Regional Players and Yemen Crisis: Is Yemen Moving toward Disintegration?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hassan Ahmadian
PhD, Senior Researcher; IRI Expediency Council’s Center for Strategic Research (CSR)

Four years have passed since the Yemeni people overthrew the country’s former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in a popular revolution. Now, after the lapse of these years, the primary ambitions and ideals of the revolution have given way to real priorities. At present, the Yemeni people have a good grasp of the priority that should be given to security as a prelude to realization of political and economic development of their country. If we wanted to bring an example for a non-violent regime change in the 21st century, Yemen would be a prominent example. Figures show that on average, one third of Yemeni people own a firearm. However, the government’s crackdown by killing of people did not amount to violent measures by the opposition. Due to the lack of violence in Yemen, the country opted for national dialogue. All parties involved in the country’s political developments entered that dialogue with the goal of delineating future outlook of Yemen’s political system and revising the social contract that has been in place in Yemeni society for a long time. The output of that dialogue, however, was not desirable for all parties.

However, engaging in dialogue, by itself, was a prominent sign of the determination of the Yemeni people to continue on the path that denounced violence. Therefore, the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] came up with an initiative which urged all involved parties to continue negotiations on the national level. However, there was a great difference between delineating the future outlook of Yemen and shaping the country’s future. Just as it transpired that national dialogue does not reflect the true influence of all players active in Yemen’s developments, the Houthi movement and some other political currents that were discontent with the (P)GCC initiative, decided to leave the talks. The reasons behind this move were inattention to demands put forth by these groups during the talks, the slaying of Houthis’ representatives in the national talks, and a plan for the federalization of the country, which was at odds with the will and interests of political players that had neither resorted to violence by that time, nor were willing to do so.

If we look at Yemen’s developments as a process, we will see that national dialogue was made possible only after Saleh was deposed from power. As a result, those political players that had been previously marginalized, like the Houthi movement, entered national dialogue and became part of this process in the hope of creating real change in the country through negotiations. However, the assassination of two representatives that Houthis sent to the national talks and inattention to their demands, finally prompted this group to find other alternatives to the dialogue. This is exactly where the problem began. National dialogue could not have a loser. Having a loser at this level of talks, would have automatically meant the failure of the national dialogue. Therefore, those players that were losers of the talks, should have either conceded to the results, or found alternative solutions. The problem, therefore, was not simply related to being discontent with the results of the talks. Inattention to the power and influence of the Houthi movement in the political arena of Yemen following overthrow of Saleh, was among those factors that encouraged this movement to quit the negotiations.

Another point is that the political scene of Yemen is currently open to all players. Therefore, almost all regional and international players have been trying to usher conditions in this country in a direction that would be most suitable for their interests by influencing the array of domestic forces. The important point, however, is that domestic players are actually the main players that shape the country’s developments and determine their general direction. In fact, anytime that regional players have tried to impose their plans on domestic players, unrest and instability has spread in Yemen. In the meantime, accusing Iran or other regional players with interfering in domestic developments in Yemen, only proves that these players have priorities and allies in Yemen. However, it can by no means be taken as proof that domestic players are being guided by foreign ones.

Another point which should be taking into account here is that the role played by regional players in Yemeni politics has entered a new phase after the country’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi left the capital city of Sana’a for the southern port city of Aden. In this phase, nobody can claim that it is simply cooperating with domestic players in Yemen. In fact, the (P)GCC has not been an impartial player in Yemen since it offered its famous initiative. However, due to cooperation among domestic players, the partial role played by the (P)GCC failed to prevent the national dialogue from moving ahead. Now, in the new phase of political developments in Yemen and with Hadi taking position in Aden, partialities have become more evident. Although some countries have moved their embassies from Sana’a to Aden on ground of supporting the “legal legitimacy” of Hadi, their move is apparently aimed at disintegration of Yemen. Member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council are well aware that obstructing the path to reconciliation in Yemen, would mean that the lines drawn between northern and southern provinces of Yemen will most probably turn into future international borders. This is why transferring embassies to Aden cannot be construed as a measure aimed to promote domestic reconciliation in Yemen, but is more to the benefit of those currents that seek division of the country.

Now, the options available to Yemen are difficult, while continuation of the status quo is not to the benefit of any political current in the country either. If regional players really seek continuation of the unity of Yemen, the only way ahead is to achieve a minimum degree of reconciliation to get the president back to Sana’a and reduce domestic tension. The main point here is that a reconciliation in this country should be Yemeni in nature because any role played by non-Yemeni players will only make the situation in this country more complicated. In other words, any political initiative in Yemen should be only offered by domestic players. Playing any role by regional players will only intensify tension and spread unrest in this Arab country. Therefore, maybe it would be the best for the country’s reconciliation process to move ahead under the oversight of the UN special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, because this would be much better than imposing approaches pursued by regional countries on domestic currents in Yemen.

The important point about developments in recent years that can serve as a guiding light for future Yemen is that increasing intervention in internal affairs of Yemen by the neighboring countries has been invariably accompanied with a parallel rise in domestic unrest. This pattern was quite evident when the (P)GCC offered its initiative, which finally led to the abortion of the national dialogue and withdrawal of such groups as the Houthi movement from that dialogue. Under new conditions, member states of the (P)GCC and some other countries have started certain moves which easily amount to intervention in domestic affairs of Yemen. Transferring embassies to Aden was an example of such moves. These measures will certainly have more widespread reverberations now than any time in the past. Such measures may even led to the division of Yemen. Those countries that are currently transferring their embassies to Aden cannot claim that they support legitimacy of government in Yemen. This is true because the choice of a capital is not a decision for the president, nor other countries, and can play no positive role in restoring stability and security to this Arab nation. If such an approach continues, the only possible result will be practical division of Yemen into southern and northern parts. It seems that Saudi Arabia and its allies have decided that disintegration of Yemen is a better option than a united Yemen in which Houthis will have a big share of the political power. This, however, would be the worst possible scenario for the Yemeni nation.

Key Words: Yemen Crisis, Disintegration, Regional Players, (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, Political Currents, National Dialogue, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, Domestic Reconciliation, Houthis, Ahmadian

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*Photo Credit: NBC News

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