Yemen is in crisis – there is no secret about that. A playing field between regional powers. Yemen and the 50 percent illiterate, 70 percent below the line of poverty, financially unable people of Yemen have been witnessing instability arguably since Feb 2015 when the Iranian-Saudi tectonic plates collided. What is causing chaos in Yemen? Could the 2003 American intervention in Iraq teach us anything about the consequences of direct interventions? Does instability in Yemen reflect an upcoming clash of regional powers?
The ancient, tribal history of Yemen is vast and undoubtedly important to how civilization has fluidly functioned for centuries yet it is the modern, post- 1960s history of the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula that matters most to the events of today. However, due to the limitation of words, this article will not track the history of the establishment of the modern, unified, post-1990 Republic of Yemen. Opponents and proponents of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen have legitimate, truthful arguments worth discussing.
The argument that realist proponents of the Saudiled intervention in Yemen has been shaped not only through a naive yet forceful social propaganda but also by a solid belief in defending anti-Iranian interests in the region before the inevitable confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran takes place. The fear of rising Iranian influence in the Middle East dominates the logic behind this argument. Adherents of this argument ignorantly associate 30 percent of the entire Yemeni population, those who follow the Zaidiyyah sect of the Islamic religion, with Iran.
Houthis, the politically rebellious Zaidi organization which is more Yemeni than both Saudi Arabia and Iran combined, is supposedly threatening the security of the Arabian Peninsula; nevertheless, they are an unparalleled and essential component of the Yemeni society. Having the two parties negotiate and compromise rather than having a limited Saudi-led presence in land, if one would want to learn from the unsuccessful American experience in Iraq, would greatly stabilize the current instable scenario. It is important to acknowledge the difficulties and challenges in Yemen, from the uncontrolled Yemeni borders to the existence of radical Islamic movements and organizations, before attempting to reform its dynamical functionalities.
On the other hand, the opponents of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen hold a long-term, idealist understanding of the situation. Those who hold this argument track the roots of what has caused instability. The origins of instability in Yemen is caused by a number of factors: External political forces; unhealthy state-centered economy; poor, ineffective institutions; high level of violence and the existence of radical organizations; monopoly of political decision-making processes; lack of rule of law.
As opposed to proponents of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, opponents of the intervention defend building economic relations with Iran to stabilize tensions and, further, domestically build the unified state of Yemen. Rather than violently intervening in the affairs of the people of Yemen, though the proponents of the intervention would argue that the affairs of the people of Yemen have threatened the security of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the opponents of the intervention support nonviolent instruments to weakening and halting Iranian influence. One could legitimately question: Could Saudi Arabia limit Iranian influence in the Middle East through nonviolent instruments?
The situation in Yemen has been fixedly complex since one year before Feb 2012; external interventions have added more to the sophistication of the situation. The arguably failed 2003 American intervention in Iraq has taught academics and policy-makers that direct interventions should not only be studied accurately but should also, in fact more importantly, combine instruments of both soft and hard power. That is, control territory and hearts and minds through, what Joseph Nye of Harvard University terms, ‘smart power’ – not physical territory alone. However, as clear in innumerable cases, Yemen is a consequence or side effect of a continuously empowering disorder that should be challenged and met.
By Bader Al-Dehani