Yemen: Escalation of War and Conflict Managed On the Cheap

An interview for Al-wada radio, by Nahlah al-Shahal with the researcher Farea Al-Muslimi, the writer in Assafir Arabi, and co-founder of the “Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies.” Conducted in October 7, 2016, and published in Assafir Arabi in three parts, here is the complete interview Transcript..

The war stretched and led to disasters without any signs of ending, which may involve potential risks of turning the country into ruin: the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) was relocated from Sana’a to Aden, and all negotiation efforts to reach a solution for the severe situation in the country was obstructed..what is the deal with the CBY in Sana’a?

The CBY was relocated after almost 20 months of the Saudi intervention in Yemen, and two years after the prior Houthis coup..Many local and regional parties think that the CBY was the most effective weapon to dismember the Houthis, this view is shared with the Hadi government in exile and some regional forces on his side. This step, in the broader sense, will scorch Yemen, and its impact is more harmful on Yemenis’ lives than it can ever be on the Houthis and Saleh. Because the move dismembers Yemen and the Yemenis, not the Houthis. First, it is true that the Houthis can only acquire a small asset, but they broadly have an enormous amount of resources outside the CBY, which can be clipped without any direct harm to Yemenis. Second, even the black market, where the Houthis make tens of millions of dollars, can be dealt with instead of the CBY. In other words, the CBY was the last institute which links Sana’a and Aden during the two years of war (Though there was a problem with Mareb not transferring to the CBY and therefore not receiving its entitlements).

As for other governorates, this institute has remained the last live-line and last manuscript for the Yemen Republic. Its dismantling is basically the beginning of the country’s collapse and disunion. Third, circumstances and governmental capacity was, and still is, unable to manage it. After a year from liberating Aden, and while the president is abroad, if Aden was ready to receive the bank, then first let the president and the government permanently go there. In addition to all of that, about 21 million Yemenis are in urgent need for humanitarian aid..there has been breaking of international trust with the only financial institute in Yemen. The Lebanese fought for 15 years, yet the financial institute was not touched. However, the bank’s move will result in extending the war, and it is an ill-advised move, especially if we compare between the current and the previous leaderships of the bank, which was characterized with local and international trust, as well as integrity; a rare currency in a country like Yemen. Plus, this move constitutes for increase of regional and international roles in Yemen, because it eventually pulls the crisis from Yemenis’ hands. In its broader definition, the move expresses carelessness at best from Hadi’s side..

Was the move contemplated and measured, or was it one of the matters that are firstly symbolic and secondly vicious?

It was vicious, but sometimes, you make vicious movement by shooting yourself in the foot but not in the heart. And when it comes to this move being contemplated, the decision to relocate of the CBY was not, just like the war decision, it was not taken for a Yemeni agenda or for the purpose of improving the Yemenis’ livelihoods. It affects the weakest link in all of this military equation (the livelihood of the Yemeni citizen), it was treated lightly. A man like Ali Abdullah Saleh who, according to the UN, has a fortune of 30-60$ billion, what would he possibly gain or lose from freezing the CBY? Ten, twenty, thirty, a hundred million dollars? If you are serious about facing him, you can clip this man’s wings without clipping Yemen’s wings. This is the problem with this war: there are many causes and tools that led to this outcome, but they were ignored locally and regionally, instead and as usual, measures, that only harm people, are taken.

Another depiction of this situation: two months earlier, there was a meeting for the United Nations Human rights council in Geneva, just like the previous year. Netherlands and a league of European nations issued a draft resolution to form an international commission of inquiry for the transgressions taking place in Yemen, where the Houthis and the Saudis competed in committing variable war crimes and human rights violations, they all made art with these violations.. Anyway, there was a suggestion to form a genuine commission, as the only bet to achieve the minimum amount of justice for the war casualties and Yemenis in General – so we do not be naive and say it constitutes for a retribution phase. In its mission to Geneva, the Yemeni government worked to obstruct the effort to form the commission and sabotaged the suggestion, they even ridiculed the demands to form a national commission, knowing it would be pointless and without authority or moral weight, and formed just to get around forming an international commission.

If the government was talking about the gruesome siege of Taiz for example, and it is true that the Houthis and Saleh suffocated Taiz last year and committed atrocities. But achieving justice to Taiz and ending these transgressions once and for all, can only be achieved through an international commission that forms a deterrence force at best. The government did not allow the move and wanted to protect its biggest cover; Saudi Arabia, while ignoring that this deprives it of any moral high ground, and that it is supposed to represent all Yemenis and not just some. This is an essential point when it comes to The Legitimacy. But more importantly, it defended human rights violations in Yemen, which makes us able to say it immuned the Houthis, this is an important indicator and example, for it proves that this war was not and cannot be for the Yemeni people.

There was an issue that we already discussed in Assafir Arabi, accusing you and other youth of something meant for slandering purposes, which is that you are neutral, and neutrality here seems like treason, as giving up on the country, while you point out that this war, in all of it sides and intricacies, is destructive and pointless and cannot have an exit or a solution from the inside..

Being treasonous to this war is considered an honor to many people, to be neutral between two evils that are only slightly different. It is not a defendable or an explicable stand, because we, and not just in Yemen but the region in general, are living in a situation where there is no black and white, or right and wrong, but there is wong and another wrong in a more direct approach. In the political sense, Yemen witnessed an overwhelming popular revolution in 2011 and 2012 in what was probably the most peaceful revolution in the region. And all the contexts, whether from Hadi or the pro-revolution Muslim Brotherhood, or sponsored by the GCC and the UN, was a systematic effort to divide Yemen, and a deviant context designed to prevent moving Yemen into a different status.. In other words, this current war in Yemen is a natural result of a group of political contexts that settled during the last three years, it did not fall from the sky..there are important details: like Sana’a falling into the Houthis’ hands, which is an important one. That happened with regional sponsorship, as well as the president in Sana’a, and collusion by many regional and western parties with their own considerations regarding the fall of Sana’a. One can argue in regard to the inevitability of Saudi Arabia’s entering the war and that the Houthis pushed things too far… But we cannot possibly defend the deadly force it has been using in Yemen. In Yemen, there is evil and another evil..and the current effort is to end this evil, not to engage in it. There has been a phase of redefining Yemenis as Shawafis and Zaidis, highlanders and Seasiders, ones that Chew Qat on the right and ones on the left, primitive identities, and we think engaging in them is a treason to Yemen. Engaging in this war is not a solution, and will not end it, even in the pragmatic sense, it will only lead Yemen to more destruction.

These local, regional and international parties managing the war, took turns on ruining the country, and lining with them is lining on destroying the country.

How to create a new context, for all people..this is an important point, which is how can one rely on a government of political sides that systematically work to prevent justice for Yemenis, as happened in Geneva? Nobody who respects their country and themselves can be in this context, not just in the political but the moral sense. Again, we live in a country with an enormous abundance of wars, the last thing we need is one, and the last thing we should allow is using our country as a platform for local adventurers like the Houthis, or regional and global ones, trying to use Yemen for other battles.. Another important matter: why are all of these sides getting worse? Before the war, the Houthis conducted a military maneuver on the borders with Saudi Arabia, which is an insane and unnecessary move in the political sense. If you had any regard for Yemen, or any responsibility towards the Yemenis, bear in mind that there are 3 million Yemeni living in Saudi Arabia. You seek to open a front, and use Yemenis as fuel for other purposes? How can this be a patriotic context? These are alignments which we utterly reject and refuse to take part in, this is the best thing one can do for Yemen and the region at the moment.

Refusing to support this or that evil, and refusing to take sides in civil wars is a starting point. We find them is the bleeding Syria, and found it still going in Iraq after all the calamities. The first step is to refuse to submit to the context of reality as it represents itself. But in order to institute something effective, this requires promoting a vision – inside a long group effort that might take years – on how to get out of this dilemma and how to agree and achieve a new social contract in you, personally or in the Sana’a Center, have a preliminary vision on the method that leads to integrating this vision?

Refusal is the beginning, not the news: true. But there is an essential matter, which we believe working on is a step forward; bringing meaning and value back to politics in Yemen. Our authority and capability on causing any difference (as a writer or individual) is with the existence of politics. Now, politics is broken in favor of arms, and society is being dragged into this camp and into arms. The first thing to do is bringing status back to politics.. This context is sufficient to form equations, and in the end, Yemen is larger than neutrality and larger than being just a side, it is a wide country in the broader sense, and in terms of culture, geography and political identities..but bringing regard back to politics requires two clear important steps..first, the Security Council’s resolution no.2116, which obliges the Houthis and Saleh to end the coup and go back to the perhaps disfigured political track, the first clause is applying the international resolutions, the second is making retrospects to the causes of this war, which we think was due to the government’s mismanagement and distributing of corrupt political gains between 2011 and 2014, eventually leading to the war.

First, international resolutions have clear visions, if there was actual desire of employing them.. So that a national Yemeni dialogue is back, and with it, political talk regarding all issues, second, there should be a regional commitment not to use Yemen as cheap fuel. Since the GCC was formed, it was refusing Yemen’s constant attempts to joint it, and suddenly they ask: why has Yemen fallen into the hands of Iran? Fine, you are unhappy, open up your country..your commitment towards Yemen, as GCC, cannot simply be exclusive to bombing Yemen. Like the saying; you break it, you own it. You broke this country and therefore, there should be a certain level of commitment, and it is essential to keep historical commitments, from the Taif agreement in 1934 until today. Third, there should be an end to looking at Yemen as a backyard, with roses and thorns. These two tracks, regional and technical political, are enough to bring back live to the country.

The Houthis, ISIS, and al Qaeda, all appear on the surface, all diminutive issue, compared to the real issue facing Yemen. This is the first capital which is running out of water, this country has some real survival problems, the causes of today’s conflict are diminutive and does not worth fighting for. We return to these fundamentals, the dream that was announced by the Yemenis in 2011 and rejected by the the world and the region when giving unconditional immunity to a man like Ali Abdullah Saleh, who went from being a leader of a country and a mob to just a mob, while destroying the state in every way, with the GCC, and regional and international backing.. That is the political track that allowed it. The final thing is that the region and the international community still have influence and connections with the Houthis and Saleh, and if they want to end the fight, they can, so why are they still using Yemen? If you are capable of ending the war, this is not Syria or Iraq, with their complications, it is not even Libya..even in Syria, American and Russian relations are still functional, with missile systems coordination increasing in eastern Europe and in other countries, on the highest ranks it even strengthened in the last few years, not any less  due of the crisis in Yemen or Syria.. All of that means we, as a region, are just being used as fuel, and the world is still managing violence in our region rather than solving it . We refuse to be part of of the violence management, this is our country’s future..arms deals conducted by the west in Yemen today have unbelievably skyrocketed.

“War management” is a very important point: its containment in its place and managing it, This is one of the pillars of the “new world.” So, who benefits from managing the war in Yemen and for what purpose..since its launch until this day?

Managing wars is the opposite of solving them. Managing violence so that its consistency is not a problem.

First, there are a few equations where many interests are applied. In this context and on a national level, which is the weakest, there is distribution of crumbs that constitute for war economy and local loyalties based on it. On a regional level, there are many nations facing political entitlements and serious survival challenges, and see that war chaos relieves them from questioning, locally, regionally and internationally. On the western level, there are two approaches; one is new and still evolving after the 9/11/2001 approach is finished, and this approach (a hundred years after Sykes–Picot Agreement) says the east or this part of the world is Sunnis and Shias, and in this sectarianism, or the sectarian approach of violence and the region lays easy explanations for the white man, the west and the production..

Second, this creates an enormous opportunity to commercialize weapons, or for businesses and jobs. There is an incident happened with me in 2013. I was in Washington DC, making a statement about drones in the Congress. Of course back then, the “evil”  inside Yemen was one group and the countries bombing Yemen was just one country, and it was a country with a parliament where you can have discussions. Back then, I met a high level American official, during his defence of the drones program, saying that al Qaeda never made a single attack on the United States since the drones program was initiated, (al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula), adding as long as this is going, then the “drones” are a good policy. I replied: this is the main difference between you and me; you want to manage al Qaeda, where I want to fundamentally end it.. You somehow became a part of this group’s life-line when your maximum goal is to manage it, and to make sure it does not reach America, instead of solving it from its roots. Then, I asked him a question that both surprising and perplexing; if AQAP is finished tomorrow, would you personally still have a job? This question is presented not just on an individual scale, but an international one too. At the moment, there is a billions of $ anti-terrorism budget for some countries.. 2011 was constituting an exit for the region from this violence. All failures along with the attempts to bring the region back to what it was before, lead to constituting this violence, and continuing the economic cycle; from the arms dealer in Taleh market in Yemen to Lockheed Martin in the United States.

The topic is very important, central and universal, and involves all humanity in regard to where it is going, even if violence today is limited to geographical boundaries, the middle east, and involves the issue of Islam. What is called in the West radicalization is becoming a phantom serving vague purposes that have nothing to do with the suffering of people. Let’s go back to Yemen in specific: What are the interests of regional and global powers in using Yemen as a battlefield?

The interests are that they do not have real interests in this country, Yemen is a low environment to engage in worthless matches in the direct sense. Iran throws 2$, knowing that Saudi Arabia will throw one million, what better way to consume? Second, what X and Y nations are spending on all of their agents is far less of what they are spending on one politician in Lebanon! We are a low-price country that views its political status, during the last 50 years, as a country for sale, as the great poet Baradouni said: “the shame promoted from selling to granting, and from an outsider invader to a national one.” It is a country unprotected by a state, an identity, or a respectable elite. Therefore, it is vulnerable sly to drones, passing ideologies, brokers…the problem is that they are all committed to ruining Yemen, a commitment stronger that achieving peace.

Who is the oldest donor to Yemen? Germany. Which possesses ancient Yemeni manuscripts and documents found in the 1970s at the ceiling of the “Great Mosque” in old parts of Sana’a, the mosque built during the time of prophet Muhammad. Where they had found the oldest written copy of the Quran, written by Imam Ali himself, and currently in a museum in Germany, where millions of dollars are spent on studying it.

The meaning and value of the oldest copy of the Quran, which can reshape the entire Islamic Fiqh, and the history of the Islamic civilization, and the historical value of such an item, the symbolic and historical value of this document is more than all the  all financial commitments of Germany, as the largest donor for Yemen in its history. Taking the country’s meat, and throwing it the bone as aid, as a form of direct commitment. This is a new definition of humanitarianism, where history is skewedly redefined, this is what conflicts cause.

Why is there a Houthi-Saleh alliance?

There is regional and sectarian intersection between the Houthis and Saleh, eventually primitive entities, flourishing with the absence of a national identity, which is what unites them. Thinking of Saleh and the Houthis should be like thinking of ISIS and al Qaeda. They are rivals and allies with common ground, competing over the same resources, the identity of a Saleh’s, or the GPC’s, advocate is similar to the identity of a Houthi in certain areas. Right now, they are united over unconstitutional ambitions and primitive dreams, but at the same time, they are not homogenous, just like ISIS and al Qaeda.They will fight shortly.

What benefits the Saudis from launching this war, that is costly and without prospects?

I do not know the answer for this question, which is an important one. Basically, as I ask myself after two years of war, why is Saudi Arabia still proceeding with this war? Maybe certain reasons in a regional and historical moment, but there are important factors; first, the west was going along with Iran in the nuclear deal and wanted to give any compensation for Saudi Arabia, it was Yemen at that point; do what you wish in Yemen! Second, Saudi Arabia thought it will not be questioned by the west in regard to Yemen. During the first one and half years of war, Saudi Arabia was questioned by the west about a Saudi court’s verdict to flog Raif Badawi, for example, more than it was questioned in regard to the Yemen war. Even Iran invested in the Arab and global media in regard to Nimr al-Nimr’s killing more than they invested in defending Saleh and the Houthis; its supposed ally in Yemen. not real one. Yemen is a low-price country..this is first. Second, the Houthis are a group that only knows war, they are a militia. War is their perfect solution, so they do not face state questions, or a public view. There is another important matter; you are fighting them with their logic of power, not yours. Put away the failure of Arab diplomacy and the theorizing for a war that would not have is tragic when you realize the shallowness of some Arab Arab intellectuals when theorizing for a gruesome war, with all of what it uncovers in regard to the weakness and failure of politics, diplomacy and even finance. This is a horrifically exposed idea. The western attack, the intense extortion of Saudi Arabia through the American Jasta act and other matters, made Saudis receive harassment and extortion in regard to Yemen, so one of the very few things that Saudi Arabia can do to save itself in the general sense, especially with the west, and save its strong influence, is to end the Yemen war as swiftly as possible.

There is an Ottoman saying; who is not educated by time, will be educated by Yemen. It is a difficult country, and that does not apply just to those who came from the outside, but to its natives as well, anyone who try to exalt upon Yemen is broken by it. When Saleh tried to violate the concept of the Yemen republic and bequeath his son his morsel, when the Houthis tried to awaken historical fears for Yemen and take it over as a minority, they were broken locally more than internationally.

In Sana’a, there is one of the oldest and most important public schools; “the Kuwait school”, built by Kuwait decades ago, and it was one of first schools ever to be built in the country. A year ago, Mohammed al-Houthi, head of the Houthi committee went to the school to conscript schoolers and they kicked him out..he was thrown out from the morning que thought the singing the national anthem. That was a sublime moment and a direct spontaneous and patriotic context.. Of course, in that day, the Houthis reformed the high curriculum committee, which was dangerous. The indicator here is that this school, in ten minutes, defended the Yemen republic, the Gulf, and the idea of living in 2016 more than millions of dollars spent by the GCC on arms, bought by Ali Abdullah Saleh. Whether you want to save or to destroy a country, the path is clear.

Regardless of the contexts to which you referred, after the Houthis stormed out of their territory, allied themselves with Saleh and took over Sana’a, was there any way, other than war, to prevent Yemen from entirely fall into their hands, or that a war would have launched between all Yemeni demographics? Did Saudi Arabia, with its long history and great influence in Yemen, have any alternative, to solve the Houthi-Saleh issue?

Learning the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Yemen is important. The Saudi influence in Yemen exceeds that of the Yemeni state. Sadly, that is a reality. Second, the issue of a solution and avoiding war essentially depends on who is strong and victorious. Only the strong can compromise, or own this sponsoring cover, the strong, at one point between September 2014 and January 2015, was the Houthis, there is a Yemeni proverb that “May God does not combine two evils; lack of witt and plenty of guns.” Those people are witless with many guns, and had an opportunity for change more than in 2011 for an important reason; the centers of power in 2011 were not dismembered, instead they jumped forward, but in 2014, they actually collapsed. The problem is that the Houthis did not intend to dismember these forces, they wanted to take their place.

Secondly, if it wanted, Saudi Arabia could have created national partnership that is more important than the former contexts, and despite of everything, it did not genuinely invest in peace in Yemen. Ali Abdullah Saleh’s son still lives in the UAE under official catering, how are you fighting in Yemen? That is a fact, there was no genuine intent for ending the war. There is also a real problem in Yemen, the only republic in the Arab peninsula, which creates confusion toward it, regardless of intent, and Yemen’s geographical location makes everybody nervous of it. In the 1990, when Saleh voted for a reckless resolution, supporting Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, paying no mind for the fate of millions of Yemenis, what did the GCC do? They expelled about one million Yemeni worker from their countries. There was a destination towards punishing the Yemenis instead of Saleh. The same thing is happening today, there are still means to punish Saleh and the Houthis if there was a desire to end the war or to reach a possible solution in Yemen.

In this scene, where are the Yemenis? Are they expressing themselves? (expect for you, the youth), can this society express itself in other, possibly unclear, forms? To express a desire even if it was not politically mature? You say it was surpassed in 2011. Did 2011, as one of the checkpoints of the Arab spring in Yemen, truly hold the seeds for alternatives? It was certainly an important historical moment for Yemen’s future, not just as an objection and an uprising and something beautiful, but what is next?

The second question answers the first one, “where are the Yemenis?” 2011 was an important historical moment, when Yemenis went to the streets and tried to establish a new social contract among each other. But there was a systematic attempt to redefine the Yemenis, and it was a state of confusing democracy even to the west. The revolutionary state of 2011 was not susceptible to being institutionalized in the rigid sense of democracy or the expressive Social status. That moment was Yemen’s only option at the time. Yemen was a prisoner for at least 33 years, it was released in 2011, but where to go? That is another was a state of reborn of a new Yemen, where power and political status were available, and more importantly, political work that broke one of the most repressive and deceptive regimes in the region. Political work was later focused on an absolute consensus, which institutes for a state of loot distribution between parties on the cost of society.. The Yemenis’ repulsion from this “peaceful transition of corruption” is what the Houthis built upon in order to take over Sana’a. There was a state of rejection, not juts to the return of Saleh, but to the return of his era also. Ali Abdullah Saleh was trying to return as a person, while president Hadi and his new Muslim Brotherhood alliance, with their mounting the revolution that came with a very expensive invoices, were all but attempts to bring back the era of Saleh. This is the current political status in Yemen.

The Yemenis grew tired of this war, and this takes many forms. The current political polarizations are based on regional and sectarian basis. The president said, not so long ago, that those are “Azal’s people” while talking about his citizens as if they were his enemies. This political discourse, imposed by the government in exile, and the Salali sectarian discourse imposed by the Houthis at home, are what prevents a solution. What is left of Yemenis? A difficult question and I would be lying if I said I had the answer.

You said Yemenis are tired of the there tiredness or enthusiasm to align and fight?

The systematic work against the idea, that there is general tiredness of this war, is happening from all sides, because it is the genuine representative case of the people, and that it represents something..what is politics? An expression of people’s interests. And anyone expressing these interests will have people aligning with him one way or another, because people do not see that this conflict is an expression of the real situation of Yemen: “we did not see anything good from Hadi and his men, nor Saleh and the Houthis”, this is the general case, regardless of tempting resources and ideologies that give the Yemenis cover. Today, most Yemenis are sick or more than that, they are yearning for an end of this war. Finally, the talk, about ending the war, was advertised for during the first one, two and three months, but then people discovered that this was a deceptive logic. The general vibe among Yemenis is for the war and these conflicts to be over, which is possible. All required is to provide the resources regionally and internationally. And when it comes to the national level, 2011 should be allowed to take its political entitlement. 2011 was not just a romantic idea, it was a political moment, and surpassing it is not possible, just like the idea of emerging from colonialism. We cannot talk about semi-colonialism..The only chance for a Felix Arabia to return, is to start from 2011, and not returning to what was before in different, peculiar, and variable mottos.

*Yemeni researcher

This article was originally published in Arabic in Assafir