Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Yemen's Mediocre Transition
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 22, 2013
off-putting reality, one fails to imagine a future scenario in which Yemen
could avoid a full-fledged conflict or a civil war. It is true that much
could be done to fend off against this bleak scenario such as sincere
efforts towards reconciliation and bold steps to achieve transparent
democracy. There should be an unbending challenge to the ongoing undeclared
US war in the impoverished nation.
Alas, none of the parties in
Yemen’s prevailing political order has the sway, desire or the moral
authority to lead the vital transition necessary. It is surely not the one
proposed by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), but rather a homegrown
political evolution that responds to Yemen’s own political, security and
economic priorities, and not to the strategic interests of ‘Friends of
Yemen’ being led by the United States.
Although it is
much less discussed if it is to be compared to Egypt’s crippling political
upheaval, or even Tunisia’s unfolding crisis, Yemen’s ongoing predicament is
in fact far more complex. It directly involves too many players,
notwithstanding al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the US bloody
drone war that is unleashed from Djibouti among other places.
the period between July 27 to August 9, 34 people were killed in Yemen by US
drone attacks. The US government mechanically considers those killed
al-Qaeda terrorists, even if civilians are confirmed to be among the dead
and wounded. Most media qualifies such statements by describing the victims
as ‘suspected militants’. International human rights groups and Yemen’s
civil society organizations – let alone the enraged people of Yemen – insist
on delineating the toll on civilians. Entire Yemeni communities are in a
constant state of panic caused by the buzzing metal monsters that operate in
complete disregard to international law and the country’s own sovereignty.
Frankly, at this stage it is hard to think of Yemen as a sovereign
and territorially unified nation. While 40 percent of the country’s
population is food insecure, and more are teetering at the brink of joining
the appalling statistics, the country’s foreign policy has been long held
hostage to the whims of outsiders. There is a lack of trust in the central
government which historically has been both corrupt and inept by allowing
non-state actors to move in and fulfill the security and economic vacuum.
Prior to the Yemeni revolution in Jan. 2011, the US was the most
influential outside power in shaping and manipulating the Yemeni central
government. Its goal was clear, to conduct its so-called war on terror in
Yemen unhindered by such irritants as international law or even verbal
objection from Sana’a. The now deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose
family-controlled dictatorship of thirty years was the stuff of legends in
terms of its corruption and self-centeredness, obliged. He too had his
personal wars to fight and needed US consent to maintain his
family-controlled power apparatus. Just weeks prior to the revolution,
then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Sana’a. She applied gentle
pressure to Saleh to dissuade him from pushing the parliament to eliminate
term limits on his presidency, as if three decades in power was simply not
enough. At the heart of the mission was the expansion of the
counter-terrorism campaign in Yemen. The bloody US campaign involving the
Pentagon and the CIA has been under reported. One of the reasons why the war
was never classified as ‘war’ is because it was conducted under a political
cover by Sana’a itself and sold as if it were military cooperation between
two sovereign governments against a common enemy: Al Qaeda.
reality was of course vastly different. Much of Saleh’s supposed anti-AQAP
efforts were in fact channeled against the revolutionary forces and
political opposition that had assembled together in millions, demanding
freedom and an end to the dictatorship. What are the chances that the US
didn’t know such a well-reported fact?
In fact, AQAP expansion was
unprecedented during the revolution, but not because of the revolution
itself. Saleh seemed to have made a strategic choice to leave large swathes
of the country undefended in order to allow sudden AQAP expansion. Within a
few months, al-Qaeda had mobilized to occupy large areas in the country’s
southern governorates. This was done to strengthen Sana’a official discourse
that the revolution was in fact an act of terrorism, thus quashing the
revolution was more or less part of Yemen and US’s ‘war on terror.’ Despite
the many massacres, the revolution persisted, but Saleh’s strategy allowed
for greater US military involvement.
Unlike Egypt, the US military
interest in Yemen is not merely done through buying loyalty with a fixed
amount of money and sustaining a friendly rapport with the army. It is about
control and the ability to conduct any military strategy that Washington
deems necessary. And unlike Afghanistan, Yemen is not an occupied country,
at least technically. Thus the US strategy regarding Yemen has to find a
sustainable balance between military firmness and political caution. This
explains the leading role played by the US in negotiating a safe path for
the central government, army and the ruling party – excluding Saleh himself
– to elude the uncompromising demands of the country’s revolutionary forces.
To some degree, the US has succeeded.
Part of that success was due
to Yemen’s existing political and territorial fragmentations. With Houthis
controlling large parts of northern Yemen, the southern secessionist
movement Haraki in the south, militant infiltration throughout the country,
and a political opposition that has constantly lagged behind a much more
organized and progressive Yemeni street, Yemeni society is much too
susceptible to outside pressures and manipulation. The Yemeni revolution was
never truly treated as such, but instead as a crisis that needed to be
managed. The GCC brokered power transfer initiative was meant to be the
roadmap out of the crisis. However, it merely replaced Saleh with Abd-Rabbo
Mansour Hadi and set the stage for the National Dialogue Conference –
underway since March 18. The transition thus far has been buttressed with
the backing of the ‘Friends of Yemen’, so as to ensure that the process
leading up to the elections that are scheduled for 2014, is done under the
auspices and blessings of those with unmistakable interest in Yemen’s
present and future.
It is barely helpful that Yemen’s supposedly
united opposition is hardly that, and differences are widening between the
coalition of the opposition groups named the Joint Meeting Parties (JMPs).
An example of that was publically displayed following the army-led coup in
Egypt on July 3. While supporters of the Islah Party – considered an ally of
the Muslim Brotherhood – protested the coup, other coalition members and the
Houthis greeted the news of coup with gun shots and public celebration. To
make matters worse, the interim president Hadi congratulated Egypt’s
transitional government for its post-coup role.
Even if the
revolution is yet to reap tangible results in its quest for fundamental
change towards democracy, the national mood, separate from Hadi and the
opposition, is unlikely to accept half-baked solutions. Meanwhile, the
militants are regaining strength and so is the US political intervention and
drone war. All in turn are contributing to a burgeoning discontent and
Between revolutionary expectations and
less than mediocre reforms, Yemen is likely to embark on yet a new struggle
whose consequences will be too serious for any disingenuous political
transition to manage.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter:
Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press).