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Saudi Arabia’s foreign files: Abdelnasser’s Yemen and Khamenei’s Yemen

Fares bin Hezam

Published: Updated:

The Saudi-Yemeni conflict was not interrupted for long during the nine decades of the Saudi kingdom’s age. During this long period of time of more than one generation that witnessed consecutive wars, battles and political crises, the latter were always resolved via treaties, agreements and even customs, and Yemen always concluded with positive results.

Beginning with the 1934 Taif Treaty, two years after the kingdom was unified, the Yemeni citizen was granted the citizens’ privileges, in terms of permanent residency, freedom of movement, work and ownership and did not lose this important merit until after their country supported the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. During the 60 years of neighborliness, no problem obstructed the kingdom from supporting Yemen and resisting any political or military intervention that harms the country’s stability and journey.

During these decades, Saudi Arabia stabilized as an entity of a kingdom since 1932 while Yemen lived a tense political situation as a result of coups, assassinations and clear political and military interferences which manifested in different facets during different phases in Yemen, and which in fact had Saudi Arabia as their main target.

An example is a coup which Gamal Abdelnasser supported in 1962 against the monarchy to replace a present legitimate regime with a military republican regime. This was part of the “Nasserist project” to export the revolution to Saudi Arabia.

Khamenei today seeks to repeat what Abdelnasser did yesterday. Riyadh saw it was the first target and Yemen’s ruler – Imam – resorted to Saudi Arabia to launch the battle to restore his rule and based these efforts on the Taif Treaty as the kingdom’s founder pledged him support and protection.

Abdelnasser sent an army of 70,000 soldiers to Yemen but his ugly defeat in 1967 against Israel and his army’s defeats in many battles in Yemen and on Saudi Arabia’s borders pushed him to withdraw and reconcile with Saudi Arabia at the Khartoum Summit. It was positive results for Yemen as the Joint Coordination Council was established and the largest campaign of developmental projects in the country’s history was launched.

Peace and war

The Yemenis, however, lived on a slogan that targets Saudi Arabia during the years of peace and war, and which is that Riyadh has ambitions in Sanaa. They attribute this belief to an alleged Saudi scheme to weaken Yemen from within. Facts, however, state the opposite of this bleak perception as the extreme weakness of Yemen’s institutions and Yemen’s economic, educational and developmental system were a heavy burden on Saudi Arabia, and was never in any case a strategic project for Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom has spent tens of billions of dollars to support infrastructure in Yemen and spent as much to secure borders as a result of military and security chaos. Yemen’s weakness is why its territories became a passage to smuggle drugs, weapons, terrorists and infiltrators from Africa. These are the facts of the burden and which the two countries have endured for the past decades. Saudi Arabia was never safe from any activity that shakes Yemen’s stability and imposes crises by different men with different orientations. Saudi Arabia put all its weight behind distancing Yemen from all dangerous slips to protect its land, preserve its components and create all possible balances inside it and outside it.

Today, we are in the midst of a war that’s heading towards its fourth year, and it must end with restoring legitimacy one day. We must consider the previous wars and crises, the methods used to resolve their results and the anticipated relations with a further torn Yemen. The future with Yemen will be fruitful if bridges are built with elites in all sectors instead of just with traditional categories represented in tribal leaders or leaders of worn-out parties. These made personal gains and did not benefit their country and did not benefit their ally Saudi Arabia in its constant endeavor to be a safety valve instead of a drainage factor.

This article is also available in Arabic.


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Fares bin Hezam is Editor-in-Chief at Al Arabiya Channel.

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