Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly


A show of firmness

Al-Ahram Weekly

When it comes to Yemen, there is political baggage involved. Using this baggage, critics of Egypt’s part in Operation Decisive Storm have already lined up their arguments.

They say the Houthis are a major section of the population and defeating them is not an option. They say that the campaign will destroy the Yemeni army, thus further undermining the resources of that impoverished nation.

They say that the Houthis are Yazidi Shias, and we mustn’t fan the flames of sedition. They say that the Houthis were willing to talk. They say we are using excessive force. They say we should have waited a bit longer.

The truth of the matter is that Egypt had no option but to act and act immediately. We need to shore up legitimacy in Yemen, stop the Iranian power grab in its tracks, and keep the strategic straits of Bab Al-Mandeb open and safe.

No one ever said that Operation Decisive Storm would be a walk in the park. But with the Arab and international backing it has, there is every chance that Yemen will get what it needs: a second chance.

Reconciliation has not been ruled out. Still, the kind of military adventure the Houthis have engaged in for the past few months wouldn’t have been thwarted by diplomacy alone.

In fact, diplomacy has been tried, repeatedly, over the past few months. The UN talked to the Houthis and their ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Gulf countries, now spearheading the aerial campaign, also tried to find a way out, but none of it worked.

No shots were fired until all diplomatic options had been blocked by the Iranian-backed Houthis.

Now, let’s discuss the Houthis and their actual political weight in the country. The group is hardly as big as its recent military expansion suggests. In the National Dialogue Conference held after the 2011 uprising, the Houthis were given 35 seats of a total of 565 seats, and many considered this to be an inflated representation of their real power: about six per cent of the total of participants at this nationwide gathering.

What gave the Houthis an unfair advantage in the recent confrontations is that they had the backing of former president Saleh, who still commands the loyalty of a substantial section of the army.

Saleh, a Machiavellian figure who was ousted from office by popular demand four years ago, went into alliance with his former enemies in a bid to revive his flagging fortunes.

The Houthi share the Zaydi doctrine with the old-fashioned imamate that ended with an army-led revolution in 1962.

Using their connections with Iran and Saleh, the Houthis seized power in Yemen in September 2014 and proceeded to remove the legitimate government, impose their own “constitutional declaration”, and seize other cities.

Since the Houthis marched on Sanaa, they have rejected the Gulf Initiative, scuttled the outcome of the National Dialogue, turned their backs on the Peace and Partnership Agreement and grabbed every city they could lay their hands on.

They ignored the protests of their compatriots, scorned due political process and offered no partnership to the nation, relying on Saleh and the Iranians to subjugate the country.

Operation Decisive Storm is not about oppressing the Houthis or telling the Yemenis how to run their country. It is about rolling back the influence of this power-grabbing faction and putting the country back on track for a transitional period leading to internationally supervised elections.

This is not a war against the Yemenis. It is not a war against any sect or community in Yemen. Rather, it is a timely intervention designed to uphold legitimacy and open the way to an orderly political transition.

Caution is understandable and diplomacy is always advisable. But there are times when a situation allows for no option other than force. And recently, this region  plagued by jihadists of the most vicious sort has run into situations where diplomacy couldn’t get the job done

Hopefully, the time for diplomacy will be soon. Until then, the show of firmness must go on.

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