Publishe Date: 7:05 AM - 2/2/2015 | Print

What is really going on in Yemen? An expert point of view

Politics - Interview with Jafar Ghannad-Bashi
By: Zohreh Norouzpour

A Middle East expert says that Saudi Arabia along with its fellow Persian Gulf Cooperation Council members is seeking to disintegrate Yemen. They are trying to wage North-South wars to dissuade Yemen’s revolutionaries from having a democratic system. The reactionary Arab regimes are fearful of democracy, and not Shiites.

Four years have passed since Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted, but the southwest Asian country is still in the grip of dictatorship because Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s vice-president under Saleh, took over as the head of a transitional government, following in the footsteps of the toppled president.

Mansour Hadi stepped down on January 23. Although the Arab country’s parliament didn’t initially accept his resignation, it has rejected his recent decision to withdraw his resignation.

Houthi Shiites staged peaceful rallies and sit-ins to protest the government’s failure to meet their demands and honor Hadi’s promises, calling for the removal of the president. However, the rallies turned ugly and supporters of Houthis and the tribes backing the Ansarullah movement eventually managed to force Mansour Hadi to quit in two weeks.

Analysts say that the Yemeni case is of paramount significance to new Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, citing speculations that a possible alliance between Shiites in Yemen and Saudi Arabia could pose a grave threat to Riyadh.

Ghannad BashiJafar Ghannad-Bashi, a Middle East expert, believes that Saudi Arabia is not facing the threat of disintegration, but that Yemen is highly likely to fall apart.

Khabaronline’s Zohreh Norouzpour had an interview with Ghannad-Bashi on January 27, putting Yemen’s developments under the microscope. The following is PART ONE of the translation of the interview:

 

How do you evaluate the downfall of the Yemeni government and the possible takeover by Houthi Shiites? 

Based on what we’ve seen since midsummer, they [Houthi Shiites] are representing the Yemeni people trying to protect their revolution. Houthis who are defending people are not exclusively Shiite; there are also Sunnis in their ranks who support the Ansarullah movement. They are calling for the revolutionary demands of people to be met, among them a regime change, ouster of corrupt government officials, and an end to interference in Yemen by Arab and foreign countries as well as Arab kings and reactionaries.

Ansarullah has so far successfully passed its tests, taking control of the revolution and its leadership. Having faced multiple challenges over four years, Ansarullah, which is massively popular, has managed to land the revolution on the right path, and above all, it has demonstrated good leadership.

Yemen’s popular revolution is very complicated. Tribes are politically active there. Tribal leanings affect the country’s political trends. Yemen used to be two independent countries in the past: North Yemen and South Yemen. Separatist tendencies are still palpable in Yemen; that’s why it is a complicated revolution.

Another challenge is that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh did not leave office outright. His deputy – Mr. Mansour Hadi, the president who was forced to quit – took charge after Abdullah Saleh. Ansarullah held peaceful protest rallies, sit-ins and strikes this past summer. Ansarullah, which has taken the upper hand since the fall, finally achieved its goal: resignation of Mansour Hadi.

 

What do you mean by complexity of the Yemeni revolution?

When a revolution is in the making against a totalitarian system, supporters of the autocratic rule and people opposed to it line up against each other and in most cases the lineup is clear. But what happened in Yemen broke the ranks of the revolutionaries. The lines were blurred after the resignation of Saleh and the breakdown in the country’s national dialogue. Certain non-revolutionary figures and corrupt officials of the previous regime found their way into the ranks of the revolutionaries. Since Mr. Mansour Hadi hailed from the South, Ansarullah had to keep him in the job to satisfy public opinion in the South. Abdullah Saleh too had appointed him as his vice-president to win the support of the South.

Second, Yemen’s parliament has not been dissolved since 2003 when its deputies were last elected. The fact that parliament didn’t get dissolved and Saleh’s vice-president was named his successor means the very previous government came to power – although on a weaker scale. Divisions made the struggle all the more difficult, and distinguishing between those who were revolutionary and those who were not became difficult. Many army men joined Ansarullah which took charge of security in the capital.

As for parliament, the previous chamber with its anti-revolutionary approach has remained in place. It was about three years ago when Mansour Hadi was named president to take charge for two years during a transitional period for [writing] a new constitution. Now three years have passed with Hadi still in power one year beyond the original term thanks to partisan approval. According to the constitution and parliament, he was not supposed to remain at the helm for four years; rather, he was a holdover from the previous government who had the responsibility to set the stage for drafting a constitution.

 

Are you saying that the revolution was far from complete?

Revolutions always feature a downfall which is followed by the establishment of a new system. In Yemen the collapse was still in progress when efforts got underway to establish a new system. Measures to establish a new system and the collapse of a failed system are two complicated things which take time to complete. No revolution has ever managed to go through these two processes at the same time.

The collapse has now taken place. Through logical moves, Ansarullah forced Mansour Hadi to leave the political scene [to prepare the ground] for the establishment of a new system. His departure will be followed by the dissolution of parliament which was elected in 2003 for six years. Parliament has met with no mandate since 2009. A parliament with no mandate and an acting president lack credibility in the eyes of people, so they cannot be at the helm of the state.

Britain circulated a motion at the Security Council to confirm Mansour Hadi. London thought the collapse of Mansour Hadi would be to its detriment, so it referred the case to the Security Council which decided that the resigned president should keep his post.

The British and Arabs did not want this system to collapse, but a few days after the Security Council passage [of Britain’s Yemen statement] they changed course, contemplating the resignation of Mansour Hadi instead of implementing the Security Council statement, because they wanted to create a power vacuum in the capital. In that case Sana’a would be swept by tensions, and supporters of Hadi would stage protest rallies in the South. Three southern provinces have declared independence based on plans devised overseas.

 

Does it mean that Houthis are against the country’s disintegration?

They do not seek the breakup of the country. The West, especially Britain, wanted to create a void in the capital, but it did not happen because Ansarullah is tactfully after forming an all-party revolutionary council to fill the void and assume power. Naturally they will be successful thanks to public support.

Yemen’s disintegration is one of Ansarullah’s concerns. They are concerned about the secession of the South. In fact, the Westerners are after disintegration. One of the West’s strategies to knock down a revolution is to bolster secessionist movements, like what we witnessed in Nicaragua and Iran. In the early years after the revolution in Iran, secessionist movements received backing from the West.

What consequences will the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) and the rulers of Arab nations face if Houthis take over in Yemen?

Four years ago when a revolutionary movement began to emerge in Yemen, the PGCC together with other Arab and Western nations scrambled to stop the revolution from securing its stated goal. Over the past four years, the PGCC did what it could to suppress the revolution. Through numerous military attacks, it inflicted big human and property losses on the Yemenis. They even dropped bombs on areas where elements of the Yemeni regime were present.

As a result of their measures the former vice-president remained at the helm of power. They also prevented the former authoritarian system from falling apart and managed to prevent the Yemeni revolution from emerging victorious. The Security Council’s statement confirming Mansour Hadi and provision of arms to people in the South are some other measures taken toward the same goal.

The PGCC did what it did to prevent the current situation in Yemen. They even prompted US warships to advance on Yemen. The PGCC has encouraged and financed the flight of US drones in the Yemeni airspace in recent days. It is quite natural if they carry on with their animosity in case a new government takes over in the country.

They seem to have reached the finish line after the experience which resulted from the actions of the Yemeni people and Ansarullah movement. They have to accept the realities of Yemen’s revolution, especially because those who support Ansarullah are cynical about Saudi Arabia, the US, and reactionary regional states.

In fact, Yemen is not the right place for them to be. The embassy closures in recent days are a sign of that. Whenever a threat looms in Sana’a, they think their diplomatic missions would be in jeopardy and their opponents may target their embassies which are the first sign of their presence in Yemen.

Given the four-year experience of Yemen’s revolution, the Arabs mobilized what they had against the people of Yemen, and now they have run out of arrows in their quiver to prevent the revolution from happening. They need to accept the realities. For the time being, the Arabs in the Persian Gulf concentrate their focus on disintegrating Yemen. They have already set the formation of South Yemen in motion, boosting the South to go to war with the North. PGCC members arm people in the South to later use them in order to seize Sana’a [in the North].

The Persian Gulf Arab states seek the disintegration of Yemen because they fear a Shiite government in Yemen may unite with Shiites in Saudi Arabia, something which may finally splinter the kingdom. Is that right?

It is not a matter of Shiites versus Sunnis. Saudi Arabia cannot bear to see a democracy thrive along its borders. Riyadh offered $16 billion in assistance to Egypt’s military men. Kuwait and the UAE, combined, sent around $32 billion to Egypt’s military only to undermine democracy in Egypt, because they didn’t want it to be an example for other Arab countries, especially in the Persian Gulf region and Saudi Arabia.

Iraq is a neighbor of Saudi Arabia. They did their utmost to block Iraq’s parliamentary election. They did not want a popular vote to be organized there. They even dragged ISIL to Iraq. In Bahrain, another neighbor, Saudi Arabia’s military presence is evident. Any model of democracy is viewed as a threat to Saudi Arabia and the Arabs.

The PGCC was formed exactly four months after the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Back then the council had a mission to counter democratic movements in order to prevent a revolution, like that of Iran, from taking place.

The question here is not one of Shiites versus Sunnis; it is all about a democratic system. The Shiites in Yemen and Saudi Arabia are not seeking to unite. Saudi Shiites have no intention of joining the Houthis and help disintegrate Yemen.

Houthis too are not trying to interfere in other countries. They have openly said they are willing to hold talks with all nations. Military support and Saudi meddling are all meant to facilitate Yemen’s disintegration. There’s no evidence that Saudi Shiites and Yemeni Shiites are making endeavors to disintegrate Saudi Arabia. The opposite is true; Al Saud is trying to make Yemeni disintegration a reality.

How would Shiites affect their country’s ties with Iran if they take over in Yemen?

What matters for Iran is not religion. The stance of Yemen is more important. Iran maintains close ties with the Venezuelan president who is not a Shiite or heads of other Latin American countries or other non-Muslim allies. These countries only share stance with Iran; they are against Israel and have been embraced by the current and previous governments in Tehran.

Iran’s ties with [former Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez were established when [former President] Khatami was in office. The Yemeni people are bitterly opposed to Israel, arrogant powers and the US. They are against reactionary regional monarchies. Such attitude puts them on our side.

A country whose stance is similar to Iran is on our side; Lebanon, Syria and Iraq are among these countries. This is how the anti-Israeli front is boosted in the region. It is not the question of Shiites versus Sunnis. The stances matter more. Yemen’s previous government was unpopular and backed by the US and Britain and was a stooge of Saudi Arabia.

Abdullah Saleh’s government consisted of aristocrats who had forgotten about people and overlooked the economy. Iran cannot have a Yemen like that on its side. But a Yemen with a different attitude can be on Iran’s side.

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