Yemen needs a project for the future built on culture of life

The Houthis have no political, economic or educational project for Yemen.
Sunday 04/03/2018
Displaced Yemeni children sit on tires at a camp in the Yemeni coastal city of Hodeidah, on February 17. (AFP)
Yearning for better days. Displaced Yemeni children sit on tires at a camp in the coastal city of Hodeidah, on February 17. (AFP)

Everybody in Yemen wants to go back to the past with one notable exception: the “legitimate” government represented by President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Hadi does not have any past to go back to, except perhaps when it comes to reviving the times of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and playing his role. Hadi needs to get over his Saleh complex and ensure Yemen’s transition to a new era and relinquish his fantasy of becoming president of a unified Yemen.

One of the major problems in Yemen is the lack of a clear project for the country’s political future. None of the power-sharing schemes, which were in place from 1962-90 and then 1990-2011 when the Muslim Brotherhood was doing its best to bring down Saleh and his heirs, has succeeded.

For all practical purposes, 2011 marked the demise of Sana’a and the central power in Yemen. Saleh’s demise was carried out in stages and culminated in his assassination last December. It would be pointless to expect Saleh’s party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), to play any significant role in Yemen’s future.

The first political stab in Saleh’s back came in 2007 at the hands of the Islamist party Al-Islah. Following the death of its founder, Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar, Al-Islah joined the Muslim Brotherhood in its struggle to wrench power from Saleh.

Taking advantage of the end of the old coalition and the instability that followed an alleged assassination attempt on Saleh by the Muslim Brotherhood in June 2011, the Houthis made a muscled entrance onto the political scene.

Despite the many mistakes Saleh has made, including helping the Houthis and hooking them up with Iran, he was the best authority on Yemeni affairs. Without him, however, the GPC is practically dead. The party has a great past but does not have a future despite its large popular base and its moderate ideology.

The Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood is in no better position than the GPC. It is part of the “legitimacy” coalition but is much divided. Some Brotherhood members have rallied the Houthis and are undoubtedly nostalgic of the days when they were blackmailing Saleh. They shared power and fortune because many lucrative projects in telecommunications, oil and fishing went to some of their leadership.

Abdelmalik al-Houthi also wants to go back to the old days — to the old days of the Imamat. Immediately after seizing Sana’a, he announced the birth of a new “legitimacy” in Yemen, that of the “revolutionary legitimacy.” On September 26, 1962, a revolution and a military coup put an end to the Imamat era in Yemen and the Houthi revolution of September 2014 put an end to that revolution.

What Yemen needs is a political project synced first and foremost with the culture of life and not the culture of death imported from Iran. The Houthis should forget about reviving the Imamat era because they have no political, economic or educational project for Yemen. Their only project is to be part of Iran’s expansionist plan in the Arabian Peninsula.

Southern Yemen is also dreaming of the old days, the pre-unification days, that is. It’s a legitimate dream except that experience has shown that South Yemen cannot stand as an independent state.

The big question is: Can the “legitimate” government offer a project for Yemen’s future? It has no past to hark back to unless there is someone dreaming about being another Saleh. It’s best to forget that dream.

In its struggle for self-defence, the Arab coalition involved in Yemen might need the “legitimacy” front in Yemen. That should not prevent this “legitimacy” front from reforming itself and formulating a project for Yemen that goes beyond just fighting disease, hunger and poverty.

It should be a project that takes into consideration the fact that Yemen is part of a regional security system that extends from the Arabian Gulf to the Horn of Africa. This is the reality that must be internalised by the “legitimacy” front that seems to be preoccupied by deciding who should be in charge of the duty-free zone in Aden’s airport.

It is time for Yemen to move past the psychological block of a unified Yemen. It is time to start thinking of a Yemen that represents a strategic security zone that shares borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman and whose southern coast extends from the Arabian Gulf to the Red Sea. Smack in the middle of this coast, the Bab el Mandeb Strait is crucial to navigation in the Suez Canal.

Is there a “legitimacy” in Yemen capable of shaping a vision for the future of Yemen?