Monday, February 9, 2015

Yemen, The Land of Maze Runners !

Ehab El Sheemy

In the Arab World, everyone remembers a hilarious scene in one of the Egyptian comedy plays back in the 1950s, where an idiot merchant questions the rotation of the earth and how this could result into sleeping in a place, and waking up in another.

This exactly what describes the Yemeni political scene on the day of the Fall of Sana’a, when the Yemenis slept their night believing that their mighty city is the Yemen’s invincible fortress with tens of thousands of soldiers all over the city, and woke up the next day to find out that the army simply vanished, and that the city is occupied and controlled by thousands of the Houthi Militias!

And as it gets very complicated to the Yemenis to understand what really happened that night, it is even harder for other observers to find their way as they run through the “Yemeni Maze” that is full of exhausting twists and sharp turns.

To get the scene much easier to understand, an observer has to use the theory of what I call “The Football League Politics” where different teams struggle their way to the top of the ranking table using all the available resources, sponsors, skilled players, “freebies” to compromise the referee’s integrity, and even offering support to other competitors to stop the progress of another that may represent direct and present threat.

The Yemeni Football League teams could be listed as follows:

First Team, “The General People’s Congress”, a team with only the former ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh as a single player occupying all positions on the pitch between 1978 and 2011.

Second Team, The Sunni “Muslim Brotherhood” represented by their political arm “The Yemeni Congregation for Reform”, or what is frequently called “Al Islah Party” that was founded back in 1990 by the tribal sheikh Abdullah Al Ahmar using the resources and calibers of the “Islamic Front Militia” that emerged in 1979. Salafi and Wahabi leaders are amongst the top officials of the party such as the former defense minister Ali Al Ahmar, and Sheikh Abdul Majeed Al Zindany.

Third Team, The “Houthi Rebels”, represented by “Partisans of God Movement“ (Ansar Allah) under the leadership of its founder Hussien Al Houthi and his brothers Abdul Malik Al Houthi and Yahia Al Houthi who were operating in North Yemen since 1992, and claimed the inheritance of the “Imams of Yemen”, Zaidi Shias who established a blend of religious and secular rule in parts of Yemen from 897 A.D until the republican revolution in 1962.

Fourth Team, “Al Qaeda”, operating in Yemen since 1998

Fifth Team, “The Southern Separatist Movement” (Al Hirak), a popular movement active in the former South Yemen since 2007, which demands secession from the Republic of Yemen.

Overviewing the political ideologies and religious beliefs of the five teams, and the geographic location of Yemen, an observer can easily define the regional official sponsors of the league teams, and which are Saudi Arabia as the big brother in the north and the guardian of the Sunni Islam in the Persian Gulf, and Iran as the defender of Shia Islam and the sponsor of its extension all over the world.

The roots of the league competition go back to 1962 after the fall of the “Kingdom of the Imams of Yemen” in North Yemen, and the establishment of the republican rule with the support of the regime of the “Free Officers” in Egypt that was greatly opposed by the “Saudi Monarchy” at that time.

After a series of military coups and assassinations, Ali Saleh claimed power to himself in North Yemen in 1978.

To secure his regional position and gain the support of the United States and the Saudis, Saleh joined the Islamic Front Militia in the war against the “Yemeni Socialist Party”, communist rulers of the South Yemen. This alliance enabled Saleh to secure funds and weapon supplies from the Saudis through Ali Al Ahmar, their man in Yemen, as well as receiving political and logistic support from the United States to stop the southern communist threat.

In 1982, and to secure the home front, Saleh invited tribal sheikhs, leading political figures, and elite social family members to join the newly established General People’s Congress to be the main regime pillar, and his strong line of defense against those who still have the dreams of power.

Following the great fall of the Soviet Union, the rule of the Yemeni Socialist Party was rapidly falling apart in South Yemen. The leaders of the south reluctantly agreed to sign the Yemeni Unification Declaration in May 1990 allowing Saleh to be the lone leader of Yemen. The Vice President position was granted to Ali Salem, the southern president, as a payoff.

In the very same year, Al Ahmar and Al Zindany decided to establish Al Islah Party to be the interface of the Islamic Front Militia in the new political scene setup, and to give a more acceptable democratic image for Saleh’s regime through playing the role of the moderate opposition in the parliament.

In return, Saleh dedicated all National Security and Defense Issues to Al Ahmar, while Al Zindany was awarded a free hand in all matters related to education strategies and religious institutes, exactly what he needed to secure an absolute dominance for the Wahabi Teachings in Yemen, and especially in the hearts of the Zaidi Shia major cities.

The alliance of Saleh and Al Ahmar, lack of development in the southern territories compared to what the north received, and the disregard of Ali Salem’s grievances were the matches that ignited the flames of the 1994 Civil War, and which resulted in the defeat of the southern armed forces and the flight into exile of many Yemeni Socialist Party leaders and other southern secessionists.

These events resulted into the declaration of The Southern Separatist Movement” (Al Hirak) that called not only for equality with the North, but for a full secession.

Meanwhile up north, and in denial for the alliance of Saleh and Al Ahmar and the discrimination between Sunni and Zaidi Yemenis, Zaidis founded the “Partisans of God“, a rebel movement widely known as “Houthi Rebels” after its founder Hussien Al Houthi and his two brothers.

In 2004, the war waged between the two parties and Hussien was killed leaving the leadership to his younger brother Abdul Malik Al Houthi.

Al Houthi fought five wars against the Yemeni Armed Forces. In 2009 his forces crossed the borders into Saudi Arabia and were confronted by 2 days of a heavy air strike from the Royal Saudi Air Force.

The Saudis and Saleh claimed that Al Houthi is seeking the revival of a Shi'ite Imam State in North Yemen with the support of Iran, which the man denied at that time.

In the middle of the chaos, Al Qaeda seized the golden opportunity to extend its operations in the southern areas of the Arab Peninsula. Being an ally of the Saudi Regime, Saleh was the optimum target for Bin Laden’s warriors.

The Yemeni Armed Forces were already exhausted as they fight on two fronts against the Houthis and the South, and which allowed Al Qaeda to execute several operations that started with kidnapping western citizens, and gradually escalated until the bombing of destroyer USS Cole in Aden killing 17 US Navy soldiers and injuring 39 others in 2000. Following that incident, and under the vague umbrella of the “War on Terrorism”, The United States poured more military aid and funds to Saleh to fight Al Qaeda which decreased Saleh’s popularity to the minimum after UAV air strikes killed both Terrorists and Yemeni civilians, and which continued during the term of the recently resigned president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hady.

The Last Chapter takes place after 2011 Revolution, when the Muslim Brotherhood finally got the opportunity to stop playing the servant’s role, and to seek the master’s.  Al Islah Party abandoned the historical alliance with Saleh, and Al Ahmar joined the Houthis and the South demands for Saleh to step down.

To complete the plan, Muslim Brotherhood poured thousands of their youth and iconic figures into the squares of revolution to dominate the scene, and direct the demands of the Yemeni People towards the Muslim Brotherhood interests, but with a careful balance that would maintain their areas of influence with the old regime if things went unexpectedly wrong.

But, and In spite of all the distracts and conflicts that the Yemeni Army was occupied with, The Houthis would have never made it on that particular night of the fall of Sana’a unless they were provided with information and logistic support from an ally who knows well the corridors of power inside the Yemeni Army and the plans of action and deployments of the Republican Guards. This ally is no one but Saleh himself! who decided to join the alliance with Al Houthi and Iran to get revenge on the Saudis,  The Muslim Brotherhood ,  Al Ahmar, and Hadi, even if this would also destroy Yemen itself, and the Yemeni People dream of a better future, and which is rapidly getting beyond any effort to find it inside the big Yemeni Maze.