expectations and policies.
The Iranian ballistic missile program is a key factor in Arab strategies and alliances. Many countries in the Middle East started heading east and west to purchase air defense missiles, such as the Russian S-300 and S-400 and the American Patriot and THAAD systems. Arab countries also started to think of producing their own military equipment by having offset projects with weapons manufacturers in China, Russia, Ukraine, South Africa, France, the UK, Germany, Brazil and the former Yugoslavia.
Saudi Arabia is also concerned about the influence of Iran in Lebanon through its proxy, Hezbollah, even more so since Riyadh believes Hezbollah operatives fired the most recent missile launched at the Kingdom from Yemen. “The Lebanese must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return,”  said the Saudi Minister for Arab Gulf Affairs Thamer Al-Sabhan.

Russia is keeping a close eye on the growing threat of military action against Iran — not a direct conflict, which is unlikely, but an extension of existing proxy wars.

Maria Dubovikova

This war of words may lead to a military clash in the Gulf or in Lebanon, further escalation in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, where Iran has a strong presence, and further proxy wars, unless the Americans take direct action against Iranian troops in Syria and Iraq. And that would lead to a dramatic escalation of tensions between regional and international powers already competing for influence in the Middle East.
Iran is a direct threat to the stability of the region, and US President Donald Trump has listed it as a major global threat. Tehran’s growing influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, as well its activities in support of Houthi rebels in Yemen, pose a threat to the interests of the Arab world.
Action may be taken, including the military option, against the Iranian presence in the Levant. Escalation in Lebanon, the worst-case scenario, may result in a military conflict that would explode the region and drastically affect global stability because the players involved are so numerous and the stakes so high.
Nevertheless, the concerned sides understand that direct conflict would be a zero-sum game, and has to be avoided. The way to do so is by conducting proxy wars, but the cost of such wars on global stability and human life would also, inevitably, be too high.
Russia closely follows developments in the region because it has become directly involved. For Moscow, regional processes are critical. Historically, stability in Russia depends a lot on the climate in the region, and the Middle East is again one of its national interests. It has succeeded in building normal ties with all the players in the region, even those that are rivals with one other. Having good ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia has been proposing itself as a potential mediator in the conflict between Riyadh and Tehran, although the offer has not yet been taken up. Russia is worried about the possibility of escalation of already existing proxy wars and the emergence of new ones, especially in Lebanon. 
In commenting on the dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia has used diplomatic rhetoric, calculating all the possible risks and scenarios. A war in Lebanon would mean a drastic deterioration in regional stability, especially in Syria. The region needs stability, and political and diplomatic solutions for its disputes.

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1194021

Photo credit: Mersad

Опубликовано в Tribune
Воскресенье, 26 Март 2017 00:55

The complications in Yemen

The Yemeni conflict is frequently called a forgotten war, because in terms of media coverage it is always overshadowed by Syria and Iraq. But its tragedy is no less serious, and has no justification; this is the only simple thing about the conflict. Politically and historically it is a complete mess, more so than the public imagines.
The roots of the bloodshed go deep; we must take this into account when analyzing the situation. The current crisis started not in 2014 but in June 2004, and its direct roots are in the 1962 revolution in North Yemen that ended more than 1,000 years of Zaidi rule.
In 2004, the conflict flared when dissident Zaidi cleric Hussein Badreddin Al-Houthi launched an uprising against the Yemeni government, following an attempt by the authorities to arrest him. The government accused the Zaidis and other Islamist groups of trying to overthrow it and the republican system. Iran was accused of managing and fueling the uprising with financial support.
The rebels said they were defending themselves, and accused the government of committing an act of aggression. The conflict has since killed thousands of people and caused severe economic losses for the country.
In 2011, the Houthis tried to ride the wave of the 2011 revolution, expressing their full support for democracy. They overthrew the local government in Saada and established their own rule, independent from Sanaa. Following the revolution, Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down after 33 years as president, and was succeeded by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Yemenis had many reasons to be discontent with the government, including enormous corruption, high levels of unemployment, economic decline and the absence of prospects for youths. These formed the core of the uprising, which was part of the Arab Spring. A change of leader could hardly bring significant change to the country; it needed in-depth reforms and a full restructuring of the governmental system.
Since 2011, Ansar Allah, the official name of the Houthi movement, had been sustainably undermining the authorities in Sanaa. It overthrew them in January 2015 after months of clashes and protests, again seizing on popular grievances such as the rising price of oil to gain support from ordinary Yemenis. Pro-Saleh forces joined Ansar Allah, even though the Houthis supported the 2011 revolution against him.
Hadi was forced to leave Sanaa, and the Houthis seized key provinces, though they have been expelled from southern Yemen due to Operation Decisive Storm. The campaign is carried out by a broad international coalition led by Saudi Arabia and supported by many major global and regional players, including the US. It is accompanied by Operation Restoring Hope, whose aim is to reach a political solution, but so far without concrete results.
Seven million people are on the brink of starvation due to the conflict. The health care system has collapsed. The conflict is worsening and becoming sectarian. The Houthis can no longer deny receiving backing from Iran, which they have been trying to conceal since 2004.
It is difficult to deliver humanitarian aid, especially in areas under Houthi control, not only due to airstrikes, but because of Houthi denial of access to aid convoys, and provocations by local community leaders. A Russian humanitarian convoy recently faced such a provocation while distributing aid in the Darawan camp for internally displaced Yemenis, forcing it to stop its work. Such cases are common and lead to the continuation of people’s suffering.
Attempts at constructive dialogue have failed as the Houthis and pro-Saleh forces have violated agreements and cease-fires. But a cease-fire is urgently needed, at least to allow humanitarian convoys to reach those in need, and at best to launch a political process and implement a UN roadmap.
The insurgents are becoming global troublemakers, recently planting underwater mines in Bab Al-Mandab, thus threatening the security of navigation in one of the most important waterways.
The situation is aggravated by Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Yemen is bombed not only by coalition forces but also by the US, which has been striking terrorist positions in Yemen since the mid-2000s, inflicting civilian casualties. Coalition airstrikes are undoubtedly causing severe civilian losses, as in any similar situation.
Peace must prevail soon, not in the name of politics but for civilians. The coalition and its international supporters, as well as the legitimate President Hadi and forces loyal to him, are eager to work on a political solution and an inclusive government. But the international community does not have sufficient influence over the Houthis, whose actions belie the innocent image they are trying to portray. They are first to be blamed for civilian suffering.
Their slogan “death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews and victory to Islam” hardly correlates with the image of an oppressed people fighting for democracy and equal rights. The slogan is reminiscent of something heard all too often in Iran.
Continuing violence and sectarianism are creating regional instability and a breeding ground for extremist groups and terrorism. A roadmap to settle the conflict exists. The hardest question remains how to make all sides speak with each other. They have to demonstrate a high level of responsibility for the fate of their own compatriots, who have become hostages, and put aside politics to work on building a common fate.
The work of government institutes that are trying to function despite the conflict shows the high potential of Yemenis to overcome the crisis. The international community should take an active part in the peace process.
Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1073521/opinion
Опубликовано в Tribune
Вторник, 21 Февраль 2017 00:00

Can Iran change? We hope it will!

Our region is rife with turmoil. We have a crisis in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, Libya. We have an Iran that is rampant in its support of terrorism and interference in the affairs of other countries. We face terrorism, we face piracy, we face challenges of economic development and job creation. We face challenges in terms of reforming our economies and bringing the standard of living of our people to a higher level. We have the challenge of trying to bring peace between Israelis and Arabs.

I am an optimist, because if your job is to solve problems, you cannot be a pessimist. We have to do everything we can in order to deal with the challenges that we face. I believe that 2017 will be a year in which a number of the challenges will be resolved. I believe the crisis in Yemen will be brought to an end and the attempt to overthrow the legitimate government will have failed. We can then work on putting Yemen on the path of economic development and reconstruction. I believe progress can be made in the Arab-Israeli conflict. If there is a will to do so, we know what a settlement looks like. We just need the political will to do so. And my country stands ready with other Arab countries to work to see how we can promote that.

I believe that a political settlement in Syria is also possible.

One of the biggest factors that will help to resolve many of these challenges is the new American administration. Yes, I am very optimistic about the Trump administration. I know there are a lot of concerns or questions in Europe about the new administration, but I like to remind my European friends that when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1981, there was a lot of concern in Europe. People thought World War III would take place. And yet, how did it all turn out?

Ronald Reagan reasserted America’s place in the world. He made comprehensive arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, he pushed back against the Soviet Union and he ended the Cold War. It is a wonderful history. When we look at the Trump administration, we see a president who is pragmatic and practical, a businessman, a problem-solver, a man who is not an ideologue. We see a man who has a certain view of the world. He wants America to play a role in the world.

Our view is that when America disengages, it creates tremendous danger in the world, because it creates vacuums and into these vacuums evil forces flow. And it takes many times the effort to push back against these evil forces than to prevent them from emerging in the first place.

For 35 years, we have extended our arm in friendship to the Iranians, and for 35 years we have gotten death and destruction in return. This cannot continue.

Adel Al-Jubeir

Trump believes in destroying Daesh. So do we. He believes in containing Iran. So do we. He believes in working with traditional allies. So do we. And when we look at the composition of the Cabinet and the personalities that he appointed — secretary of defense, secretary of state, secretary of homeland security, director of the FBI, secretary of commerce, secretary of treasury — these are very experienced, highly skilled, highly capable individuals who share that world-view. So we expect to see America engaged in the world. We expect to see a realistic American foreign policy and we look forward to working with this administration very, very closely. Our contacts with the administration have been very positive and we are looking at how we can deal with the challenges facing our region and the world.

When I look at our region today, I see a challenge that emanates from Iran. Iran remains the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Iran has — as part of its constitution — the principle of exporting the revolution. Iran does not believe in the principle of citizenship. It believes that the Shiite — the “dispossessed,” as Iran calls them — all belong to Iran and not to their countries of origin. This is unacceptable for us in the Kingdom, for our allies in the Gulf and for any country in the world.

The Iranians do not believe in the principle of good neighborliness or non-interference in the affairs of others. This is manifested in their interference in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan. The Iranians have disrespected international law by attacking embassies, assassinating diplomats, by planting terrorist cells in other countries, by harboring and sheltering terrorists.

In 2001, when the US went to war against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the board of directors of Al-Qaeda moved to Iran. Saad Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden’s son, Saif El-Adel, the chief of operations for Al-Qaeda, and almost a dozen senior leaders went and lived in Iran. The order to blow up three housing compounds in our nation’s capital (Riyadh) in 2003 was given by Saif El-Adel — while he was in Iran — to the operatives in Saudi Arabia. We have the conversation on tape. It is irrefutable. The Iranians blew up Khobar Towers in 1996. They have smuggled weapons and missiles to the Houthis in Yemen in violation of UN Security Council resolutions in order to lock these missiles at our country and kill our people.

And so, (when) we look at the region, we see terrorism, and we see a state sponsor of terrorism that is determined to upend the order in the Middle East. The Iranians are the only country in the region that has not been attacked by either Daesh or Al-Qaeda. And this begs the question, why? If Daesh and Al-Qaeda are extremist Sunni organizations, you would think that they would be attacking Iran as a Shiite state. They have not. Could it be that there is a deal between them that prevents them or causes them not to attack the Iranians? This is a question that we keep asking ourselves.

The Iranians talk about wanting to turn a new page, wanting to look forward, not backwards. This is great. But what do we do about the present? We cannot ignore what they are doing in the region. We cannot ignore the fact that their constitution, as I mentioned earlier, calls for the export of the revolution. How can one deal with a nation whose objective is to destroy us? So until and unless Iran changes its behavior, and changes its outlook, and changes the principles upon which the Iranian state is based, it will be very difficult to deal with a country like this. Not just for Saudi Arabia, but for other countries.

We are hopeful that Iran will change. We respect Iran’s culture, we respect the Iranian people. It is a great civilization, it is a neighbor of ours. We have to deal with them for many, many years. But it takes two to have a good relationship. For 35 years, we have extended our arm in friendship to the Iranians, and for 35 years we have gotten death and destruction in return. This cannot continue.

• These are edited excerpts from Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir’s address at a session — titled “Old Problems, New Middle East” — at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday. The session was moderated by BBC’s Lyse Doucet.

Video of the address is available here : https://www.securityconference.de/en/media-library/munich-security-conference-2017/video/statement-by-adel-bin-ahmed-al-jubeir/ 
Initially published by IMESClub's partner : Arab News

Опубликовано в Tribune
Четверг, 28 Май 2015 02:28

Who are the Yemeni Houthis?

The Yemeni Houthis are among the main motives for the intervention in Yemen by Saudi Arabia led coalition that started on the 25th March 2015. The Houthis are not tolerated not only by Saudi Arabia, but also by the US – both leading sponsors of the manageable political process in Yemen that was launched in 2011.

The Houthis were accused of being an Iranian “Trojan horse” that has infiltrated the back areas of Saudi Kingdom. The war in Yemen is interpreted as a proxy war where Saudi Arabia has faced Iranian agents – the Houthis, who had committed a coup in order to seize power in Yemen. The leading international media controlled by the US and the UK have been playing a major role in demonization of the Houthis for long time.

The unusual feature of the Yemeni case is that the country has been de-facto under the mandate of the UN for more than three years, which prioritized the realization of the two-step peace settlement plan of Yemeni crisis – the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)initiative. Even President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi who has replaced Ali Abdullah Saleh, a dictator, who ruled the country for many years, in February 2012, was nothing more than a designated person who was entrusted to carry out the peace plan of the transition issued by the international community. The Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the UN Jamal Benomar was a second person appointed for this task by the UN Security Council.

The Saudi intervention that was formally provoked by President Hadi’s speech on the 23d March 2015 has in fact rendered futile the long Benomar’s mission. His resignation on the 16th of April 2015 was followed by a number of shocking declarations with the worst assessments of Saudi military intervention that, from his point of view, has ruined the pretty likely possibility of successful completion of the transition and the termination of the severe crisis in Yemen.

The falseness of the thesis about the connections between the Houthis (Ansar Allah movement) and Iranian agents is evident for the experts. Thus, the leading US orientalists have strongly condemned the Saudi intervention in Yemen as well as the supportive role of the US and the UK governments. In Washington Post they declared that they were well aware of the internal divides in the Yemeni society, but that they strongly believed that the Yemeni should be given an opportunity to negotiate the political settlement themselves.

The Houthis see the intervention as yet another act of adversity by the ruling Saudi dynasty towards Yemen. They believe that the Saudi wish to crush Yemen by the ideology of religious intolerance towards both Zaidiyya(the Shia) and the Yemeni Shafi'i (the Sunni) with the support of the Wahhabiwing of Muslim Brotherhood within the Islah party and of the terrorist structures of Al-Qaeda. According to Houthis the Saudi consider the prevention of the victory of the Yemeni patriots the key element of the general plan to divide the country.

They also consider the war as the indication of fear of the regional reaction to the Yemeni revolution that started in February 2011 and that has brought Yemen closer to a true national rebirth after the hard series of crises.

There are four stages of development of the Houthis as a political movement:

The birth stage covered the period of 1997-2001, when Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, Zaydi, representative of an ancient Hashemitecleric clan of Sadah, became the head of the Zaydi movement “Shabab al-Mumin”. Disillusioned by the Zaydi party al-Hakk, we has turned his attention to the youth and charitable social projects. His concerns were focused on the protection on the Zaydi cultural heritage from the attacks of the Wahhabipreachers, who had declared Zaidiyyaa heterodoxy (Takfir) and were trying to completely eliminate it.

The Wahhabiactivity in Yemen was led by a radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood of Sheikh Abdelmajid al-Zindani, which together with the tribal group of Hashed Sheikh  Abdullah ibn Husayn al-Ahmar formed a core of Islah party. Islah has firmly occupied the second line of the Yemeni political parties rating, with the party of power of President Saleh (GPC) on the first place after the unification of the two Yemeni states in 1990 and with YSP, the party of the South, on the third place. The success of Islah was assured by the generous Saudi funding. A wide network of Salafi schools “Maahid Yl’miya” was founded in 1970 under the aegis of Islah. The political support of the Salafiproselytism by the republic’s government back in the 1979 has allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to open a big religious educational center in Sadah, the native city of Yemeni Zaydis, Dar al-Hadis, that has become a source of sectarian conflicts between the Zaydis and the Salafi.

The second stage of the Houthi movement took the period from the end of 2001 to June 2004 and was characterized by the increase of the fields of activity of “shabab mumin” movement and by the simultaneous adoption of the specific attributes of the movement, its stigmatization. The leader’s attention was focused on the criticism against the US policy in the region and on the accented analysis of the Israeli position. Several specific religious and secular dates related to the development of ideas of Zaydi Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi followers were set to be celebrated. These holidays were the following: Zaidiyyaholiday “Id la-Gadir” (the farewell preachment of the Prophet), that was sometimes banned by the republican authorities due to the security reasons; the Birthday of the Prophet (Moulad Nabaviy), common for the majority of Sunni and Shia, but condemned by the Wahhabis; and the day of Palestine, that allowed to attract the audience to the Palestinian issues. The terrorist acts of 9/11/01 that provoked a shock among Muslims and the US military intervention in Iraq in 2003 as well have become the turning point for the ideological development of the Houthi movement. Zaydi Hussein al-Houthi believed that the responsibility for fighting the extremist ideologies lies primarily upon the leaders of the countries themselves. He condemned the delegation of this duty to the US, the politics of which he considered adversary to Islam and explicitly pro-Israeli. He was one of the first to consider Al-Qaeda as one of the means of the US military intervention in the Middle East in order to divide its society. In 2003 the Houthis have adopted a specific slogan “Death to the USA! Death to Israel! Shame to the Israeli! Victory to Islam!” that they yelled after the Friday religious services.

The third phase overlaps with the tragic Sa'dah wars that lasted from June 2004 to February 2010. Besides regular governmental forces the Houthis were opposed by Islah militia. The commander of the governmental coalition General Ali Mohsen, well-known for his sympathies to Wahhabismand close contacts with Saudi military elites, widely used the Jihadist rhetoric against the Houthis. This factor has led to the rapid transformation of the Houthi movement into a strong armed resistance with the participation of Sa'dah tribes, who came to their rescue because of the genocide threat. Despite the broad information warfare against the Houthi, the new leader of the movement Sayid Abdul-Malik al-Houthi (who has replaced his brother killed in September 2004) strictly followed the defensive character of his struggle and gave no reasons to suspect him of promoting the Imamite tendencies or rebuilding monarchy in Yemen – the issues that were incriminated to the movement. Just the same, no facts of Iranian involvement in the conflict were found (except the condemnation of the military actions against local Zaydi population).

In 2009 before the beginning of the sixth act of war against the Houthi President Saleh completely renounced all the accusations connected with the “Iranian trace”. The sixth war could not have happened if not for the position of General Ali Mohsen and the Saudi funding, which became the first act of open involvement of Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni conflict on the side of governmental coalition. However, Saudi military have been captured by the Houthi and that has enabled the transition of the conflict into the settlement stage in January 2010.

The Sa'dah wars had a catastrophic influence on the economic and humanitarian situation on the North of Yemen. More than 200 thousand people were left without shelter (one third of Sa'dah province), about 10 thousand were dead and dozens of thousands people of all ages became angry on Saleh regime because they were oppressed by his security services. In 2013 President Hadi offered official apology to the Houthi for all the suffering caused by the unjust wars declared by the regime.

These wars have forged the military might of Ansar Allah, which relied on the effective and disciplined units with warlords in the head (so called militia), that were armed by the government issued weapons from Yemeni army and even from disarmed Saudi units. However, Sayid Abdul-Malik al-Houthi continuously stressed his allegiance to the peaceful conflict resolution and the exclusively defensive nature of his movement. The most important issues for him were the just compensation of the war damage and the guarantees of the equal rights for all the Yemeni religious groups in the country. By the end of the war the Houthis possessed a developed propaganda machine that included printed and on-line editions and also a satellite channel Al-Masira, where they showed all the crimes of the regime and condemned the actions of “Takfirites” against the unity of the Yemeni society.

The fourth stage of the Houthi movement began with Yemeni revolution in February 2011 when Sayid Abdul-Malik became the first from the opposition to declare a full support to the ideals of the revolution started by city youth, and expressed his intention to fully dismantle Saleh’s regime in order to carry out the democratic reforms. The revolution and the peace process within the framework of the international plan of GCC initiative that began soon after it have opened for Houthis the road to transform into a political organization. However, the sudden move of General Ali Mohsen with a significant part of Yemeni army to Islah side in March 2011 did not allow this. The Houthis have realized that it was too early to give away the captured weapons and preferred to remain a movement or as they are sometimes called a “Jamaat”, that was called Ansar Allah in 2013. The prospect of General Ali Mohsen’s arrival at power created a fatal danger for all the Zaydi part of the country, which is the third of all population.

So, the dormant conflict between the Houthis and Islah has revived on the wide front and entered the active phase, having widened geographically compared to the Sa'dah wars. However, the fate of this confrontation was decided in favor of the Houthis by Saleh, who has engaged into a real battle with Islah (including General Ali Mohsen), where the President Hadi did not play an important role. Saleh has decided to use the Houthi as a strike force to defeat Islah and thus facilitated his victories in February-September 2014. The contribution of Saleh to the Houthi’s victories consisted of two elements: a.) The establishment of strict neutrality of the army in the Houthi-Islah armed conflict, including when it left the borders of the “Houthi” territories, and b.) Contribution to the divide in coalition of Hashed tribes, the majority of which turned off their supreme leader, Sheik Sadyk Al-Ahmar (from Islah) and took a friendly position towards the Hothis, remembering about their Zaydi origins.

The successful change of the “agreement government” of Basindawaby Ansar Allah in Sana and the simultaneous signing of the the Peace and National Partnership Agreement between all the main parties and movements (including Islah) under the aegis of Benomar in September 2014  meant the change of leaders in the political process inside Yemen.  Islah has lost the ambitions of the main candidate for the power. The last undecided question about the integration of the Southern Movemen (al-Hirak) into the project of preservation of Yemeni unity was put on the agenda. The leaders of Ansar Allah have started paying their utmost attention to this question having launched intensive talks with al-Hirak on finding the compromise in the issue of the country’s federalization.

The causes of the grave deterioration of the political situation in Yemen that have led to the concerted voluntarily resignations of President Hadi and Prime Minister Bahah on the 22d of January 2015 should be examined particularly. I will just note that there were no signs of possible coup or breakdown of the mission of Special Councilor of UN Secretary General Benomar by the effort of the Houthis. After the resignation of Hadi Iran has shown its interest in the development of relations with Yemen in the conditions of its inability to borrow from traditional donors. But it is unlikely to become a true reason for the intervention.

Опубликовано в Tribune
Среда, 22 Апрель 2015 03:07

Yemen: the motives of Saudi intervention

On the 26th of March 2015 Saudi Arabia launched a military intervention in Yemen under the codename Decisive Storm. Fortunately, all the nine countries that allied with Saudi Arabia still remain passive members of the coalition. Adel A. Al-Jubeir, the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia in the US, made the first official announcement about the intervention. Some experts have noted that this “Storm” has just overthrown the mission of the UN Security Council in Yemen that was launched as far back as in 2011. The war was declared just in three days after the resolution of the Security Council of 22 March 2015, which expressed the firm conviction of the Council that the solution of Yemeni problems can be fount only through a peaceful, inclusive and structured process by the effort of the Yemeni themselves (United Nations S/PRST/2015/8, p. 2/3).

The US military take part in the united staff, and the forces of the coalition are under the command of Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, the son of the King of Saudi Arabia and Minister of Defense. It is widely though that the results of war in Yemen will influence much the distribution of forces in the ruling dynasty. They also regard the war as a revenge for the defeats of Saudi military during the Saada wars in Yemen against the Hothis in 2004-1010, in which they secretly participated or were episodically involved for sure.

The invasion started by the request of the Yemeni President Hadi made on the 23d of March 2015. In his speech to Riyadh he asked to send rapid deployment forces “to offer the legitimate government of Yemen the required aid and to prevent a potential Houthi aggression against Aden city that was possible any time”. In the meantime Hadi asked to consider the situation in the country as a “coup” that was caused by the “pro-Iranian Houthis”.

 The oddity of such declaration hits the eye. During the last four years Yemen was under unprecedentedly close attention of the UN Security Council, which reacted to all the numerous movements within the country in a timely manner and in fact took care of the country all this time. The special counselor of the Secretary General of the UN Jamal Benomar has received a mandate to promote a peace plan created by Saudi Arabia (that turned troublesome though), and almost never left the country. The various participants of the extremely difficult process of peace settlement in Yemen were often criticized by the Security Council and they even violated the VII chapter of the UN Charter. This also refers to the Ansar Allah movement (the Houthis). The criticism by the Security Council in regard to the Yemeni peace settlement participants has become particularly harsh after the sudden victories gained by Ansar Allah over the pro-Saudi Salafiparty Al-Islah in September 2014. Then the framework of the new and sudden intrapolitical alliance between the Houthi and the block of ex-President Saleh who still controls the GPC - the leading party of the country, Parliament and the majority of the armed forces, has become evident. However the Security Council has not diagnosed a “coup”.

Till the beginning of the intervention there were ongoing peaceful inclusive negotiations in Sana under the aegis of the representative of the UN. What is more, in the period between the 22d of January and the 21st of February 2015 they were focused on the issue of the emergency filling of the vacuum of power that was created by the sudden simultaneous resignations of President Hadi and the Prime Minister Bahahon the 22d of January. The hopes that Hadi would revise his decision himself were so low that the Parliament did not even put his resignation upon approval! The President was left a right to determine his fate and this in fact allowed him to preserve his legitimacy after the 21st of February and after the move to Aden. But this happened in the same time when the Supreme revolutionary Council (SRC) and a number of other institutions of the half dead country were already created and when the parties of Sana dialogue have already prepared a package of  more fundamental  decisions to compensate for the resignations.

What was the real motivation for Hadi’s resignation? The answer to this question may throw a light on all the further chain of events. This was provoked by the active conflict of President Hadi with the leaders of Ansar Allah, that started on the 16th of January 2015, when the Houthis have blocked his attempts to launch a referendum on the project of a new constitution of Yemen without the right to make any amendments. In fact it was about a single statement that limited the number of the members of the federation that was being created. The Houthi have demanded a right to amend this statement, and the special councilor of the UN has finally recognized their right. The inflexible statement about the creation of six members of federation in Yemen could provoke new conflicts. The case is that the so-called “Hadi’s variant” adopted in February 2014 about six members, two of them on the South (Hadhramautand Aden) and four on the North (Al Janad, Tihamah, Azal and Saba) with a capital in Sana as a special federal district, has already caused much anxiety of the majority of the Yemeni political elites by its colossal separatist potential that can lead to the disintegration of the country into the rival fragments. But the most important thing is that this project was highly disapproved by the representatives of the South -  the Hirak. The “Hirak’s variant” renounced by Hadi supposed the creation of two iklims (regions) with wide autonomy rights in the geographic borders of The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and Yemen Arab Republic of 1990. The same variant was supported be the YSP – the third most powerful party of the country.

An open discussion could ameliorate the known beforehand position of the South on such an important issue and decrease the separatist tendencies on the South. But it is not the only issue. While in the North the critics of “Hadi’s variant” stressed the inevitable increase of “regionalisms”, the South was sure that the project aims at the further divide of the ethnical and political unity in the South, that has emerged during the existence of PDRY, in order to open doors to the splitting “Hadhramaut” project in the interests of the Saudi Arabia, that was created as far back as in the 1960-ies.

Hadi’s move to Aden, unprecedented militarist rhetoric of the number of the Embassies towards the interim government that remained in Sana, were perceived by them as a signal about the transition to the practical realization of the splitting plans.

The situation has rapidly aggravated and put the country on the verge of civil war. Besides the tribal militias (lidjan al-Shaabi) the partisans of Hirak and the structures of Al-Qaeda turned out to be ready to oppose the alliance of Houthi with Saleh. But the tribal militias mobilized in Aden by president Hadi were mainly countered not by the Houthis, but by the regular units of Yemeni army and security forces loyal to Saleh. That is why the attacks of the new presidential coalition were aimed primarly on the military camps and armament warehouses on the South that represented the key to the defensive capabilities of the country. So, the movement of the Houthis to the South, along with the military reinforcements of Saleh, probably, should not be considered as their tactical mistake. Otherwise, the chance of capturing of the arsenals by Al-Qaeda could dramatically change the distribution of forces on the South and significantly increase the risks of a sectarian massacre on the much wider scale, ruining all the hopes of the Yemeni to create a civil and just country.

Опубликовано в Tribune

In the middle of the 9th century caliph al-Mutawakkil ‘Ala ’LLah arrived at power in Baghdad. He “has ordered to stop the contemplation and discussion of the disputable issues and to follow the orthodoxy and the religious customs … to follow the rules of Sunna and the communalism” (al-Mas‘udi, “Murudj al-Dhahab…”). Al-Mutawakkil did not like the Shia (Christians and Jews as well) and the philosophic debates. However his orthodoxy did not help him to answer the questions so disquieting for the society, and did not promise anything better. Meanwhile he himself was not ready to share his power. So the numbers of the Shia began to grow all over the Islamic world. Anti-Sunni riots broke out here and there; the preachers declared themselves Mahdi’s (Messiah’s), and the new Shia states started emerging on the shards of the Caliphate until Baghdad itself was captured by the Buwayhids Shia in the middle of the 10th century.

And now the traditionalists-mutawakkils, unable to answer the questions of the society, are also opposed by the Shia and the Salaphites. They all often use the religious discourse to arrive at power, imposing a confessional paradigm of the Middle Eastern reality to the international community and to the generations of successors.

Eventually, it is much more interesting to debate about the Shia, the Sunni or the Salaphites, then to speak about the real problems of the region.

The situation developing in Yemen now is a perfect illustration for such doublespeak.

Yemen was always something between a fragile and a failed state – during the quarter of century the conflicts followed each other with small pauses, changing their configuration and participants  - the North vs the South in the 1990ies, the Houthis vs Ali Saleh in the 2000ies and the activity of Al-Qaeda and other Jihadist groups as well.

It is evident that the permanent instability has several fundamental reasons. First of all, it is a low level of social and political modernization, which in fact means the absence of the civil society, personification of the political processes and the weakness of the civic identity. The latter is replaced by the regional identity (North-South), confessional (Sunni-Shia, moderate Shafi‘i – Wahhabi, etc) and the tribal ones. Another cause is the traditional importance of violence culture in the political life of the country, which is combined with the high level of militarization of the society (according to some sources – about 65 million units of weapons per 25 million of population). Finally, the lack of the resources plays its own role, making any fighting for power the one for the access to the resources.

All this represents the system factors that are in general typical of the region, though in Yemen they are expressed in the most extreme form and are strengthened by each other.

The protests of 2011 have lead first of all to the overthrow of Ali Abdullah Saleh regime and secondly to the beginning of the National Dialogue, that took place under the aegis of the UN and which was unanimously supported by the international community.

It should be mentioned that only three formulas of National Dialogue were proposed within the process of Arab awakening – the Tunisian, the Bahraini and the Yemeni ones. The first one did not suppose an international intervention: the dialogue was controlled by the civic institutions (trade unions, League for the Defense of Human Rights, etc.) and was successful enough. The Bahraini National Dialogue was managed by the authorities and an international commission under the head of Egyptian lawyer al-Basyuni was created to put it into practice, and it has elaborated a number of recommendations for the government. Not all of them were implemented, and by the autumn 2014 the Dialogue died out, when the opposition and the authorities clinched making mutually unacceptable demands. It will probably be restarted, but it is evident that it will not happen now.

Finally, in the Yemeni case the National Dialogue is much more complex than in Tunisia and Bahrain as there was no strong civic institutions and powerful central authorities able to conduct it. So, it turned into the strengthening of the Houthi (Zaidiyyah) organization Ansar Allah that occupied in the marginal positions of the political space of the country in 2011. In 2014 the Houthis have gained several important military victories by striking Al-Qaeda and taking Sana in September.

Examining exclusively the intra political component of the current crisis, it should be analyzed as a struggle between the elite groups for the access to the resources. Confessional, tribal, regional and ideological identity of the actors is an important factor of mobilization (and sometimes of organization) of the population, but in the majority of cases it does not suppose the existential confrontation (yet). In this response it is distinctive that both Zaidiyyah and Shafi'i law is based on the doctrine of imam as-Shafi‘i, that Ali Abdullah Saleh (Zaidiyyah himself) who was fighting the Houthis during all the 2000ies, now turned out to be their Ally, and that the newest history of the country has examples of completely unexpected alliances of ideological adversaries. (For example, the Party of the Common Session in 2002 that united the Sunni Islamist Al-Islah, Yemeni Socialist Party (the South) and Al-Haqq.

The only divide line that does not allow compromise decisions is between the Sunni Salafi-Jihadistes and the Houthis. In case of prolongation of the conflict the struggle between them may spread over all the political field of the country repeating the Syrian scenario.

 The regional context makes its adjustments as well. Of course the confrontation between the Houthis and the government is not equal to the Sunni-Shia divide in the Middle East and the Saudi-Iranian struggle that is behind it.

However, recently both Saudi Arabia and Iran have been trying to grow loyal forces within the country. In this response the approach between the religious practices of the Zaidiyyah with the Imamite rituals typical of Iran should be mentioned. The spread of the Wahhabi teaching among the partisans of Al-Islah party should be also considered.

Despite all that it is evident that for the both forces their own political interests are more important than the interests of their external patrons. Indeed, treating the Houthis exclusively as Iranian agents seems unreasonable. In case of arrival at power the Houthis would have to consider Yemen’s dependence on Saudi Arabia and respect the traditions of neighbor relations. However, they would most likely attempt to diversify the external contacts of the country and probably use their connections with Iran to impose pressure on Riyadh and strengthen at least their own sovereignty if not the national one.

On the other hand the fears of Saudi Arabia that Iran attempts to create a Shia circle around the Kingdom (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen) and to use the Shia factor to destabilize the situation inside it, are also understandable and should be respected. The Houthis would play an essential role as the majority of Saudi Shia tribes are related to them.

The harsh and seemingly rather ill conceived reaction of the Kingdom to the military success of the Houthis is explained just by these fears.

The military operation in Yemen proclaimed by the Saudi has questionable legitimacy (the UN Security Council is continuously advocating the peaceful settlement) and its aims are not completely clear. Probably, the main goal is to physically eliminate the Houthi leaders, weaken the Zaidiyyah movement and then to relaunch the National Dialogue in some form. However, all the experience of the last years shows that the transition to the peaceful political transformation is extremely difficult after a military intervention that leads to the severe weakening of the government institutions (they are already fragile in Yemen), and all the more so when there is no clear project of such transformation.

In theory, if the pragmatic approaches to the situation prevail it will be possible to speak about the federalization of Yemen, let alone that federalization has become a common recipe proposed by the Western experts to the countries of the region (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen). However, taking into consideration the failed institutions of the central power, the fragmentation of the society and other factors, the federalization in fact becomes a way to divide the power between the elites (as in Iraq), and that can for sure easily lead to the destruction of the nationhood as such, and once again to the fragmentation of Yemen.

If the Houthi will see their destruction as the main goal of Saudi Arabia, it will no longer be about the struggle for power but about their survival. That can lead, firstly, to long guerilla warfare that will make the National Dialogue useless, secondly, to open involvement of Iran in the conflict, which will be forced to protect the Zaidiyyah, and, thirdly, to the Huouthi’s attempts to launch a counter attack against the Kingdom using the tribes relative to them that live on Saudi territory.

In case of the most dramatic scenario the events may provoke a direct Saudi–Iranian military conflict that can only lead to the victory of the forces close to the Islamic State.

The increase of the integration trends in the Arab world may become another consequence of the operation declared by Saudi Arabia – first of all within Gulf Cooperation Council which demonstrates its ability to resist common threats already for the second time (the first one was in Bahrain in 2011), and within the League of Arab States, which has proclaimed the creation of the common military units, as well.

The integration of such kind is frankly speaking a bit uncommon for the international community and could create a basis for the gradual stabilization of the Middle Eastern region, placing the issue of the regional system of security on the agenda – a critical issue, taking into consideration the Jihadist threat.

However, it is still too far from realization of such projects, moreover they have a number of obvious limitations. Firstly, it is the anti-Iranian vector of the cooperation. Remember, when a quarter of a century ago the regional system of security was discussed for the last time, Israel was a stumbling block and any regional interaction was senseless without it. Now Iran will become such block. Meanwhile, there is an evident threat for all the regional players – the Jihadist structures. Secondly, it is a traditional mistrust, rivalry between the Arab states and sometimes the different vectors of their interests. For example, it is difficult to imagine the exchange of intelligence data between Algeria and Morocco. Finally, it is the inequality of the players. The formula that is proposed today is based on the Saudi-Egyptian tandem – happy union of human and military potential of Egypt and the financial (and partially the ideological) one of Saudi Arabia. However, no one can guarantee that it will last long.

If to consider the current situation on the global level, the declared operation has not just become yet another evidence of weakening of the international relations institutes and of independence of local actors, that are ready to take fateful decisions without any evident support from global players. It is much more important that it has shown the unpreparedness of those so-called players to effectively influence the situation. That could pass, but there is no guarantee that the regional powers are able to resolve their problems by themselves – they have got used to relying on the world hegemons too much, and it is very unlikely that they completely realize the responsibility of the leadership.

Опубликовано в Tribune
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