By: Radhwan Al-Hamdani
With the national dialogue conference on the near horizon, a question presents itself: if the conference fails to result in political and constitutional reform under an umbrella of unity and to the complete satisfaction of all of Yemen’s political forces, will the country revisit the year 1993, when participants in a discussion over unity failed to come to terms…and with disastrous results. Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh avoided implementing the terms of the treaty at hand, and military confrontation followed – otherwise known as the Summer of ’94 War.
It’s true that many circumstances separate the present from this particular stretch of the past. Yet some differences are troubling to consider when you take the state of contemporary Yemen into account. The state no longer represents the strongest party sitting at the negotiating table, which could bode well for potential military conflicts to follow – that is, if disagreements don’t explode into something more before the conference even has a chance to conclude.
Steps taken in preparation for the dialogue conference are paralleled by suspicious confederations which are presently plotting, and doing so behind the scenes. These confederations are composed of historically, ideologically and, in some cases, diametrically-opposed opponents. None have a clear national agenda to put on the table, let alone to place under an umbrella of unity.
Prior partnerships between the Houthis and Southern Movement groups – with the previous regime counted as a mutual enemy – can be justified, or at least understood. However, in the wake of Saleh’s demise and removal from office, the continuity of such tactical confederations causes worry. For most observers, seeing innocent-minded agreements at the root of such confederations could be considered nothing short of ridiculous.
At the other end of the political spectrum are the gulf initiative partners. On those partners’ shoulders fall the responsibility of locating common ground for negotiation between those parties which haven’t been included in efforts to achieve political compromise. That is, for reaching an agreement on solutions for the two most important national issues at the present time, those of the south and Saada.
Meanwhile, the ruling two parties, the General People’s Congress (GPC) and Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), are corroded by the tribal and military conflicts. Such elements have simultaneously brought to mind scenes from the past and controlled movements in the larger Yemeni political game.
The newer confederations can be seen to be applying political pressure, means which politicians often utilize to improve conditions for negotiation.
What’s taking place is not a matter of doubt for representatives of western and gulf countries, who effectively represent the guardians of the political settlement. This is almost confirmed by the many announcements released by the United Nations Security Council. These announcements have given expression to the international community’s concerns about continuous attempts to derail Yemen’s transitional phase.
Among those lurking in wait for each other in a homeland crushed by past conflicts and corrupt forces are those who have overstuffed themselves with heavy doses of dirty money and villainy. They’ve mastered the art of operating in narrow spaces and within a tribal social structure which engenders blind fanaticism. In turn, a climate arises which is amenable to fighters achieving their aims using their ideologies and age-old methods
At the top of the authority-based hierarchy is the elected president: on his shoulders falls the historical responsibility of regaining a hold on the nation-state. Those with desires for revenge and sectarian and separatist agendas could find in the collapse of the settlement process and failure for the transitional period a singular opportunity to revolt against the state and fulfill their goals.
Yesterday’s bloody confederations
It’s abundantly clear that ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh isn’t grateful towards the revolution which took him out of office… but which allowed him judicial immunity. At the same time, Saleh clearly hasn’t confessed to any of his presidency’s mistakes, from a period of rule which was guided by a tribal mentality.
That mentality produced separatist conflicts in the south; a dangerous sectarian agenda in the north; an open field for international terrorism; and a tenuous institutional structure. All of which transformed the country into a platform for the resolving of national and international issues, with a tremendous bequeathal of corruption, poverty and unemployment left behind.
From a reading and understanding of the recent political scene, including the weakness which civilian and military institutions can suffer form, the ex-president won’t refrain from taking revenge against those who revolted against him or who pushed him to the margins, leaving him to fester with his own grudges.
Even while his party maintains exclusive possession of a huge percentage of the country’s power, since he was bodily and politically burned, this power has seemed to have an absence of meaning for him. He has, then, laid bridges of confederation between himself and his Houthi opponents, supplying them with arms, information and even money. Saleh realizes that their sectarian plans can neither be integrated into the national dialogue nor bonded with moral projects resulting from comprehensive negotiations. Then there is his perseverance in efforts to sabotage the government by playing the security card, provoking media escalation and through effective support for mutiny when it’s come to decisions made by President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
That the gulf initiative doesn’t stipulate that Saleh remove himself from political involvement is considered by many to be a fatal flaw; it’s also something which Saleh is taking advantage of. This in turn led the Secretary General of the Socialist Party, Dr. Yaseen No’man, to recently warn against allowing Saleh becoming the center of gravity for forces resisting current political processes.
The Saleh situation allows it to seem like the country is in a state of constant confrontation. Saleh continues to be a source of inspiration for those seeking anarchy; furthermore, he will not hesitate to use any means at his disposal to exact revenge on his enemies, even if it means collaborating with the same people he fought six wars against – wars which transformed Saada into an open grave.
International suggestions of sanctions against those involved in hindering the course of political events in Yemen will not develop into more than warnings until the National Dialogue Conference has concluded and the first stage of military reconstruction has been undertaken.
From time to time, warnings are cautiously delivered to those who attempt to disrupt the course of the political settlement process. The identity of such figures is not generally known to the public, though some inside information suggests that they include General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar and Hameed Al-Ahmar from the Joint Meeting Parties; both figures are effectively sheltered under the revolution’s wing. Other such figures include Ali Abdullah Saleh and members of his family. In the forefront is Saleh’s son, Ahmed, the head of the Republican Guard, the former president’s nephews, and southern leadership figures who demand separation. Key among the latter is former vice president Ali Salem Al-Beidh.
After the movement which claimed to represent the south shattered into multiple groups, discord governed the actions of leaders when it came to the matter of resolving the southern issue. Yet Al-Beidh’s tendencies are the most dangerous; not because of his insistence on breaking national unity or because he states that he’s not concerned with the National Dialogue if it’s not based on a separation between north and south, but because he has hinted that he is open to armed resistance if it means an end to what he sees as ‘northern occupation’.
Such attitudes are what compel the international community to deal cautiously with particular groups and factions. There is a belief that forcing certain individuals and groups into a corner will result in unpredictable consequences.
It’s currently of the utmost importance to stop in their tracks southern leaders who persist in attempting to disrupt national unity and prevent effective participation in the National Dialogue Conference.
This confused scene provoked Mohammed Fawer from the Carnegie Institute for Peace to say, “It’s not clear how President Hadi will deal with this complicated issue [the southern issue].”
Fawer questioningly added, “Is he going to use the same methods as his predecessor, Saleh, which were based on waging a new unity war? Or will he sit down with forces in the south to form a new conception of self-rule or self-management, on the condition of preserving unity in all senses of the word? Will he tempt the southern leaders with real, large-scale development projects and widespread participation in the central government? Or is he going to leave the problems as they are and begin the dialogue and negotiations during the transitional period?
The worse Scenario
The failure of international pressures to prevent leaders from demanding separation, from persisting in their attitudes, will lead to a gloomy scenario.
The Houthis – their motives, and the possibility that they will put down their arms and become a national party after the dialogue – will be constant subjects of doubt. The situation will only be made worse by the uncertainty of the Houthis’ hidden sectarian aims. Compounding such doubts are the Houthis’ behavior patterns, which involve the use of arms in the Saada, Hajjah, Amran and Al-Jawf governorates. Also troubling are apparent agreements between Saleh’s family and the Houthis, even while they [the Houthis] were among the first to revolt and attempt to overthrow Saleh’s regime. According to current indicators, the announcement of their acceptance of the National Dialogue Conference appears to be more of a professional tactic and political maneuver than the product of a rational decision.
The Iranian’s significant financial support for the Houthis adds yet more complications to the matter. The Houthis have openly declared their enmity towards Saudi Arabia and accused it of financing Saleh’s war against them and of direct participation in air attacks against the Houthis. At the same time, if Riyadh successfully compels Sana’a to present a clear vision of how it will deal with Iranian penetration in Yemen – which basically aims for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Sana’a will receive monetary rewards in return.
The possible loss of Iran’s strategic ally in Syria will make it more persistent in its courting of Houthis in Yemen, who are based near Saudi Arabia’s southern border. Moreover, it is certain that the Houthis won’t put away their arms. The Houthis represent the possible fulfillment of the Iranian wish to reinforce control of the southern border of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This scenario, however, is precisely what Sana’a and Riyadh will not accept. Even the world’s great forces won’t allow any source of disturbance to Saudi Arabia’s oil wells.
In turn, the Yemeni government might be effectively forced into military confrontation as a result of Saudi Arabian pressure and support for the eradication of the Shiite Iranian project in Yemen, which Riyadh considers to represent one of the most significant threats to its national security.
The most troubling scenario concerns Ali Salim Al-Beidh and his relationship with, and monetary aid received from, Iran. Iranian involvement in Yemen, southern insurgency, and Houthi aims could easily place Yemen in a state of war and violence.