Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Yemen’s divided loyalties

Despite progress made by pro-government forces in the south, winning back Sanaa is not going to be easy, writes Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

Loyalties may be shifting but the hold of the Saleh-Houthi militia on local tribes doesn’t seem to have weakened and, for all the air strikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, the war in Yemen may not end any time soon.

On the upside, security is starting to improve in Aden, with water and electricity partially restored and the streets better policed. Locals report continued incidents of lawlessness in Aden, but officials say these are isolated acts of sabotage by individuals loyal to the Houthi-Saleh militia.

One reason for the improved security is the appointment of a new governor. Since he took up his job, Jaafar Mohamed Saad, a man with military training, has introduced new checkpoints, banned motorcycles and collected weapons from the public.

While there is a new sense of optimism, it is tempered by the fact that members of the cabinet remain in Saudi Arabia. They fled Yemen for Saudi Arabia after the recent attack on the cabinet’s temporary headquarters in Al-Qasr Hotel and are unable, or unwilling, to come back.

Political analyst Abdel Hakim Mahmoud, speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly by phone from Al-Moalla, said the performance of the Khaled Bahah-led government has been below average. Bahah and his ministers are unlikely to return to Aden before security in the southern city improves. Speculation is growing that Bahah will be replaced by Haydar Al-Attas, a former prime minister who still enjoys a great deal of popularity in the country.

Another reason for the improved security in Aden is the arrival of Sudanese troops. They are deployed on the perimeter of Aden and in vital positions inside the city, including the Aden Airport, which is still closed for “construction work”, according to local officials.

The presence of the Sudanese, who are part of the Saudi-led coalition, has reassured the local public. The additional soldiers could be crucial for the defence of the city if it comes under renewed attack by the Houthi-Saleh militia.

Rumours that the new Aden governor has struck a deal with militants of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group have been refuted not only by the governor, but by the extremists themselves.

Khaled Abdel Benni, commander of the Aden-Abyin Army, affiliated with Al-Qaeda, said that no deal has been made with the governor. A similar statement was attributed to Khaled Beleid, the local commander of IS.

Although there is no “deal,” however, some form of communication may have taken place, according to a local source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Talks are believed to have been held in secret to ensure that fighters from the Houthi-Saleh militia don’t join the ranks of Al-Qaeda or IS,” the source said.

At these talks, Aden authorities were able to determine that the “attack on Al-Qasr Hotel wasn’t mounted by [Al-Qaeda or IS] members but by [Houthi] insurgents pretending to belong to IS,” the source added.

In Al-Bayda governorate, the fighting hasn’t abated. Speaking by phone from Al-Bayda, Ahmed Al-Homayqani, a prominent politician, told the Weekly that the pro-government “resistance is trying to repulse repeated attacks by the (Houthi-Saleh) insurrection forces.”

According to Al-Homayqani, the Saudi-led coalition seems to be providing little or no help to the pro-government fighters in Al-Bayda, The only explanation for the lack of support is possible “frictions within the committee handling the matter in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

In Taiz, the situation remains precarious. The city, which is still under Houthi siege, has received assistance from navy vessels connected to the Saudi-led coalition. According to reports, coalition navy ships approached Mokha Port in the Taiz governorate and started pummelling Houthi positions around the city in an attempt to break the siege.

The Weekly hasn’t been able to contact local sources in Taiz City because of the lack of telecommunications within the city.

In Mareb, the Houthi militia has confirmed that their positions in the areas of Sarwah, Jabal Hilan and Magzar were hit by dozens of air raids by coalition aircraft, leading to casualties.

Speaking to the Weekly by phone from Sanaa, Ali Al-Dobeibi, a Yemeni political researcher, said that pro-coalition tribes from Mareb were putting up stiff resistance to the Houthi militia. Amid the heavy fighting, neither side seems to be gaining the upper hand.

“It is difficult to predict a victory in these battles or see [pro-coalition forces] marching on Sanaa with the ease that some had predicted,” Al-Dobeibi said.

Al-Dobeibi added that there are mixed loyalties among the different groups and mercenary alliances. Some tribes, he said, are fighting to take revenge against the Houthis for old feuds. Others are fighting for money and loot.

According to Al-Dobeibi, the war is a source of income for some of the tribes living just outside Sanaa. Poor farmers who can no longer work their land are willing to cut a deal with the highest bidder.

When Ali Abdullah Saleh was in power, his ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), was able to leverage tribal loyalties, keeping rivalries in check and reconciling their differences, Al-Dobeibi explained.

The Houthis, Al-Dobeibi added, don’t have the same power to rally the tribes that Saleh wielded, which makes it harder for them to turn their gains in battle into the consolidated political gains that Saleh was able to muster.

According to the Saudi press, tribal leaders in Sanaa and Al-Jawf have formed an alliance with the objective of liberating Sanaa. Sheikh Saleh Al-Arfaj, a local chieftain in Al-Jawf, promised that the alliance would carry out “popular resistance activities aiming to help liberate Sanaa,” according to a report in Al-Watan newspaper.

Al-Arfaj praised local tribes for cutting off the supply routes of the Houthi-Saleh militia stationed in Sanaa. But sources in Sanaa question the ability of the new alliance to confront the battle-hardened Houthi-Saleh militia.

Even if coalition forces were to advance, sources said, they may find it hard to hold on to their territorial gains. And even if they defeat the Houthi-Saleh insurgents, they will still have to deal with the disruptive presence of Al-Qaeda and IS fighters.

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