Issue No.1125, 6 December, 2012      08-12-2012 01:10PM ET

Whence Yemen’s violence?

Is it a sectarian or political conflict between Houthis and Islah, wonders Nasser Arrabyee

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The assassination of Saudi diplomat cast shadows on sectarian and political conflicts in Yemen. Al Qaeda denied that it was behind the assassination of the Saudi diplomat in the Yemeni capital Sanaa last week. Khaled Al-Anzi, the Saudi military attaché in Sanaa and his Yemeni companion Jalal Senan were shot dead by gunmen in Sanaa on 28 November 2012.

Accusation fingers were pointed to Al Qaeda and Al-Houthi Shia groups as the enemies of Saudi Arabia in Yemen. This assassination came only two days after three followers of Al-Houthi were killed in Sanaa by unknown gunmen. The accusation fingers were pointed at the Saudi-supported Islah party that includes Salafis who believe that the expansion of Al Houthi is a threat to Sunni Islam.

With an unprecedented attack on Shia mourners in the heart of Yemeni capital Sanaa this week, fears are increasing that a sectarian conflict is adding insult to injuries for the political conflict-torn county.

Thousands of Al-Houthi Shia supporters celebrated the day of Ashura in Sanaa this year for the first time after years of only celebrating that occasion in the northern province of Saada where they waged six wars with government troops for their beliefs. (Ashura is the day when Imam Ali Bin Abi Talib was killed, more than 1,400 years ago).

Three people were killed and 13 others injured when gunmen fired rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) at the gate of Zahrar Al-Madayen Hall, a public place for different social occasions, in Al-Juraf area, in northern Sanaa, where Al-Houthi supporters were celebrating Saturday. The RPGs were fired at the gate of the Hall while Shia mourners were starting to leave. The perpetrators escaped in their car.

Earlier in the day, at least nine people were injured when a land mine exploded under their car in Al-Motoon area of Al-Jawf province, the place where Al-Houthi supporters are often in clashes with the followers of the Sunni Islamist party Islah, that struggles to prevent Al-Houthi from taking control over neighbouring provinces.

The top leader of Al-Houthi Shia, Abdel-Malek Al-Houthi, said in a statement immediately after the attack that hired elements were behind the attack with the aim of making a sectarian war in Yemen. And he held responsible the national unity government for arresting the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. All political parties and organisations condemned the attack as a criminal and terrorist act.

Hassan Zaid, secretary general of Al-Hak party, whose members are Al-Houthi supporters, said that the extremism discourse and calling people kafirs is the reason behind the attack. “We know very well who was behind it, but what is more important now is to know how to eradicate extremism that makes some groups call other Muslims kafirs,” said Hassan Zaid.

The attack came while Yemen is in an exceptionally critical situation as Yemenis are readying to sit on the table of a national dialogue that is expected to come out with solutions for all conflicting groups under one State including Al-Houthi group.

A few days before the attack on the Shia mourners, a statement attributed to unnamed religious leaders said that those preparing for the dialogue are not doing anything for Islam, and they should be killed. The statement showed that there were some religious groups against the participation of Al-Houthi group in the dialogue. This group asks, if Al-Houthi, as an armed group, is participating, then why is Al-Qaeda not allowed to participate?

The officials say Al-Qaeda can participate in the dialogue if they put down their weapons. However, no one told Al-Houthi group to put down their arms, because there are more armed groups who would participate, like the armed tribesmen who form the majority of the two main political parties, the Islamist party Islah, and Saleh’s People’s General Congress.

The director of the office of the President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi said that those behind the attack wanted either to obstruct the dialogue or make a sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Muslims. “They are wrong if they think they could make a sectarian war, and they are stupid if they think they can foil the dialogue and turn back the wheels of change,” said Nasr Taha Mustafa, director of the presidential office.

 Yemeni activists, in general, look at the attack as a natural result of the continuous conflict between Al-Houthi supporters and supporters of Islah. But the activist look differently at the nature of this conflict. Some say it is sectarian, and some say it is political, and some say it is both political and sectarian. But, surprisingly, all activists asked by Al-Ahram Weekly agreed that Saudi Arabia and Iran are behind the conflict.

The political activist Mohamed Khamis said the conflict between Islah and Houthi is political not sectarian. However, activist Yehia Al-Harbi disagrees saying that the conflict is sectarian. “Saudi Arabia is supporting Islah, and Iran is supporting Al-Houthi,” said Al-Harbi. The lawyer Amin Arrabyee, said the conflict between Islah and Al-Houthi is both political and sectarian. “The state of law and order would make different groups live and coexist with each other,” said Arrabyee.

Yemenis are waiting for the result of the investigations of the attack on Shia mourners, although they know very well that no results were announced of any previous investigation of any political assassinations (hundreds if not thousands of political assassination happened during this crisis).

For instance, only two days before the attack on the Shia mourners, 10 senior military officers were killed when their Russian-made Antonov plane crashed over an empty market in Sanaa after it was allegedly shot down with six bullets on its right wing. An investigation is also going on, and Yemenis are desperately waiting despite the fact that the black box has been taken to Russia.

 

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