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Opinion: Sana’a could be the Houthis’ graveyard | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Armed Yemeni Shi’ite Houthi anti-government rebels shout slogans as they man a checkpoint erected after the Houthi group seized northern districts of the capital Sana’a on September 21, 2014. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Huwais)

In 1948, some Yemeni tribes besieged the capital Sana’a and threatened to seize it following battles between the rebels and ruler Imam Yahya’s forces. Abdullah Al-Wazeer, the rebel leader, traveled to Jeddah seeking the help of Saudi ruler King Abdulaziz. The Saudi King reprimanded Wazeer, telling him that bloodshed only leads to bloodshed, and that Wazeer was with the Muslim Brotherhood, which betrayed Imam Yahya and killed him. He also asked Wazeer how he could declare himself Yemen’s ruler. The King refused to support the rebels, despite the fact that he did not agree with the imam. Sana’a was thus taken by Yahya’s son Imam Ahmad, and a new round of intra-communal wars began in Yemen.

Sana’a has witnessed and suffered from many conspiracies and betrayals during the past seven decades. Imam Ahmad was assassinated in 1961 and his son, Al-Badr, besieged the capital after rebels seized it. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser sent 70,000 troops to support the rebels in a war that lasted around eight years, and in which Nasser lost around half of his army.

Meanwhile, Israel struck Egypt in 1967 while Nasser was fighting against Yemeni tribes. Before these Egyptian attempts to gain influence in Yemen, there were other attempts by the British and the Ottomans, though they all failed to impose their rule on the country. This is a brief history of bloody wars in Sana’a, which I offer here in an attempt to explain recent events in the capital that have left many people baffled. The Houthis, who have taken control of Sana’a, are a tribal party, which became affiliated with the Iranians during the 1990s upon the encouragement of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who thought he was capable of playing three cards at once by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, the Houthis, and other tribes. In the end, however, he was ousted from power thanks to mass protests in 2011.

Iran is bragging about the victory of its Houthi allies. Analysts and commentators who support the Iranian regime consider the recent developments in Yemen the most important victory for Iran in the region until now. But when taking a thorough look at the fall of Sana’a to the Houthis’ Ansar Allah movement, we can see that in reality this will not change much in geopolitical terms. Unfortunately, it increases the suffering of the Yemeni citizens who have endured poor governance for decades. The Houthis will not be able to manage the Yemeni state, even if the president himself flees his castle and they take over.

Three years ago, Yemen was categorized as a failed state, meaning it is ungovernable. The government’s annual expenditure is 8 billion US dollars. So how will the Houthis pay public sector employees? Even the state’s oil facilities, which the Houthis occupied days ago, will not produce enough money to pay the wages of the police and the army. If Iran wants to send its troops, as it has currently done in Iraq and Syria, it must recall that Yemen has been the cemetery of invaders for the past thousand years. Yemen is a rugged country, which only its own people know well. Mount Prophet Shuaib, which is 3,670 meters above sea level, is the highest summit in the region. Towering mountains and deep valleys separate Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and it’s impossible for armies to traverse them unless they use large military transport aircraft.

The Houthis won’t be able to govern Yemen unless they gain the approval of the Yemeni people, who are angry with them over the seizure of the capital, and also take issue with their attack against tribal sheikhs. They won’t be able to rule Yemen with their aberrant political doctrine, or with their pretense of a caliphate, or with their imported Iranian rhetoric, because none of this has anything to do with Yemen or with the Yemeni people’s aspirations.