On Wednesday the Houthis and their ally, former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, put the final touches on all their previous efforts at killing any semblance of political legitimacy in the country. After their advance on Amran came the takeover of Sana’a; and these have thus far been the two main milestones in the Houthi coup. Now Aden is on the brink of falling into their hands. If the country’s south falls to the Houthis, so will all legitimacy in the country, making all previous attempts at finding a political solution to resolve the crisis essentially irrelevant. The coming hours, and not days, will be decisive in this crisis which sees a rebellious minority, the Houthis, attempting by force of arms to impose its agenda on a silent majority that has allowed them to wreak havoc upon their country.
Meanwhile, the Yemeni army is in complete disarray; it is in the worst state it has ever been, between conflicting loyalties and division in the ranks, with the rest of its cadres attempting to defend the country’s unity (though in effect turning themselves into rebels being chased by the Houthis and Saleh’s men in the military). Saleh vowed recently he would allow those Yemenis opposed to him to flee the country via the Red Sea; is the ousted former president getting close to fulfilling his promise?
The political option is now no longer on the table; the Houthi movement’s actions in recent days have ensured that. Meanwhile, consecutive UN Security Council meetings seeking such a solution have all ended in abject failure. The UN continues to repeat its famous phrase, that it is “concerned” about the situation in the country, while the US continues in vain to “strongly urge the Houthis to halt immediately their destabilizing military actions and return to negotiations as part of the political dialogue.” It is no surprise, then, in the face of such impotence, that the legitimate and internationally recognized president of Yemen, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, has called on other Arab states to intervene with military force. And they have answered the call.
It is true that the principle of sovereignty allows for any legitimate political authority in a country, which in this case is represented by Hadi, to call on any outside force to intervene in its territory in case of an attack on that sovereignty—and without the need for a decision by the Security Council, as per article 51 of the UN Charter. But of course limited airstrikes will not really be able to achieve the desired results, unless this takes place under the direction of the 10 parties that participated in the Gulf Initiative on Yemen—the five permanent members of the Security Council, a number of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members states, and the European Union. This would put pressure on the Houthis to return to the negotiating table and engage in dialogue with all of the different factions in the country—though, naturally, after canceling what was laughably called a “Peace and Partnership” agreement which Hadi signed with them last September following their takeover of Sana’a and which they almost immediately failed to honor.
The price will be a heavy one for all Arab countries, and Western countries as well, if they believe the responsibility for containing this crisis falls on Saudi Arabia or the GCC alone. The spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its deadly siblings—going from Syria and Iraq to reach the very heart of Europe and even remote Tunisia, one of the few Arab states that did not participate in recent anti-ISIS airstrikes in Libya—shows that swift and decisive action in Yemen is paramount. In the same way that Gulf states participated in the airstrikes on Libya—a country at a relatively safe distance from them—so must all Arab states participate in this latest offensive in Yemen. Even more so if we consider that those who have the most to gain from the Houthi coup are Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which like a parasite benefiting from a weak host lives off states which are experiencing chaos and instability. And the same is true for all the other terror groups. Can we truly sit there and believe that Al-Qaeda and its ilk will leave a single Arab country unharmed if we leave the Houthis to spread throughout Yemen?
But what is most strange about this current situation is that at the same time that all the countries in the region are scrambling desperately to find some kind of solution to this problem, most of the political factions in Yemen appear paralyzed, watching the events unfold without taking any action whatsoever, as if they are satisfied with what is happening. These are the very same political factions that succeeded in ousting Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012 after decades of iron-fisted rule, and yet they have done nothing to stop the Houthis. As for the Yemeni army, don’t even ask; it is now as if this great country no longer has a force capable of protecting it and ensuring its stability.
Right now we have a ludicrous situation where Yemenis appear to care less about their own country than other countries do. And if Yemen’s politicians really are playing a sly waiting game as many suspect, watching to see who will be left to negotiate with once the storm subsides, then the correct description of the situation will no longer be “ludicrous,” but “catastrophic.”
In 2012, the Yemeni people bravely brought about a revolution that ousted a longtime dictator. In 2015, they seem to have undone all that work, sitting back and leaving the door wide open for another malignant force, the Iran-backed Houthi movement, to wreak havoc upon their country.