I have good news for Yemenis: Saudi Arabia will be committed to their country even after emerging victorious from the war, and after the fall of the Houthis and deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his “deep state.”
No Saudi official has said this, but it goes without saying. For the kingdom, victory is not achieving short-term aims – regardless of how important they are – but achieving complete peace in Yemen so there will be peace in Saudi Arabia.
Former U.S. President George W Bush toppled Saddam Hussein, but failed to build a new and stable Iraq despite U.S. power. Americans, Arabs and Iraqis are still angry at Bush for that. The good news is that the Saudis are wiser than him.
Victory will not be with the return of President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi to Sanaa, but with achieving the aims of the 2011 Yemeni revolution by building a pluralistic country based on the principles of freedom, justice, and respect of sovereignty of law.
Riyadh rejected the tyranny of the Houthi movement because the latter is a front for Iranian expansion, and because it is a governing system that will only succeed via suppressionJamal Khashoggi
Anything other than that would be a return to the situation that drove Yemen to where it was before the Houthis and Saleh staged their coup. This would be a waste of efforts, and of the positive spirit that reigned after Operation Decisive Storm was launched.
Legitimacy in Yemen is not just represented by Hadi, even though he is the only remaining symbol of it. Legitimacy is what makes Hadi important, and what makes accepting him important despite the reservations of various Yemeni forces over his performance.
Legitimacy is for the revolution and its aims, which led Hadi to the presidency to sponsor a political negotiating process that ends with a consensus among social components to establish a new Yemen, aspects of which have been drawn by the dreams of youths who sacrificed their lives four years ago.
With each airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition, and progress by popular resistance forces on the ground, and political victories achieved by Riyadh at the U.N. Security Council and international gatherings, it has been confirmed that the kingdom has become responsible for Yemen more than ever before.
It is thus responsible until complete peace and a developmental project are achieved there – a project that gives hope to Yemen and improves its situation after it was almost declared a “failed state” before this crisis happened and even before the Arab Spring.
Perhaps “complete peace” requires a year or two. However, a political process must begin in Yemen after the war ends, and this where Riyadh can announce it has achieved its aims. The kingdom will then be an observer, and a guarantor and sponsor more than it has ever been to Yemen.
However, to guarantee success, it must reread events in Yemen and correct the wrong analysis that led to the famous Gulf initiative, which tried to ensure stability by simply maintaining Saleh’s dilapidated state. This later exploded in the face of the kingdom.
The Feb. 2011 revolution was an inevitable and natural development, and an expression of the aspirations of most Yemenis. Riyadh rejected the tyranny of the Houthi movement because the latter is a front for Iranian expansion, and because it is a governing system that will only succeed via suppression.
This system will be worse than Saleh, who was not about imposing an ideology or a different identity on Yemenis, but was only interested in governing. He sided with the Saudis, then Saddam, then the Muslim Brotherhood to achieve this aim, and his most recent alliance is with the Houthis – all for the purpose of governing.
The Houthis have a plan and a vision they want to impose on Yemenis, which will cause revolutions and protests. Fresh blood will be shed and Yemen will be divided. This is another reason that pushed Saudi Arabia to intervene, so Riyadh must not accept that a regime resembling Saleh or the Houthis govern Yemen after it emerges victorious over them.
Yemeni journalist Maarib al-Ward said the 2011 revolution “demanded toppling the political regime and gradually establishing a democratic system as an alternative. It demanded that people’s value as being in control of governance be restored in order to establish a modern state where law, justice and citizenship reign.”
He added that dialogue “provided solutions for the country’s problems,” but was thwarted when “Saleh returned under the cover of the Houthis. We realized he has a deep state and he was in control of everything.”
This conviction made Maarib and the revolution’s youths believe that “establishing a civil state can’t be accomplished in a country where there are millions of weapons.” It is important “that arms be exclusive to the state, as it’s the only legitimate party allowed to resort to power in order to guarantee parity and guarantee that no party uses its power against another to win elections. This was the only guarantor of peaceful devolution of power.”
Maarib says disarming Yemeni parties is the solution, and this should be one of the aims of Operation Decisive Storm. “As a result of possessing military power equal to that of the army, the Houthis didn’t abide by the solutions of the dialogue that they participated in, and they didn’t respect the political process because they’re convinced that force can accomplish” their aims, he said.
Maarib says the best thing that Operation Decisive Storm is doing is “putting an end to the military arsenal of the Houthis and Saleh, although I know that this arsenal is [a possession] of the army and security forces that the Houthis robbed. Putting an end to this arsenal will provide a secure and real environment to establish a state for everyone, where no one can turn against it anytime he wants.”
Asked about the state he and his comrades dreamed of when protesting four years ago, Maarib said: “A state that sponsors the interests of citizens, that rules according to law rather than tribal customs, that hears its citizens rather than tribal clerics who blackmail it, that doesn’t loot and collect taxes during peace but adopt neutrality during domestic wars even though it’s part of the struggle.”
He said reforming the judiciary was one of the revolution’s top priorities to establish a state of law, adding that the judiciary did not perform its duties and “served the regime instead of the people.”
These are logical demands. If the kingdom achieves that for the people of Yemen – not via direct intervention but via a secure political process – this will be enough to turn Yemen into a happy and productive country rather than a failed state governed by a dictator who requests funds from Riyadh and the Gulf to provide stability that he failed to provide due to his mismanagement.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on April 21, 2015.
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.