Al-Ahram Weekly Online   8 - 14 May 2008
Issue No. 896
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

No end in sight

Four years on, there is no sign of an end to Yemen's rebellion, reports Nasser Arrabyee from Sanaa

Talks between rebels and the Yemeni government have resumed as part of implementation of a Qatari-brokered deal to end a four-year long armed rebellion. This is despite tensions after a motorcycle bombing killed 18 people and injured 50 during last Friday's sermons at the gate of an anti-rebellion Salman Mosque in the city of Saada, in the north of the county.

Rebel leader Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi has two representatives in the new seven-member committee, which was formed two days before the mosque bombing after two previous similar committees failed in making progress since the Qatari-brokered deal was signed last June.

Briefly speaking, the 10-point Qatari-brokered deal to end the rebellion requires the rebels to come down from the mountains and hand over their medium and heavy weapons, guaranteeing them amnesty and the possibility to go home as normal citizens. The government, in return, should compensate all citizens for any injury or damages caused by the war and ensure reconstruction of the war-torn areas in the province of Saada. The reconstruction process, if mediation succeeds, will

be financed by a Qatari-based fund which will also receive contributions from other states.

Previous mediations always stalled over the seventh clause of the agreement, which relates to making the rebels come down from mountains and extending the control of the government to rebel-controlled areas. Due to lack of confidence between the two conflicting parties, there are concerns that the new committee may face the same problem especially now that no time frame was agreed upon to implement the deal.

The government insists that rebels should lay down their weapons and return home. The Al-Houthis, in turn, insist that the troops should withdraw from their villages and farms first.

This time, it seems to be more complicated. The talks came after the widely condemned attack on worshippers at Friday prayers, which was unprecedented and shocked Yemenis. The government accused the rebels who immediately denied any involvement. "We are ready for war or peace," said Abdul- Malik Al-Houthi, speaking over the phone with Al-Ahram Weekly from his stronghold in Al-Naqaa on the southern bor

der with Saudi Arabia while mediators were holding negotiations in Saada Monday.

The burning question is why the conflict did not come to an end despite the talks and use of the army which is authorised by constitutional provisions to crush any armed rebellion.

In the middle of 2004, Hussein Badreddin Al-Houthi began the rebellion as the anti-American "Slogan Movement". He was killed in battles with government troops in September of that year, and the government accused the Al-Houthis of wanting to overthrow the current republican system and establishing religious rule based on the descendants of the Prophet Mohamed. The father of Hussein, a well-known Zaidi scholar, told a local paper his son was killed while saying the "ruler must be from the descendants of the prophet, like him and his sons."

Al-Houthis deny such an accusation and have demanded only that they be allowed to express their religious beliefs, though these include the use of the slogan "Death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews, and victory to Islam," which they chant in mosques and elsewhere including the capital Sanaa.

The conflict is not just an internal Yemeni one. Regional roles in this long-standing conflict are being played out as is evident from arguments and statements of Al-Houthi and some government officials. For instance, Abdul-Malik Al- Houthi said there are external parties trying to thwart the Doha-sponsored deal when he commented on the Salman mosque bombing.

"I do not exclude external hands that support internal parties who wish to thwart the Doha deal," he said in an obvious reference to Saudi Arabia which he accuses from time to time of supporting Yemeni Wahabis, an extremist Sunni sect established in Saudi Arabia, who denounce Al-Houthi beliefs.

Officials, on their part, say that Al-Houthis receive support from Iran though it denies this accusation. "We cannot describe Al-Houthis as a religious movement; they are a political movement which receives support from Iran," deputy governor of Saada Noman Al-Doaice told local reporters on Thursday, one day before the mosque bombing.

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