Tehran, Riyadh May Agree on Win-Win Game in Yemen

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Interview with Mohammad Saleh Sadaghian
Head of the Arab Center for Iranian Studies

Recent developments in Yemen have progressed in such a way that despite conclusion of an agreement between opposition groups and the government, Houthis and Ansarullah forces – who are affiliated to Houthi tribe – succeeded to take control of the capital. At the same time, despite all efforts made by Saudi Arabia to stop Houthis and in spite of all steps taken by Riyadh to get the United Nations Security Council adopt a resolution against them in order to give an international dimension to the situation in Yemen, the Saudi government has apparently got along with Houthis and has remained mostly silent on them. Saudi Arabia used to accuse Iran of interfering in the internal affairs of Yemen and providing support for Houthis. At the same time, it took steps to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood and affiliated groups in other countries. However, Riyadh’s position on Yemen did not prove that it is strongly against the Muslim Brotherhood gaining power in that country. Experts, nonetheless, believe that the silence of Saudi Arabia and other littoral states of the Persian Gulf over what is going on in Yemen is a sign that they actually favor the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood government and the loss of their power in Yemen. This is why Saudi officials have opted to choose Houthis over the Muslim Brotherhood. Mohammad Saleh Sadaghian, head of the Arab Center for Iran Studies, maintains that this viewpoint is wrong. However, he has mentioned two factors as the main reasons behind the current developments in Yemen. In the following interview, he argues that Houthis’ initiative to make the most of the current developments in the region as well as taking control of the capital at the best possible time are the main factors that have helped to bring the situation in Yemen to the current point. The complete text of his interview follows.

Q: The ongoing developments in Yemen, which have left hundreds of people dead and wounded, were first taken as a telltale sign that the political system in the country was moving toward a basic change. However, the developments ended in favor of the Houthis. The important points in this regard include silence of the littoral Arab states of the Persian Gulf on these developments and the type of change in the country’s political system. What has happened in Yemen to pave the way for such a change in its political system?

A: What happened in Yemen in the past week was quite natural. It was quite predictable that the Houthis and Ansarullah forces would pour into the capital city of Sana’a and take control. The main reason was incoordination in the ranks of the Yemeni government which had practically stripped the country’s President [Abd Rabbuh Manṣur Hadi] of the ability to find a solution for political and economic problems. Therefore, Houthis, Ansarullah forces as well as certain parts of the Yemeni army become coordinated and provided good grounds for taking control of the capital. In fact, the Yemeni government was forced into submission to people’s demands. This was a major movement. The viewpoint that has been raised in this regard is why Saudi Arabia, and sometimes Qatar, have been encouraging this situation? Why they even lent their support to the agreement signed between Yemeni Houthis and the country’s president and took a positive stance on it? As we know, Qatar has been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and even in Syria and Iraq. However, during past months, Doha has toned down its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. The main reason for this situation was developments in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, which collectively forced Qatar to refrain from adventurism in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, on the other side, has offered cautious support for the movement launched by Ansarullah and the Houthi group. The reasons behind this position were first, to undermine and weaken the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, and second, a consequence of the realities that Saudi Arabia observed in its southern neighbor. Saudi Arabia failed to block the popular movement launched by Ansarullah and other groups. Therefore, it had to cautiously endorse it. On the other hand, Houthis have been able to take advantage of the ongoing developments in the region. They not only took timely advantage of the situation in Yemen, but also of general political equations in the entire region. In other words, they made the most of two factors of time and place and managed to organize a successful movement.

Q: Some people believe that Iran and Saudi Arabia are heading for an understanding over how to shape a new regional system in which there would be a kind of balance of powers between the allies of these countries. To what extent this viewpoint conforms to the current developments in Yemen?

A: I think it is too early to claim that Iran and Saudi Arabia will achieve such an agreement. Of course, Mr. [Hossein] Amir-Abdollahian [Iranian deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs] paid a successful visit to Saudi Arabia quite recently, and [Iran's Foreign Minister] Mr. [Mohammad Javad] Zarif met with his Saudi counterpart [on the sidelines of the 69th annual session of the UN General Assembly] in New York. However, it is unlikely that such meetings will be so influential as to lead to a political understanding between the two countries over the situation in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has been leading political plans in Persian Gulf littoral countries, including a plan in Yemen. Although the movement launched by Yemeni Houthis has not been to the benefit of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh offered its cautious support to it. Therefore, relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have not reached a level that would help the two countries to reach such an understanding. However, their relations may help the two countries to meet their national interests in this case.

Q: Saudi Arabia has apparently preferred to get along with Iran, Hezbollah and Houthis instead of seeing continued presence and empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen. As a result, Riyadh has gone as far as allowing Houthis to proceed with their plans and even take control over Sana’a. Is this position compatible with the political reality on the ground in Yemen?

A: Saudi Arabia did not intend to play a strategic and powerful role in Yemen. Since its involvement in Yemen, Saudi Arabia insisted that the UN Security Council should adopt a resolution on the situation in the Arab country. At the same time, it sought to give an international aspect to the situation in Yemen. However, it was clear that such a turn of events would not be beneficial to Saudi Arabia, Yemen and even other littoral countries of the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia clearly understood that its plan for playing the role of a leader for Persian Gulf littoral countries could not be implemented in Yemen. On the other hand, it would be an illogical analysis to believe that Saudi Arabia is trying to use Houthis and Ansarullah as counterweight to the Muslim Brotherhood. This is true because although there are Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists present in Yemen, Houthis can still interact with all other political groups in order to pave the way for unity across the country and realization of people’s demands. Therefore, it would be logical to assume that the future outlook of Yemen will be to the benefit of Ansarullah and Houthis and to the detriment of Saudi Arabia.

Key Words: Tehran, Riyadh, Win-Win Game, Yemen, Houthis, Ansarullah Forces, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Muslim Brotherhood, Arab States, Qatar, Salafists, Sadaghian

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

*Photo Credit: The National

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