“We must pay attention to what is secretly being plotted against us”. Did you read this sentence in a newspaper today? You must have done so because it is a frequent circulated sentence by many writers and officials. It is a simple and easy excuse to justify the consecutive errors, revolutions and collapses in the region in light of the inability to reform. What happened and is happening is nothing but “a conspiracy that was plotted at night”. But what if there were no conspiracy? What if the problem was real and we are treating it through wrong solution? If so, the problem will escalate and become bigger and stronger than the treatment.
Three issues are orbiting in the region. Their reality is almost lost amid the multi-plot novels, the Arab Spring, ISIS and the Houthis. What is the truth behind each one of them?
The Arab Spring is a historic event that was indispensable. It is the outcome of the regimes’ errors and failures. Any historian can link the failure of the Arab Spring to the erroneous establishment of most of the Arab countries after the First World War. If historians do not unanimously agree on that, they would definitely agree when they get back to the time of military coups, when military men took over the reins of power. They exterminated the educated political class that was before them, accusing it of corruption and despotism, drowning themselves in a more evil form of corruption and tyranny with their lack of experience and poor management. The economy deteriorated, education got worse and injustice spread. The Arab military formed a ruling class that monopolized power and money, so it was normal for the people to get angry. There are some who reject this objective analysis and prefer to say that it is a foreign conspiracy, an American project, and a plot set by the former American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a decade ago and is now being achieved, therefore we must face this plot and besiege its perpetrators. These are mere illusions and bullfights against the history power. It will not stop the Arab Spring movement from progressing towards freedom, political participation and a better life. Conspiracy theories will only postpone it until the eruption of another explosion that will be harsher than ever.
The Houthis and Iran
The Houthis are an Iranian plot. This is what many politicians and writers believe. However, this simplifies a bigger phenomenon that is contributing today to the formation of a new Yemen. Yes. The Houthis do not hide their relationship with Iran. It is not a secret that the latter backed the Houthis with money and weapons, but Iran wouldn’t have been able to fund them if they did not exist at first.
The correct interpretation is that they are a “late fundamentalist Zaidis’ revenge”, which was attacked on the intellectual and political level after the fall of the Imamate, which resisted fiercely and remained unbeaten until after the harsh civil war. The result was a contrasting inflexibility from the Republican Yemen, so it marginalized the Zaidi sect, especially on the political level that was threatening the legitimacy of the Republicans. The political side of the Zaidis is very deep; it is a key component. What made things worse is the ideological attack that targeted them by the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood who were active, even in the Zaidis stronghold in northern Yemen. And this is what triggered the “Zaidi fundamentalism”. After this objective interpretation, some conspiracy theorists can say that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh is the first one who supported the Houthis. Others can say that they are an Iranian tool. Both theories are correct: they collaborated indeed with Saleh, and welcomed and boosted the support coming from Iran. Nevertheless, it is erroneous to say that they are “affiliated” to them. It is rather a mutual interest relation.
The new Yemen
Knowing the reason behind the emergence of the Houthis, will help in dealing with the prevention of their evil side, or cooperating with them to achieve the stability of Yemen that matters for its neighbors. Being maddened and saying that they are “created by Iran” suits for a mobilizing article and not a strategic political act.
As for ISIS, it was subject to endless “plots” stating that it is Iranian, American, Syrian and Iraqi, and is of Jewish origins. They published photos of ISIS leaders with Senator John McCain. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted saying that the U.S. contributed in its formation. And of course, none of the above is true in my opinion.
In the end, the Arab Spring will continue; it is like water, it will make its way in the endJamal Khashoggi
ISIS is an angry political religious movement. It is the alternative when we cancel the peaceful political debate. We will have to deal with a young man with a disheartening face and speech, shouting “I come to kill you”, rejecting democracy and the peaceful rotation of power. He does neither believe in half-solutions nor in participation. He belongs to a movement that believes that it is the sole truth. Its ideology belongs to an extremist school of Ahl al-Hadith.
It only chooses the Hadith that promotes and justifies its anger and its vision of an Islam that is purely detached from all sects. We need courage to bring it back to its real roots so that we can face it on the intellectual level. It gets affiliated to those who reject it, and insists on joining them. I tend to compare it to Juhayman and his group, with the admiration of some of Sayyid Qutb’s ideas but not all of them. Perhaps, what weakens the confrontation with ISIS most, is the quarrel about its affiliation.
When settling accounts, it is useful to push it away towards the opponents, like saying that it is the military and terrorist wing of the Brotherhood, without paying attention that they hate the Brotherhood as much as they hate the Iranians. Politics is naturally “dirty”, and any analyst can find circumstances indicating the relation between Iran and al-Qaeda, or that Bashar al-Assad turned a blind eye on ISIS’ activity. Even more, both turn a blind eye on each other. Some can define it as affiliation, but they are like their “Houthi” enemies, engaged in the game of politics and exchange of interests. They pass through interim stances that vary with phases, gains and losses. ISIS is an “Islamic extremist” organization as much as it is a skilled “Machiavellian” one. It is like those who “gamble” with everyone, and until now, it is the one that won the final round of the game.
In the end, the Arab Spring will continue; it is like water, it will make its way in the end. It is better to support it as it needs a big brother that cares for it until it reaps for the benefit of everyone. As for the Houthis, they are a real Yemeni constituent that benefits from Iran, but their roots are purely Yemeni. They became a key player in the formation of the new Yemen, and those who want a stable Yemen, must deal with them. ISIS is also the outcome of its environment: intolerance, anger, failure and tyranny. There is a causal relation between the organization and the Arab Spring, but they have the same vision when looking forward to the future. If we understand their ideological root, we will know their weak point, and we will be able to triumph over them.
This article was first published in Al-Hayat newspaper on Aug. 16, 2014.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.