Sunday,21 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)
Sunday,21 April, 2019
Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The Gulf and Yemeni crisis

The expulsion of Doha from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen could spur a chain reaction that refigures the entire conflict

The Gulf and Yemeni crisis

Dramatic developments in the Gulf — the severing of relations with Doha and the sanctions imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain on Qatar — are gradually impacting on the Yemeni conflict. Riyadh, in its capacity as the leader of the Arab coalition fighting in Yemen, has terminated Qatar’s membership in the coalition and officially requested Doha to withdraw its military instruments and end its participation in operations in Yemen. Abu Dhabi has accused Doha of playing the role of “double agent” in Yemen by taking part in the coalition while, simultaneously, weaving a network of underground relations with jihadist organisations such as Al-Qaeda and IS, as well as with the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah) Party, the political facade of the Yemeni chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, and with the Houthi movement. Sky News Arabia reported that Qatar secretly received a Houthi delegation several days before the Arab-Islamic-American Summit began and that Doha had been supporting the movement in the framework of its relations with Tehran. Reports on various Gulf news websites focussed on the military and security relations between Qatar and Iran and, in particular, a military cooperation agreement that included joint drills between the two sides in 2015.

The Gulf and Yemeni crisis

In Yemen, perhaps the most salient response to developments is that of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh who has begun to signal a change in his attitude towards Riyadh. His remarks to the effect that he had long tried to warn Riyadh about Qatari policies hint at such a shift. More important, however, was the news report on Mareb Press, a news agency close to the legitimate Yemeni government, that Saleh had declared that he was ready to engage in a Saudi-sponsored dialogue with Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi as well as with the Islah Party. With regard to the latter, his age-old adversary, he said that his relations with them have always been characterised by disagreement at times and agreement at other times.

Khaled Aliyan, a political analyst, expects a “total” and “unprecedented” change in the situation in Yemen. “The surplus force of the Gulf earthquake will flow in the direction of Yemen at the political and security levels,” he said. Politically, it will hit the Islah Party. “True, there is a problem, which is that Islah, as a political party, has a large grassroots base in Yemen and currently it accounts for the largest portion of the soldiers and resistance fighters opposed to the Houthis on the ground. One would presume that his would work to defer any measures against the party. However, the tide is now against it. Accordingly, I believe that the Islah Party is facing a major challenge and that it will be required to make concessions that could lead to the breakup of the party. At the same time, Saleh is preparing to abandon his alliance with the Houthi movement, although this will mean that his role, too, will recede in favour of an alternative party, such as his son, Ahmed, or the General People’s Congress (GPC).”

On the bundle of organisations (the Houthis, the Islah, IS and Al-Qaeda) that the UAE has charged Doha of supporting in Yemen, Abdel-Aziz Al-Majidi, a political analyst based in Taiz, told Al-Ahram Weekly by phone, “We, in Yemen, are paying the price for the war and the price for the funding of those organisations. However, as the country proceeds from one phase to the next, the Yemen citizen finds it hard to differentiate between what is being funded by whom. They’re all the same. There’s Gulf support and there’s Iranian support, and Yemen is caught in the middle in the conflict between regional powers. It’s a complex, multifaceted complex. Was this just discovered today? Why now?”

“Actually, it no longer matters who is and who is not part of the coalition. War and peace are virtually two sides of the same coin for Yemen,” Al-Majidi continued. “One war ends only for another to begin. Cholera and other fatal diseases are consuming lives alongside the Houthi machine which will not be deterred by those transformations in the Gulf.”

Al-Majidi added: “The Houthi movement will be writing the rest of the chapters, even if Saleh shifts from ally to adversary. The Houthis have an Iranian agenda that hasn’t been completed yet. Iran feels that the time for its regional harvest is approaching and Iran won’t give in easily or back down under pressure.”

Saleh has, effectively, threatened to break his alliance with the Houthis. Structural problems in the Saleh-Houthi alliance derive from the fact that the Houthis have extended their influence throughout the entire military-security establishment and now control it singlehandedly. In addition, there are the “Supreme Revolutionary Committees” that dominate government institutions in Sanaa. A GPC official suggested that because the missiles that the Houthis have fired into Saudi came from Saleh’s arsenals, this is being used to send a message to Riyadh that Saleh has the power to stop the missiles. Ali Al-Dubeibi, a political analyst from Sanaa, put the situation in another way in a telephone interview with the Weekly: “Saleh does not do firm alliances. He only knows flexible alliances and, therefore, changes positions in the framework of the political game he has mastered.”

According to Abdel-Hakim Al-Mayouni, a political analyst based in Aden, the impact of the Gulf crisis has not yet been felt in the south of Yemen, apart from in social networking. “The people in Aden are preoccupied with their [standard of living] demands and calls to rally at the Maashiq Palace for protest demonstrations against the Bin Daghr government because of the lack of government services and long power outages,” he said in a telephone interview with the Weekly.

The Bin Daghr government in the south is affiliated with the Hadi government.

Al-Mayouni added that he did not anticipate the rupture in the Gulf would have major effects on southern Yemen per se. “Qatar never had a presence in the south in a manner such that its withdrawal from here would have an impact.”

On the whole, observers in Yemen believe that the tremors from the Gulf earthquake will be felt more acutely in the political sphere than in the military domain, in spite of Qatar’s expulsion from the Saudi-led Arab coalition. At the political level, there are two tangential processes. One has to do with Saleh and his latest shift as he moves away from the fracturing alliance with the Houthis and flirts with Riyadh in order to see what he could obtain in exchange for severing that alliance altogether and ending the war. So far, his overtures have met with no Saudi response. The other and more important process has to do with the Islah Party, Riyadh’s ally in the battle of Yemen up to this point. Will Riyadh sacrifice one of its local allies in Yemen so easily? Even sources close to the party expect a change in its relationship with Riyadh, which would be only one of a number of anticipated changes that will entirely reshape the situation in Yemen.


Read more:

Sanctioning Qatar

Too rich to be affected

Little impact from Qatar decision


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