Yemen’s problem is not unity

Khairallah Khairallah

Published: Updated:

Around a year ago, the political transitional phase began in Yemen. If the situation goes smoothly and national dialogue sessions are held on time (on Feb. 18), this phase should be concluded with establishing a new system based on the peaceful transition of power. What matters is that Yemen rises after this phase as there are fears the country will sink in a swamp of domestic and regional enticements which neither beginnings nor ends can be predicted.

Unfortunately, the future of Yemen, a country with an ancient civilization, is vulnerable to the unknown. There is no clear plan agreed upon aiming to put the country on the path of a new phase, formula and governance that resolve the many problems confronting the country and its helpless people who suffered since before declaring the republic in 1962.

What we are currently witnessing is the country’s exposure to many influences, some foreign and others domestic. Iranian interference in Yemeni affairs is no longer a secret.

Iranian meddling

Some think that the most dangerous aspect of this act is expanding the area controlled by Houthis in the North and the expansion of the Houthis towards Sana’a.

In addition to that, there are also fears that Iran’s meddling will help Houthis pile weapons in the capital and gain influence in central regions which are the most populated areas and which include Yemen’s biggest city Taiz. What is weird is that the Houthis who had converted from Zaidiyyah (Shiite) to Twelver Shiite have found means to infiltrate central areas, including Taiz, although they are mostly Shafii (Sunni) areas.

It seems clear that Iran’s interference is not limited to what used to be called the north. Through the Houthis, the Iranians have managed to find some leverage for themselves in Taiz and surrounding areas. They also support the “Southern Movement” which calls for separation and returning to the status quo as it was before May 1990 when unification was achieved between the two halves of Yemen.

Muslim Brotherhood finding their role

What further worsens the situation is the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to fortify their positions all over Yemen by counting on their old organization and the tribal structure of the country. The Brotherhood has found someone who will support it from among the tribes after Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussein al-Ahmar, God bless his soul, played a role in finding a tribal cover for a big Islamic party, which the Brotherhood called “The Yemeni Congregation for Reform” is a part of among others.

Sheikh Abdullah was an exceptional man by all standards due to the power he had within the tribe of Hashid which he was its leader and due to power he had within all Yemeni tribes. He also had relations with President Ali Abdullah Saleh who ruled Yemen for 33 years.

Since before the transitional phase, a change to the core has occurred in Yemen. What cannot be currently ignored is that there is a division in the north. The Houthis are benefiting to the maximum from it due to Ali Abdullah Saleh’s exit from power and the collapse of the previous formula called “the formula of the sheikh and the president.”

Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussein al-Ahmar disappeared from the Yemeni arena whilst Ali Abdullah Saleh had to quit due to tribal and popular and even regional and international pressure.

We are currently in front of a new Yemen. A united Yemen which at least appears to be no longer controlled from Sana’a. In this new Yemen, there are areas completely controlled by Houthis. There are also other areas controlled by “Al-Qaeda,” and there are people publicly calling for separation. Is separation a solution in Yemen...or is it the shortest path towards the country’s fragmentation? Is it a coincidence that Iran supports the Houthis in the north and the separatists in the south?

There is no solution on the short run for the Houthi phenomenon which is the biggest threat confronting Yemen on the long run. It is a complicated issue that requires experts, rather wise people, who take into consideration that since the establishment of the republic a historical darkness has befallen on the people of Saada and nearby provinces like Amran, Al-Jawf...and even Hajjah.

Houthi phenomenon

It is not possible to endeavor to resolve the Houthi phenomenon, which is dangerous by all standards, amid the continuity of the current problems in the south and the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to prepare themselves to seize power after the transitional phase ends. The Brotherhood attempts to do so regardless of what the Houthis are doing in their areas, even inside Sana’a, and regardless of what is happening in southern or eastern provinces or in Hadramaut where al-Qaeda is working to strengthen its presence by mostly making use of ignorance.

It is a must to find a starting point for Yemen after the transitional phase. There was a president who chose to evade engaging in futile confrontations. This president accepted to cede power. This president whose name is Ali Abdullah Saleh had virtues and vices. However, the manner in which he exited power and remained in Yemen show that no one can cancel anyone in the country.

What attracts attention before, after and during the last visit that President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi made to Aden was the awakening of all sensitivities that were present in the south before unification. This is a reality that someone like President Abdrabuh is not considered to be responsible for in any way whatsoever. If these sensitivities had not existed, the “People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen” would not have collapsed and unity would not have been achieved in 1990.

This simply means that one can begin from the south to resolve Yemen’s entire problems. Yemen needs a new governance formula based on decentralization and not separation here and there. Who said that Aden’s people are closer to Hadramout’s than they are to Taiz’s?

‘Lost’ Yemen

Briefly speaking, Yemen’s problem is not in unity but in the need for a new governance formula that allows discussing what can be done in the phase after the “sheikh and the president” collapsed.

Yemen is no longer controlled from Sana’a like it was before. Yemen has become lost. This is what the Iranians realized before others did, and that is why they bet early on the Houthis and on separatism...and on everything that fuels disputes and divisions as well as on the Brotherhood, the Salafis and “Al-Qaeda’s” activity.

Is it possible to hold a dialogue that takes into consideration that the problem is not in unity as much as it is in the need to look for a new governance formula established on the basis that Yemen, which we knew before, as a central state ruling from Sana’a is no longer present?

This article was first published in the Arabic online newspaper Elaph

Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer who has previously worked at Lebanon’s Annahar newspaper, he then moved to London and began writing political columns in Arabic language newspapers, including AlMustaqbal and Rosa ElYoussef.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.