|2015 - Saudi-led coalition’s airstrike hits Yemeni Capital, Sana’a. Courtesy: Reuters.|
*The war in Yemen is often described as a forgotten war and when/if it is remembered, it is not seen with a holistic lens recognising the full picture of the conflict – and this automatically leads to flawed conclusions. Great focus is often paid to the geopolitics of the war in Yemen, i.e how Yemen has become the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, while a lesser focus is paid to the domestic politics. The internal eco-political dynamics between the different local political and tribal actors is to a great extent the fundamental driving force of the war in Yemen. That is, the local political landscape is dominated by survival politics and checks and balances which influence the geopolitical relation between Yemen and countries involved in the conflict. More importantly, not giving a complete consideration to Yemen’s domestic politics by the international community hinders reaching any peace process for Yemen’s 2-years-long war.
A good starting point could be in understanding that there have been three stages to the ongoing conflict in Yemen. In the wake of Yemen’s 2011 uprising, it was a conflict between ousted Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh and his opponents – particularly those who helped topple him. By mid-2014 it was a conflict between an alliance formed by Saleh and the rebels, the Houthis against Saleh’s successor, Yemen’s transitional president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his government. Then, in March 2015, Saudi Arabia declared a war against the Houthis.
|2011 - Yemen’s 2011 uprising marked its sixth anniversary this month. Photo Courtesy: Afrah Nasser.|
To understand the origin of the ongoing conflict in Yemen, it is essential to go back to 2011 when Yemeni youth joined the wave of revolutions happening across the Middle East and North of Africa (MENA). I vividly remember seeing how youth gradually took the streets in 2011 starting gradually from the front gate of my university, Sana’a University, which later was dubbed Taghyeer (change) square. The demand was the overthrow of ousted Yemeni president, Saleh, despite that overthrowing Saleh’s 32-years old regime was a dream my generation and I would have never imagined would come true. We understood, though, that this was the first step in fragmenting the great grip Saleh used to have.
Following a couple of months of protest, Saleh’s opponents, like one of Yemen’s most influential politicians, Hamid al-Ahmar and some allies, like one of Yemen’s top army-men and actually Saleh’s half-brother, Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar – opponents and allies alike joined the uprising and worked also hard to end Saleh’s rule. The greatest blow against Saleh was when several influential tribal and political leaders switched sides in the aim of weakening Saleh’s power. Perhaps, Saleh was more upset of his allies turning tables, than the real revolution against him by his people.
As the protests grew, Saleh started to go into public speeches warning about a coup or a civil war. In March 2011, Saleh warned, “those who want to climb up to power through coups should know that this is out of the question. The homeland will not be stable, there will be a civil war, a bloody war. They should carefully consider this.”
Change without Justice
Consequently, Saleh’s forces intensified its crackdown on the protesters and killing has become the norm. To cease the bloodshed, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiated a power-transfer plan in April 2011. After many long negotiations, Saleh accepted to step down. And that was the point when the unspoken countdown for the civil war which Saleh warned of began.