Who will save Yemen from its saviors? - YASIN AKTAY

Who will save Yemen from its saviors?

The war that has been going on in Yemen for three years has created one of the most serious humanitarian crisis in the history of the world. The Syrian crisis ongoing next to our borders is another comparable crisis. Out of the country’s 28 million population, 20 million people are starving right now in Yemen. Almost 2 million were forced to leave their homes, and most of them had to seek asylum in another country.

The war entered a new phase when the Houthis, with the support of Iran, entered the capital city, Sana, in 2014 and orchestrated a coup against the legitimately elected government’s leader Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. In this war, alliances were reshaped. Even this last sentence explains how things got to this point in Yemen. Because the sides have not ever been as simple in Yemen as the “Houthis backed by Iran” and “the representatives of the legitimate government backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.” This is the exact reason why the crisis in Yemen has turned into an absolute mess and millions of civilians are paying the price with their lives, exile, hunger, and misery.

For instance, the advance of the Houthis, who carried out the coup in 2014 and who didn’t have that much public support in the first place anyway, was only thanks to the support from Iran. During some occasions the Houthis were supported by the U.S. and Britain and even by an alliance which Saudi Arabia was also a part of against al-Qaeda. This support seemed to be against al-Qaeda, but the al-Qaeda threat did not require the establishment of a huge coalition and the supporting of the Iran-backed Houthis.

In fact, Saudi Arabia persuaded all the sides to form an alliance, and its primary target was al-Islah and the elements and tribes in its circles.

Even today, al-Islah is the most powerful group in the country with its social base and has started to be seen by the very same alliance as an instrument that can be used against the Houthis. However, al-Islah members are reluctant to be a part of an operation planned by an alliance and to be seen as an instrument of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which don’t trust them and see them as a constant threat. That is why al-Islah is still protecting its neutral position in the war in Yemen, although it is not so independent from it.

Saudi Arabia’s fear of al-Islah is nothing more than a traditional fear of Ikhwan. In fact, a solution that excludes al-Islah is not possible for Yemen’s future, or it has no chance to endure. Saudi Arabia’s biggest handicap is that it is focusing on a solution that would not empower al-Islah. The fact that it doesn’t try to overcome this handicap is the exact reason why people think that Saudi Arabia’s biggest profit here is in the continuation of the chaos and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Moreover, this chaos is not even related to the “creative chaos” formulated by the U.S. for its Middle East policy. This chaos only increases the poverty and weakness of Yemen, making it even poorer despite having all those rich resources.

By the way, Abdrabbuh, who has the same sensitivities regarding Saudi Arabia, was also giving warm messages to the Houthis until they proceeded to Sana and carried out a coup against him. Interestingly, Yemen’s incumbent President Ali Abdallah Saleh, who was killed by the Houthis last year, said that they are collaborating with the Houthis against the legitimate government. Thus, the Houthis came out as the luckiest side in the war in terms of the support they got and for not being dependent only on Iran.

Of course, there is a very different conjuncture today. Today, the humanitarian tragedy created by the war, as its dirty dimensions reveal every other day, is increasingly bothering the entire world. Together with the discomfort they are causing the world, both sides are facing new problems (sanctions imposed on Iran and the economic problems, Saudi Arabia’s Khashoggi case) and this makes it difficult to sustain the chaotic situation in Yemen.

Therefore, today there are objective conditions that force both sides to end the war and reach an agreement. Maybe the negotiations that started between both sides in Stockholm will not end the war that has been going for 3 years, but it may constitute a good beginning.

Subjects like the exchange of prisoners, decreasing tensions, lifting the siege around Taiz, reopening the Sana airport, the Central Bank and wages, and al-Hudaydah port are on the table. Even at this early stage, the pro-government groups are convinced that the real concern of the representative for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, who was appointed by the UN recently, is to save Houthis. One of the reasons behind this concern is the anxiety that all the conditions that are demanded in these subjects are intended to give the Houthis some leeway at a time when they feel cornered. For instance, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen wasn’t covered to this extent until the siege of al-Hudaydah; however, until the actual siege, people were experiencing problems that were just as bad. Taiz and Sana have been under a similar Houthi siege since the beginning of the war and they suffer from similar problems.

Nevertheless, Stockholm is the first step to end the war in Yemen; however the big step that needs to be taken is to conduct negotiations, not outside Yemen, but within Yemen and with its people. Without anyone mediating, both sides have to find a way to communicate with each other.

No party intervening in the crisis ever wanted anything good for Yemen. Those who try to save Yemen from the Houthis themselves set the Houthis upon Yemen. They are also the ones who drowned Yemen in the biggest humanitarian crisis in its history, in the name of saving them.

I wish they would be as eager to heal the wounds of the war as they were when they started it. The wealth the authorities of Saudi Arabia and UAE have, the dollar bills they prove they have by spending every day are enough for them to relieve the humanitarian crisis and wounds in Yemen without needing foreign help. That is why, every soul that dies in Yemen because of starvation only reveals the paradox and the iniquity of their wealth.

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