By: Gamal Gasim, Ph.D
Is Yemen on the verge of a rapid and dramatic change through an imminent military coup d’état? It has been difficult to follow the dramatic events unfolding in Yemen since the Houthis entered the capital city, Sana’a, on September 21, 2014; but when looking carefully at the trajectory of events in Yemen and other Arab Spring states, one can see a common theme: the brutal fight to stop the Arab Spring.
This brutality has taken various forms, such as a total civil war in Syria and in significant parts in Libya, as well as a strong organized military intervention in Egypt. In Yemen, the signing of the Gulf Imitative for power transition brokered by the Gulf States and once blessed and hailed by the international community, has given the former authoritarian leader, President Saleh, legal immunity from future prosecution.
However, Saleh has used this controversial immunity not only to glorify his government’s legacy—he opened a presidential museum to document and showcase his political history—but also to undermine the entire transitional process. Once again, Saleh has demonstrated his unscrupulous Machiavellian skills in leading the opposition. Saleh made an offer to his opponents—primarily the Islamic party (the Islah) and the Yemeni Socialist party (YSP)—that when he stepped down from the presidency he will teach them how to lead an effective opposition, essentially mocking their inability to competently oppose him during his rule until the Arab Spring erupted in late 2010. Ironically, Saleh proved that he is a man of his word and immediately reached out to his former enemies, the Houthis, to establish an unholy alliance targeting key actors who participated in the Yemeni Uprising: the Islah, the Alhmar family—the most powerful tribal leadership in the country, and general Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar who once was Saleh’s right hand-man.
The Houthis’ expansion and the sudden fall of the capital city, Sana’a, into their hands revealed calculated and highly-planned military tactics that would not have been possible without the help of Saleh loyalists in the military who remain powerful despite president Hadi’s military restructuring measures. Indeed, the role of Iranian money and weapons in aiding the Houthis is beyond any reasonable doubt. The Islah, the most organized political party, viewed the Houthis as a tool to eliminate Islamist power in Yemen. Thus, the party elected to capitulate in the interest of political expediency and avoid direct military confrontation with the Houthis. This facilitated the Houthis’ easy military victory in Sana’a. Now, with the Houthis controlling Sana’a and other significant key cities and military camps, president Hadi appears extremely weak, with no real political power or allies.
The terms of the political arrangement between Saleh and the Houthis remain undisclosed; however, it is clear that they have been enormously successful in halting Yemen’s democratic transition and are in the final stages of consolidating all political power in Yemen. Increasing political rumors coming out of Sana’a and the formation of an informal military group to restore political stability and security in the country suggest that the Saleh-Houthi alliance is in the final steps toward a military coup to permanently quell the Yemeni uprising. Although it is unclear how the Houthis and Saleh will rule Yemen, it is almost certain that a military coup will open the door to political chaos and civil war. Increasing Al-Qaeda attacks coupled with the growing frustrations of tribal leaders and youth activists will only fuel further destruction in Yemen. Scenes showing the destruction of the Houthis’ opponents homes and leaked videos of tribal leaders humiliated at the hands of the Houthi militia will likely radicalize many previously nonviolent political actors.
Where does the international community stand with respect to the precarious situation in Yemen? While Iran appears victorious at this juncture and may now have access to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has lost the patronage of significant traditional supporters such as the Al-Ahmar family and general Ali Mohsen. Although the Houthis may appear to be helping the United States in its war against Al-Qaeda, the group is gaining support as the only political force that can stand against the Houthis. It is very dangerous to assume that the Houthis are capable of eliminating Al-Qaeda in Yemen; they are not. What will happen instead is that Yemen will likely become a failed state, which history shows as the best political environment for the growth of political terrorism. Yemen is at a crossroads and needs to be saved!
Dr. Gamal Gasim, is Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies and Political Science at Grand Valley State University
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