The poorest and most restive country in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, is no stranger to violence and bloodshed. With so many factions aiming to assert and impose their political, tribal or religious will over that of others, Yemen has witnessed unprecedented upheaval, chaos and mayhem since 2011, when the Islamic Awakening movement shook former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime to its very core.
Until 2011 Yemen was a two-family country: Saleh and Al Ahmar. When President Saleh first rose to the presidency in 1978, and it became clear that he would not, like so many of his predecessors, allow dissent to shatter his house, Saudi Arabia had to create a counter-balance to his ever growing power. If anything needs to be understood of Yemen-Saudi Arabia dysfunctional friendship, is that the Kingdom can only truly feel secure with Yemen in a state of manageable chaos and poverty.
The most populous country in the Peninsula and a professional army which counts within its ranks tens of thousands of men, Yemen could, if allowed, become a regional super-power, notwithstanding its vast untapped and under-exploited natural resources. A country of great riches and geo-political importance, Yemen would eventually come to challenge Saudi Arabia, if let to flourish; a threat Al Saud will never tolerate.
Ever since the fall of Yemen’s Imam Muhammad al-Badr in 1962, Saudi Arabia has worked to weaken and impoverished the country with such a passion that it literally brought a once pride and rich nation to the brink of oblivion.
Privy to Yemen’s tribal make-up and tribal leaders’ ambitions, Al-Saud turned to Al-Ahmar clan in the 1990s to act a buffer to then-President Saleh’s growing claims over a newly united Yemen – in 1990, North and South Yemen came together to form the Republic of Yemen.
In direct response to Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC), Al Saud helped late Sheikh Abdullah Hussein Al Ahmar found a political faction which would act as its rival and political contender: Al Islah party, a radical faction. Al Islah is the exact mirror image of the GPC. Where the GPC is republican in its principles, Al Islah set its foundations on radicalism, where the GPC aimed to promote nationalism, Al Islah chose tribalism. On polar opposite of the political spectrum, Al Islah became the GPC antithesis, Salehs’ political nemesis.
Three decades later, as Yemen stands to make a fresh start, Saudi Arabia is working hard to contain rising local powers and political factions so as to remain in control of the impoverished nation’s future.The Houthis, a group organized under Sheikh Abdel Malek leadership, represents today a direct threat to Saudi Arabia and its empire. Intent on reclaiming control over their destiny following decades of repression and sectarian-motivated oppression, the Houthis have since 2011 successfully transitioned from a small para-military group based in the northern province of Sa’ada into to a powerful and popular political faction – under the new denomination Ansar Allah.
Unlike other political factions in Yemen, Ansar Allah has resonated strongly with Yemenis as it offers a real alternative to the country’s old political guard. It is Ansar Allah’s attractiveness which deeply troubles Saudi Arabia and its cohorts of ultra-orthodox. Should Yemenis be allowed to experience political pluralism, away from a controlled environment that is – unlike other parties, Ansar Allah never fell under Al Saud’s financial and ideological control, something the Kingdom has felt most uneasy about – Yemen would be lost to Riyadh.
Unable to buy out Ansar Allah, Saudi Arabia chose therefore to enrol its Salafis in a covert war, with one aim in mind: use sectarianism to lay waste to Yemen’s real chance at political pluralism and national cohesion.
Moreover, beyond the immediate political challenges the Houthis represent for Saudi Arabia, the group’s regional strongholds sit directly over territories rich with untapped oil resources. Should the Houthis be given the opportunity to exploit such vast wealth, Saudi Arabia would lose its position as Yemen’s main financial patron.
When covering clashes between Houthi militants and Salafis, most media have failed to grasp the real endgame of Saudi Arabia’s covert war in Yemen.
Using the same tactics as in Syria, Bahrain and Lebanon, Al Saud has allowed its Takfiri legions to spread unrest as to further its own agenda and ambitions in the region. Last week Riyadh went one step further in its attack against Ansar Allah by directly targeting its political leaders.Last Tuesday, Ahmad Sharafeddin, a Houthi NDC (National Dialogue Conference) representative and former dean at the law faculty at Sana’a University was gunned down by armed militants in the heart of the capital.
Sources close to the matter have alleged that Saudi Arabia orchestrated the attack, as a warning to the Houthi leadership.
Bearing in mind that the Houthis have recently scored a major victory against Yemen Salafis by reclaiming control over the northern city of Dammaj, where the Salafis ran their main religious centre, Dar Al Hadith, such claim would fit within Al Saud retaliation Modus Operandi.
Sharafeddin’s assassination hit a nerve with the public, prompting supporters of the Houthi movement to take to the street and denounce Saudi Arabia political mind games.
Saudi Arabia’s heavy-handed policy in Yemen has left visible trenches; moreover, its open support for the radical ultra-orthodox and its ever more disturbing apparent patronage of al-Qaeda has worked to establish a link in between radical factions and terror militants, thus putting Riyadh’s policy and real intentions in the region under a new troubling light.
At a time when Yemen is preparing to draft its new constitution, as to assert its democratic future and seal its people’s call for change, Saudi Arabia races to eliminate contenders to its authority and control.
Regardless of one’s political affiliations or religious beliefs, allowing sectarianism to define a people would simply deny that people all hopes for social justice and thus perpetuate injustice and tyranny.