Everyone in Yemen is in a state of denial
Political deadlock prevails in Yemen and is likely to continue as none of the warring parties seem to have realised that a military solution to the conflict is virtually impossible. All previous power equations in Yemen have shifted and, what is worse, most Yemenis live in the fantasy world of old times.
Why is a political solution virtually impossible in Yemen and what makes the prevailing situation very likely to continue?
First, the Houthis do not seem to be willing to make concessions and accept that they are just one of the political forces on the scene. Houthi members apparently believe that they are the strongest and that they enjoy a revolutionary form of legitimacy in Yemen.
This kind of legitimacy, however, is pure fantasy. Starting from Saada in 2014, the Houthis expanded their control to neighbouring districts. In Amran, they kicked out the al-Ahmar clan with ease while Yemen’s interim President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi watched. From there, they marched on Sana’a and took it after defeating the Yemen Army’s Brigade 310.
The defeat of Brigade 310 was abominable for the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen. The latter had considered that unit and the 1st Brigade as symbols of their military might in Yemen. Brigadier-General Hameed al- Qushaibi, commander of Brigade 310, was loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood. He was hunted down and killed by the Houthis.
Backed by Iran, the Houthis could have accepted a settlement by surrendering control of the port of Al Hudaydah to a neutral party. That port is crucial to supplying the Houthis. They refused to give up control because they do not accept the idea that they are just one element of the political map in Yemen and that they can be represented in any future government. They apparently believe they can spread their control to other areas in Yemen despite their daily losses.
The Houthis in Sana’a are living in a fantasy reality of their own. They could not care less about Yemen or Yemenis. Their only concern is Iran’s expansionist plan. They cling to slogans such as “Death to America,” “Death to Israel,” “Damnation to the Jews.” Even Iran abandoned these slogans but the Houthis find them useful to maintain their grip on Sana’a’s inhabitants.
What is really unfortunate is that the Houthis are gaining strength in Sana’a. The counterbalancing presence in Sana’a is Ali Abdullah Saleh’s camp. He draws his strength from a network of relations with forces from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and tribal leaders. A lack of funds, however, has weakened that network.
Time is not on the side of a political settlement in Yemen, unless there is a miraculous military victory leading to the fall of Sana’a. In the immediate future, this eventuality is impossible.
The Arab coalition involved in Operation Decisive Storm said it has achieved its first objective of eliminating Iran’s expansionist scheme in the region but the situation remains complex and desperate because there are no figures with enough credibility and “legitimacy” to play a unifying role in Yemen. Southern Yemen has split and the situation in Taiz and central Yemen is stagnating.
Will Yemen remain hostage of the Houthis, a fanatical group with no political project for Yemen? Will it remain hostage of a legitimate group that can’t even protect itself in Aden? Will it remain hostage of southern leaders who do not believe in unification?
Placing Al Hudaydah port under the control of a neutral side can logically be a starting point for a more comprehensive political settlement in Yemen. Logic, however, is the missing ingredient in the Yemeni stew.
Everyone refuses to admit that the old Yemen is gone. The Houthis say they have a divine mission to go back to the era of Imamat — divine appointment — while supporters of the legitimate government say they can go back to the experiment started by Saleh that was irrevocably stopped by the Muslim Brotherhood.
There are even those who envisage a Yemeni federation of some micro states. The piece missing from the picture is a unified Yemen. Is there anyone in Yemen ready to accept reality?