Arabian Peninsula: The Other Dimensions Of Conflict In Yemen
Arabian Peninsula: The Other Dimensions Of Conflict In
Nayyar N Khan
The present day conflict in Yemen has taken the lives of thousands of unarmed civilians including women, children and elderly. Loss of property, food insecurity, shortages of livelihood are deepening the humanitarian crisis among the growing fears The political instability in Yemen is very much rooted into and blended with the traditional tribal cum political history of Arabian Peninsula. Authoritarian rule in the entire Middle East (except few countries) has been one of the major sources of political crisis of the region and Yemen is not an exception in this regard. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always been backing and supporting the unpopular regimes and dictators in Yemen for decades to safeguard her own geography from any political activism against the Saudi Royal Family. The roots of the crisis in Yemen can be traced down the rocky roads of historical developments in the region. During the peak of Cold War when the entire world was divided into two camps with both Soviet Union and United States leading their respective Communist/Socialist and Capitalist camps. This Cold-War rivalry also impacted the political and administrative trends of the Arabian Peninsula. In the beginning of 1960,s in the greater Middle East and Arab World Soviet camp was regionally headed by Egypt (Gamal Abdel Nasser) advocating a pan-Arab socialist ideology with democratic processes, while the other led by Saudi Arabia, represented the more Western-oriented yet conservative and authoritarian regimes. The civil war in Yemen (1962-1967) played a critical role in shaping the dimensions of conflict in the country and also impacted the entire region. It started after a popular uprising followed by a military coup that overthrew the theocratic Zaydi Imamate regime. The coup was supported by Egypt both politically and militarily. During this civil war after the coup d'état in Yemen the revolutionary republicans were supported by Egypt and the Royalists were supported by Saudi Arabia, thus making Yemen a battle ground for proxy interests.
Although the recent uprising an counter strategies to combat it have their roots in the past but it is not beyond doubt to state that the 2008 global financial meltdown, the after-shocks following the leakage of secret documents made public by wiki-leaks exposing the wrongdoings and corruption of ruling elites in Middle East in 2010 that gave birth to the brand names of Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia in 2011 followed by “Arabian Spring” in many countries of Arab Peninsula fueled the conflict in Yemen as well . While looking at the chronology and timeline of historical events shaping the dimensions of conflict in Yemen very interesting contrast arises by looking at the Saudi Arabia’s role over the years. In 1962, the Saudis intervened after the ousted Zaydi Imam Badr, who fled to the Kingdom and asked for support and intervention in Yemen.
During the recent crisis Saudi actions came after a call for intervention by the resigned President Mansour Hadi, who fled his country after a popular resistance from the Zaydi militias. In 1962, Saudi Arabia intervened to protect an authoritarian regime led by Zaydi tribe ignoring that they were Shias at that time too and today in 2015 the same Zaydi tribe is targeted by the Saudi led coalition (Sunnis) for the reason of being Shia in the region.
A very interesting political question of the present day intervention of Saudi Arabia in Yemen with the massive air strikes is whether the resigned/ousted president is legitimate or not to ask for military help? He certainly lost much of his credibility in Yemen a long time ago amid rising popular resistance, then how his request became a legitimate one in the eyes of Saudi Arabia?
Both Sunnis and Shias have a history of resentments against each other in the region but despite the importance of the Sunni-Shia factor, it should not be considered the only catalyst to the present day conflict. This stereotypical and hypothetical claim drains down when we look at the changing dimensions of the conflict. In the 1962 civil war, Saudi Arabia sided with the Zaydi Royalists. The Houthis rebellions of today’s Yemen are the grandsons of the same Yemeni Royalists of the 1960s!
Similarly, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 30 years and was considered to be a very close friend and associate of Saudi Arabia, also belongs to Zaydi, albeit from a different tribal branch. So it is clear, that when it comes to making alliances and waging wars, Saudi Arabia is capable of transcending and flip-flapping these sectarian differences. The “political economy” of the conflict and internal crisis within the regime administration for the key designations is also one of the important variable.
Looking at the dynamics of conflict in historical context only the main parties to the conflict have changed while the major factors remain the same. In 1960’s the proxies were Egypt and Saudi Arabia as Saudi Arabia was protecting the geo-political and strategic backyard from Egyptian influence and today she is doing the same against the growing influence of Iran in the region. The timeline of the events further validates the argument as it all happened during the concluding phase of successful negotiations between Iran and the six powerful nations of the world to solve the nuclear issues and lifting the trade and financial embargo. The expanding political influence of Iran in the gulf and Arabian Peninsula (Iraq, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen) was perceived as a direct challenge to the Royalists interests of the Royal family of Saudi Arabia and it took the ultimate step to stop the wave in its backyard.
Internal crisis among the Saudi Royal family both in 1960s and 2015 also have a linked resemblance. In 1960s the ruling king Saud was losing the control due to his failed foreign policy and incompetent internal politics and finally was deposed in 1964. In 2015 Royal family is facing the same power crisis which can be seen in abrupt reshuffling of the cabinet one after another in the key sectors.
What will be the possible outcome of these air strikes amid growing crisis within the struggling Saudi Royal family to strengthen the power issues? Whether a tactical step to calm down the resentments in Riyadh or it is a wrong decision of an inexperienced administration to flex their war muscles over one of the poorest nations in the Middle East. The coming weeks will definitely answer the political question surrounding the motives of Saudi intervention. The only difference is that in 1960s Egypt swiftly deployed the troops to side with the warriors and posed a direct threat to Saudi Arabia while in 2015 Iran physically has not stepped into Yemen yet. However, in 1960s United States regional policy was very much defined due to cold war and it sided with Saudi Arabia against Egypt for being an ally of Soviet Union. In 2015 the regional policy of the United States has slightly changed after the successful negotiations with Iran over nuclear issues.
Among uncertain state of affairs these are the innocent civilians who are the ultimate victims. The spectrum of conflict is expanding with every passing day with apparently no desires and steps taken to limit the violence and air-strikes. Only a pluralistic and comprehensive approach can guarantee the protection of life, honor and property in the conflict zone for a stable political solution. Otherwise, flames of war will be posing a continuous threat to the stakeholders and entire region.
(Writer is a U.S. based political analyst, human rights activist and a freelance journalist. His area of expertise is International Peace and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at email@example.com)