Yemen campaign sparks patriotic wave in Saudi Arabia

Friday 17/04/2015
War room rising star

Riyadh - A strong sense of national pride has consumed Saudi Arabia since the start of the Yemen mili­tary campaign. In the evenings, cars and SUVs carrying the Saudi flag or posters of King Sal­man bin Abdul Aziz, with slogans like “May God grant us victory”, are everywhere on the streets of Ri­yadh and Jeddah.

Cafés, where Saudis usually con­gregate to meet friends and watch football matches, are filled with spectators fixated on the large-screen plasma TVs to hear the lat­est developments of Operation Decisive Storm. “In their homes, Saudis are watching both the pro- GCC media and the media organs af­filiated with Iran, which are mostly Lebanese-based news channels like Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV,” said Tur­ki al-Dossary, a Saudi health-care worker in the Eastern province.

Additionally, and as a conse­quence, a good number of Saudis are defending Operation Decisive Storm on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, and in many occasions the exchanges are ugly.

The Saudi official who has seen his popularity skyrocket courtesy of Decisive Storm is new defence minister and son of King Salman, Mohammed bin Salman. The king­dom’s airwaves have been domi­nated with coverage of the events in Yemen, with a significant amount of attention allocated to the new defence minister. Images of Prince Mohammed meeting with soldiers, army officers and international of­ficials have been a staple of Saudi news reports since the start of mili­tary operations in Yemen.

Moreover, the prince’s popular­ity has spread to social media, with memes of the prince, juxtaposed with the Saudi flag or Saudi sol­diers, traded by Saudi users. Fur­thermore, the hashtag “Decisive Storm” saw more than 2 million tweets on the day the operation started.

“Although the majority of Sau­dis are overwhelmingly support­ive of the operation in Yemen, I think most of them are hoping for a quick and decisive victory,” said Ahmed al-Tunisi, a Jeddah-based businessman. “Generally, people are supportive of their country, however this is a bit different for Saudi youth. The last time Saudi Arabia participated in a war was in the early ’90s and you have an en­tire generation that were too young to remember those events, or were not even born.”

Saif al-Mutairi, a 31-year-old doc­umentary filmmaker in Jeddah sees the current situation in Yemen as an international failure. “After the ‘Arab spring’ where was the inter­national community? Where were the United Nations, NATO, any­body? What’s happening in Yemen did not happen overnight and the only country that has to deal with the fallout is Saudi Arabia.”

Al-Mutairi echoed a popular sentiment among Saudis, accord­ing to whom there is no difference between the Houthis, the Islamic State (ISIS) or al-Qaeda. “They all have the same agenda, which is to destabilise the region and Saudi Arabia in particular. Many at home, in fact, view Ali Abdullah Saleh as another Saddam Hussein,” he said.

It is too early to tell what kind of economic impact the events in Yemen will have on Saudi Arabia. At the start of military operations in Yemen, oil prices, which had been steadily on the decline due to in­creased Saudi oil production, saw a 6% spike, but have since returned to their previous levels.

Furthermore, the kingdom’s stock market tumbled 5% on the first day of military operations and fell more than 4% on the morning after. But analysts quoted by the Reuters news agency say that even a drawn-out conflict will have lit­tle fundamental impact on Gulf economies if it remains confined to Yemen’s territory.

Speculating about the short- and long-term effects of the conflict on the Saudi economy, Robin Mills, an analyst at the Dubai-based Manaar Energy Consulting, told The Arab Weekly: “There are possible risks of interruption of the transit of oil and other commodities through the Bab el Mandeb, although such fears have not yet materialised. Also, there is the wider deterrent effect to foreign direct investment of a war in the region.”

Asked whether a quick and de­cisive war would be a likely best-case scenario for the Saudi econo­my, Mills said, “I am not a military expert, but a short and decisive war seems unlikely given the situ­ation in Yemen – more likely a drawn-out conflict, or a negotiated solution.”

“The Houthi situation is not new and Saudis have been worried about it for quite some time,” Mo­hammed Al-Harbi, a Saudi politi­cal scientist and commentator told The Arab Weekly.

“You have the situation on the Yemeni border, while on the Iraqi border you have a potential secu­rity problem with ISIS, courtesy of the failure of the Iraqi security ap­paratus. When you take these vari­ables into consideration, you un­derstand why Saudis consider the issue of security as paramount.”

Al-Harbi emphasised that Saudi Arabia is looking for stability and to protect its interests and that in 2009 the Houthis transgressed into Saudi territory and ambushed and killed some of its people. “That incident within itself underscores their intentions, and until to­day their own tribal leaders have trouble maintaining control over them,” he said.

“This is a war on a militia trying to take over the country on behalf of a foreign entity and a vengeful ex-dictator who cannot let go of power,” said Al-Harbi.