Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Wed, May 11th, 2016

Blame the Huthis

A recent piece on al-Arabiya by Jamal Khashoggi is entitled “Mistakes committed in Yemen.” The title is quite apt, since indeed there have been mistakes. There have been mistakes on all sides. But this one-sided propaganda suggests that the main mistake is only that of the Huthis.

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Here is how he begins his screed:

Let us imagine that the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh are defeated and leave Sanaa. Let us imagine that a new agreement is reached between Yemeni belligerent parties, and President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his ministers return to Sanaa. By then we would be back to the starting point, when Yemen was already in the midst of turmoil caused by Saleh. However, we would not be at war.

Let us go back to May 2012 when the late Abed al-Karim al-Aryani, the Yemeni politician who headed the national dialogue committee, announced that the Houthis were accepted to participate in the committee tasked with setting up the famous roadmap that aimed to elect a new president, constitute a new parliament, pass a new constitution and build a civil state. That was the first mistake committed by Yemen and Gulf states sponsoring the initiative.

Houthis were not, and are still not, considered a political party. They did not even participate in the popular revolution that toppled Saleh because they did not believe in its goals. They wanted their own project based on a fundamentalist Zaidi legacy that Yemen had eliminated in the aftermath of the 1962 revolution.

Let us forget about imagining and look at the reality. First of all, the Huthis and Salih are not about to be defeated. The reason the talks continue in Kuwait is that it is quite clear that this coalition cannot be bombed into submission and that no Saudi-bought ground force is able to penetrate the home base of the Huthis and Salih’s troops. The war is unwinnable by either side. Second, no one in Yemen desires the return of Hadi, an inept and corrupt politician who represents the excuse for Saudi involvement but who is without any support in Yemen. Nobody left in the north wants Hadi back, nor do Ansar Shariah, nor do any of the southerners looking to secede from a unified Yemen.

We should go back to May 2012. It was hardly a mistake to include the Huthis, who represented the bulk of the population north of Sanaa, in the National Dialogue Conference. At that point there had been no violence by the Huthis against the government; all of the violence since 2004 had been directed by Salih against the Huthis in several wars. They did not intervene in the fighting in Sanaa between Salih and the al-Ahmar clan and General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar. As Hadi was announcing the agreement of the National Dialogue Conference in January 2014, a major Huthi representative to the conference was assassinated. At the time Hadi called him a martyr. In September, 2014 the Huthis were able to enter Sanaa because they promised to reform the corrupt interim government. I do not defend the Huthis actions, nor their subsequent violations of human rights, but they have grown more radical as the bombing campaign has run on. A plague on both their houses, indeed on all the forces tearing Yemen apart for personal gain.

The first mistake made by the Gulf States, who drew up the plan for the conference, had nothing to do with the Huthis, but in the earlier decision to allow Salih to remain in Yemen with immunity. The author admits this further down in his piece. This would be like the U.S. invading Iraq and then allowing Saddam to remain with immunity. The major problem is that Yemen was not allowed to work out a plan of reform on its own. The whole process was set up to benefit the Saudis and Gulf States and to alienate the Huthis. None of the Huthi leaders were calling for a return to the Zaydi Imamate, nor were they trying to make Zaydi Islam the same as the Shi’a in Iran. It is rather ironic for Wahhabi Saudi Arabia to label the Zaydis “fundamentalist,” given that the Saudi state is far more conservative. The opinion piece condemns the Hamid-al-Din Zaydi imams Yahya and Ahmad as unjust, but ignores the fact that in the 1962 revolution it was Saudi Arabia that tried to reinstate Badr, the son of Ahmad. If the Saudis could side with the Zaydis against Egypt’s Nasser, why are they so antagonistic today? The answer, of course, is that in both cases it was a proxy war, first against Nasser’s revolutionary spirit and now against Iran’s expansionist agenda.

Near the end of the op-ed, there is praise for the reform movement, i.e. Islah, which was started in Yemen as a clone of the Muslim Brotherhood by Abdullah al-Ahmar, General Ali Muhsin and Shaykh Zindani. Kashoggi asserts the importance of Islah “without which a modern Yemeni state cannot be built because it is one of the main engines for fair governance.” From the start Islah was a pawn of Salih, at least as long as Abdullah al-Ahmar was alive. Islah was able to control a number of ministerial posts and worked hand in hand with the Saudis, but their governance was anything but “fair.” The Huthis fought Islah, whose leaders are now in exile and would not find a friendly reception if they dared to return. The irony in this war is that the Saudis are now protecting Islah, despite the fact that the former Saudi monarch labeled the brotherhood a terrorist organization, and during this war they have been assisted by Ansar Shariah, another opponent of the Huthis.

Mistakes have been made and continue to be made. The best way to resolve future mistakes is to remove all foreign influence and let Yemen solve its own problems. Continuing a devastating bombing campaign that is destroying Yemen is a big mistake. All other mistakes are secondary at this point.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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