The Tragic state of a Great Nation
By Tamara Khamis
Once known as the Arabia Felix, Yemen has now been reduced to a place of regional armed conflict, rebel fighting and destruction. The relatively vibrant life that once filled the streets of the capital has been replaced with fear, violence and an eerie silence.
The prolonged conflict has taken its toll on the Yemeni population and has resulted in a tragic humanitarian crisis that seems to be getting very little attention in the global mainstream media. Many who have been displaced await the worst of news,watching familiar streets and cities that they once called home shattered, as the country’s main cities have been subjected to ground attacks by Houthi and Saleh rebels countered by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.
These continuous attacks have brought a struggling country down to its knees and has made its recovery from the brutal and corrupt 33-year long rule of ex-President Ali Abdulla Saleh unattainable (at least in the near future).
To say that the war in Yemen started long before the coalition’s intervention is an understatement. The nation had been in a constant war on multiple frontiers for the better part of the last two decades. The Houthis in addition to Al Qaeda and the Southern separatist movement have all been part of a power struggle that was countered by the dysfunctional Saleh government and parliament.
Enter the Arab Spring.
The post 2011-revolution transitional government has been unable to lead Yemen out of its dire situation despite a National Dialogue process that was designed and supported by the GCC countries to stabilize the country. This failure can be attributed to many reasons but the most prominent of which is the persistent and destructive presence of the ousted President Saleh, and his unexpected alliance with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Despite the damage that the Saudi-led coalition has caused to the military and civilian infrastructure of Yemen, it is crucial to understand its necessity. And as we have already surpassed the 200-day mark of the start of the armed conflict, we are seeing an increase in the number of critics of the coalition day by day.
The necessity of such a military force was politically crucial in protecting the interest of the GCC countries from the increasing regional threat of Iranian intervention. Iran has not only influenced Houthi rebels through its infiltration of ideology and sectarian beliefs, but has provided full military, financial and logistic support as well. This demonstrates Iran’s growing and fervent aims to grow its influence in the Middle East and undermine local and regional powers.
From the GCC’s perspective, Iran is a regional threat and Yemen is perceived to be their gateway into the Middle East. While the coalition has deployed a very effective strategy through its air force, it clearly lacks the logistical and military power on the ground that has caused its inability to end the conflict in a decisive manner.
Consequently, the prolonged conflict is the primary reason for the turning of the Yemeni public opinion against the coalition. This, coupled with a few intelligence failures that resulted in missing targets and civilian deaths, has made the Saudi intervention very unpopular in the court of public opinion in Yemen.
The ultimate fear is that this armed conflict, has caused irreversible destruction to Yemen and its people. With an increasing number of deaths and displaced persons, the country is falling deeper into a humanitarian crisis that needs immediate attention.
The events in Yemen are a mere reflection of the lack of uniformity and stability in the Middle East. The varying sides, which have recently overlapped in terms of ideology, weaponry, and leadership, show the myriad of factions within the Arab nations.
The persistent presence of ousted President Saleh and his manipulative power games have prevented Yemen from transitioning to a better future. The history between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government dates back to six devastating wars led by ousted President Saleh. The change of events and alliances are a reflection of the devastation and fracture of power within Yemen.
In attempts to regain power, President Saleh has now joined forces with (his old enemies) the Houthi rebels causing further societal disruption. Houthi rebels took advantage of the power vacuum, resulting from the lack of government and centralization of power. Saleh’s government did not allow new individuals to politically rise within the government. The control of media and restrictive policy, as well as the incessant corruption deterred Yemeni’s youth from remaining in Yemen and actively participating in Yemeni politics.
Yemen is not just another Middle Eastern country in conflict; it continues to possess a geostrategic location which determines the security and economy of the whole region. Located on the south-western tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen’s ports and control of the Strait of Mandeb remains to be an important naval and commercial link.
Young Yemenis are carefully anticipating a resolution to occur soon. Yemeni youth across the world are more aware of the politics taking place in Yemen and through humanitarian aid, and charity work are raising awareness to educate people about the situation.
The current Saudi-led coalition needs to end this conflict in a decisive and swift manner and begin rebuilding Yemen to restore its place as a historic and cultural hub of the Arab Peninsula. There are only national losses today. Change and reform has taken place, it is now time for the military parades to end and a new era of nation-building and reconstruction to take its course. The situation in Yemen is not a question of whether things are going to get better, but it is a question of when.