Iraq’s Lessons for Yemen

Monday, February 16, 2015

Power Sharing Sole Way for Unity, Stability in Yemen

Mohammad Mehdi Mazaheri
Faculty Member, University of Tehran

The Yemeni society is an amalgam of tribal and Islamic identities whose political and security conditions have been always under the heavy influence of regional and international developments. Under these circumstances, the Islamic Awakening and popular uprising in Yemen have led to empowerment of Islamist groups and this process has been characterized with rising rivalries and tensions among these groups. Following the latest developments in Yemen, Ansarullah revolutionaries of the Houthi movement have announced the establishment of Yemen's Revolutionary Council with Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi as its head. The Ansarullah revolutionaries have also established a Transitional National Council with 551 members, which is supposed to replace the country’s parliament. A presidential council has been also formed with five members. The council has taken control of the country’s affairs following recent resignations of Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Mahafoudh Bahah, in order to further strengthen the grip of Ansarullah revolutionaries on the country.

Despite the above developments, it seems that the Houthi movement has a long and bumpy way to go before it would be able to establish calm, stability and security across the entire Yemen. This Arab country has a very simple, yet complicated, social texture. It is simple because the dominant culture is based on tribal tendencies and requirements of tribal life. It is also complicated because this apparently simple society is marred by major rifts and fault lines which pose basic challenges to its national unity and have caused a lot of problems for those who want to rule it. These challenges and rifts emanate from two major sources: Firstly, internal sources, including tribalism, difference between political and cultural texture in north and south of the country, and the presence of Al-Qaeda.

Tribes account for 85 percent of the Yemeni population and there are 168 tribes in this country. There is also an Islamic identity element at the core of this social tribal structure. From the viewpoint of religious complexion, the majority of Yemenis, that is about 60-65 percent, is comprised of Shafi’i Sunnis and the remaining 35-40 percent is made up of Zaidi Shias. Like other Arab countries, political parties in Yemen can be divided into three Islamist, nationalist and leftist groups. On the other hand, terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda use such means as trade and marriage in order to get close to tribal chieftains and gain their allegiance. The extremist ISIS group is also present in three southern and central provinces of Yemen, which has been a factor for the intensification of rivalries between this group and Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. Therefore, like other countries in the Middle East, Yemen is a combination of tribes and groups with different political and religious tendencies and, therefore, it is a good breeding ground for the emergence and rise of terrorist groups.

The second source of problems is an external one, including interferences in this Arab country by the United States and its northern neighbor, Saudi Arabia. There is no doubt that increasing power of the Houthi Shias during the past few months, which has enabled them to take control of the capital, Sana’a, and turn into a determining force in Yemen politics, will stir great concern among regional and transregional stats, especially Saudi Arabia and the United States. To maintain the status quo in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars so far and it is unlikely to leave alone its strategic neighbor under such sensitive conditions. It should be noted that past experience in Iraq, which was plagued with problems relatively similar to those of Yemen, has shown that countries with a disparate population texture are open to foreign intervention. As a result, the sole way to establish calm and stability in such countries is to meet the rights of all groups and political tendencies and avoiding of unilateralism and monopoly on power. Given the present structure of Yemeni society, if the Houthis want to cut short the interfering hands of the United States and Saudi Arabia in their country as a prelude to the establishment of a broad-based and independent national government, they would have no choice, but to share power and accept the role of other groups in the power structure.

It goes without saying that depriving other Yemeni groups and tribes from their share of power will prompt them to get closer to extremist terrorist groups, or to join hands with countries that are opposed to Houthis. Such a turn of events will push Yemen toward a fate similar to that of Iraq. Taking into account that none of the important political players in Yemen supports division of the country or the establishment of an ISIS-style caliphate, it follows that the situation is now ripe in Yemen for the beginning of a broad-based political process and holding new elections. Achievement of this goal, however, needs empathy among domestic groups and cooperation from regional and transregional players. Such formula will pave the way for the establishment of stability in Yemen and the entire Middle East and will help to form a powerful central government in order to fight such extremist groups as ISIS.

Key Words: Yemen, Power Sharing, Unity, Stability, Iraq, ISIS, Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, Ansarullah Revolutionaries, Transitional National Council, Tribalism, Al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, The United States, Mazaheri

Source: Iran Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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