Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Yemen’s conflicting agendas

are concerns that southerners will not support a big push into the north, writes Hossam Radman

Al-Ahram Weekly

What the Saudi-led coalition wants in Yemen is one thing, and what the southerners want is another. The coalition makes no secret that it wants to “liberate” all of Yemen, but southerners who distrust northerners and have had a bitter taste of their military might are willing to settle for much less.

For many southerners, the borders of 1999 are just fine. Out of gratitude to the Saudis, however, they are expressing their wishes only in whispers. As fighting continues, the coalition is devoting much of its attention to Mareb. But there, as elsewhere, they are facing the daunting firepower of the Saleh-Houthi alliance.

Listening to the coalition’s propaganda, you’d think that everything will be over in a matter of only weeks. The Yemen campaign is going to plan, the coalition troops are unbeatable and Saleh-Houthi fighters are retreating everywhere.

Far from it. The Saleh-Houthi camp is putting up stiff resistance, and may continue to do so for some time to come. If the coalition is hoping for victory by knockout, it will be sorely disappointed. The best it seems able to score, in the current balance of power, is a win on points.

In the Mareb desert, Houthi-Saleh fighters are lobbing rockets at coalition troops, stopping them on their tracks.

On Friday, 2 October, nearly 60 coalition troops were killed when a rocket hit a weapons cache in a camp used by the coalition in central Mareb. The explosion also destroyed Apache helicopters and armoured vehicles, according to Reuters. This is just one example of what the weapons Saleh still controls since his days in the presidency can do to his foes.

The battle preparedness of the Houthi-Saleh camp is such that unless the coalition comes up with an alternative plan it may find its progress as painful and frustrating as that of the Egyptians in the 1960s.

The missile that struck the Saffar facility was fired from the nearby governorate of Shabwa, according to coalition spokesman Ahmad Asseiri.

Fathi Ben Lazraq, a southern journalist, noted that the coalition’s smooth progress in the south was the result of southern compassion towards the coalition, but the north doesn’t share this sentiment.

“In the south, a sympathetic community protects the Gulf soldiers, whereas the northern tribes are revealing the coordinates of the [coalition’s] tents,” he said.

Despite the coalition’s all-or-nothing approach, the southern resistance remains circumspect. A senior official in the presidential office, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Weeklythat it would be in “everybody’s interest” to focus on consolidating the independence of the south.

“It is fine to assert the equality of the south versus the north, and that much is in the interests of [President] Hadi, the coalition, and all the southerners. But pushing one’s luck and . . . opting for the restoration of the full power of the state may be a bit . . . unrealistic.”

When I drove from the north on the road to Aden a few months ago, Houthi recruits, poor and mostly illiterate, were manning the roadblocks leading to Aden. But a few days ago, when I travelled the same route in the opposite direction, I came across pro-coalition forces, flying the flags of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Bahrain. The Yemeni flag I saw wasn’t that of united Yemen, but the pre-1999 flag the flag of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, as South Yemen used to be known.

To bolster their war effort, the Saudis have recruited and equipped contingents of the religious hardliners known as Salafists. The Salafists have smuggled at least part of their hardware to Taiz, where they are establishing themselves as rivals to the Muslim Brotherhood, who no longer have the trust of the Saudis.

Not everyone in Taiz is pleased with the influx of outsiders into their region. “Some people want Taiz to be liberated not by its sons, but by others,” a local commander stationed in western Taiz said.

In September, President Hadi summoned the commander of the southern resistance, Idros Al-Zobeidi, to Saudi Arabia for consultations. The move prompted many to speculate that Al-Zobeidi would be appointed governor of Aden. But Al-Zobeidi has since returned to Al-Dali governorate, where he has pledged to fight to the bitter end.

“I will fight for the coalition on any land and under any skies,” he told journalists. Al-Zobeidi said that his position is based on gratitude to the coalition for its intervention in Yemen.

“Without the coalition’s planes and troops we would have still been under Saleh’s yoke, at the mercy of his military machine that kept us down for decades,” he added.

The south, however, will not feel secure as long as Taiz and Al-Bayda are under fire from the Saleh-Houthi camp.

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