Looking for a political solution in Yemen

April 23, 2017

It has become clear that a clean military victory in Yemen will be difficult to achieve, given the difficult terrain and the nature of Yemeni society. In some regions of the country, people are probably willing to fight each other indefinitely.

Some areas in northern Yemen still do not know what a “repub­lic” is. The Imamah regime of government in Yemen formally ended on September 26, 1962, and the civil war in March 1970. However, in practice, areas such as Saada in the north-west remained outside the republic. These areas are strongholds of the Houthis, who now go by the name of Ansarullah.

Throughout Yemen’s history, there have always been areas of the country that resisted central authority. For example, between 2004 and 2010, there were six wars between the central regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis in the north. The govern­ment’s armed forces outnum­bered the Houthis and were better equipped but could not score a decisive victory.

The central government was strong and controlled almost all of Yemen except for the Houthis’ base for many complex reasons. One of these was power sharing. The Houthis took advantage of the chaotic situation in the country and conquered Sana’a on Septem­ber 21, 2014.

Given this background, what is needed in Yemen are innovative practical solutions. It must start by acknowledging that the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm achieved one of its major goals, namely to break Iran’s expansionist project in the area. Iran’s plan was to gain indirect control of Yemen and use it as a base for operations aiming at destabilising the regimes in the Gulf countries in addition to controlling the strategic Bab el Mandeb Strait.

There is probably no need to remind everyone that the Houthis did not stop at taking control of Sana’a and announcing the beginning of a new regime in Yemen with Iran’s backing and inspired by Hezbollah’s experi­ence in Lebanon. They moved southward and took Taiz and Aden. However, their plans backfired and they were driven out of Aden, Mukalla and the port city of Mocha.

The search for practical solu­tions to the crisis in Yemen must begin with liberating the useful Yemen from the presence of the Houthis, which, with al-Qaeda in Yemen, represent the biggest danger for the country and for the Gulf countries as well. There should be no room for extremists of any hue or shape along the coastal zones stretching from Hudaydah to Mukalla and includ­ing Aden with its port and airport facilities.

Consequently, the battle for the Red Sea port of Hudaydah is going to be decisive, since the Houthis smuggle their Iranian-supplied weapons and other illegal sup­plies through the port.

The change of heart in US foreign policy will help in saving Hudaydah from the talons of the Houthis. There is an increased awareness among the Americans of the dangers to the Arabian Peninsula of any Iranian presence in Yemen. If it is possible to withstand the political standstill inside Yemen, the Arab coalition forces cannot afford to let go of the coastal stretch. They must push with their operations to corner the Houthis’ forces and their allies.

Returning Yemen’s coastal stretch to the legitimate govern­ment is part of the political solution to the crisis in Yemen. The new Yemen must be built on a model of decentralised power, a far cry from the time of Ali Abdullah Saleh. Even before the former president agreed to the Gulf initiative and relinquished his position, Yemen had metamor­phosed but the transition period, which was supposed to end in February 2014, is still going on.

In a country where citizens are dying of hunger and disease, a new, practical political solution must lay the foundations for a legitimacy built on the inclusion of all Yemenis, including the Houthis but not along the lines of what is going on with Hezbollah in Lebanon as pointed out by Major-General Ahmed Amiri. He is an adviser to the Saudi Ministry of Defence and spokesman for the Arab Coalition Forces in Yemen.

The problem with Yemen’s President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi is that he does not possess any popular base in any of Yemen’s regions, so he cannot be part of a political solution for Yemen based on a wider represen­tation and participation.

There must be a redrawing of new districts based on the new realities in the country and, above all, there must be a military plan for keeping the Houthis, al-Qaeda and their allies off the coast of Yemen.