The crisis in Yemen is the latest manifestation of the old order desperately trying to cling on to a dwindling power base. That old order has been backed by the United States and its allies among the Persian Gulf Arab dictatorships as a bulwark against a popular uprising that could lead to democratisation in the poorest Middle Eastern country. If such an outcome were to succeed, the repercussions for the autocratic Gulf monarchies would be deeply destabilising. Saudi Arabia, which shares a southern border with Yemen, is the primary concern for this spreading «instability».
That is why the House of Saud is now issuing all sorts of grave warnings of «foreign interference» and blaming Iran for «aggression». Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal this week said that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is ready to send in a military force to «protect Yemen’s sovereignty». The GCC comprises the six monarchial states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. All are stalwart American client regimes.
Meanwhile, Washington is urging Yemeni rival factions to «return to the United Nations-mediated peace talks». Samantha Power, the US representative on the UN Security Council, said: «To preserve Yemen's security, stability and unity, all parties must refrain from any further unilateral and offensive military actions.»
UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, amid warnings of all-out civil war, said this week that imminent talks were scheduled to take place in the Qatari capital, Doha. Al Jazeera reported that «any agreement reached would be signed in [Saudi capital] Riyadh».
The venues of Doha and Riyadh are hardly neutral places to conduct peace talks. The rebels in Yemen, led by the northern Houthi movement, have accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with the US, of repeatedly interfering in the country’s strife to support the old order and to offset any democratic change. Seen from this point of view, the UN-mediated talks are thus being capped with a veto wielded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. That would explain why Washington is so keen to push the talks, knowing that they will not produce anything substantive in terms of democratic progress in Yemen.
Indeed, Samantha Power has taken to discredit the Houthi movement by alleging that it is responsible for all the recent violence in the country. Power told the UN Security Council this week that the Houthi rebels have «consistently undermined Yemen’s transition». Amazingly, or perhaps not, she did not make mention of Saudi-backed extremists who last week killed more than 130 people in two mosque bombings in the capital, Sanaa. Ironically, it is the US and Saudi Arabia and their unswerving support in sustaining the old regime that is undermining «transition» to a more democratic and peaceful polity in Yemen.
The old regime in Yemen is headed up by Mansour Hadi, who is openly backed by the US and Saudi Arabia. For nearly 30 years he served as the vice president under the strong-arm dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was also backed to the hilt by Washington and Riyadh.
Saleh was notorious for his kleptocracy, siphoning of huge wealth for his family and entourage from Yemen’s modest oil industry. His son was made commander of the Republican Guard and was being groomed for succession until the Arab region’s popular protests in 2011 threatened to upset the family-run apple cart. Despite a brutal crackdown against largely peaceful protests, in which hundreds were gunned down on the streets of the capital, the American and Saudi sponsors of Saleh managed to stave off his overthrow by spinning out «talks» and eventually coming up with a «deal» that afforded the dictator and his ruling clique lifetime immunity from prosecution. As part of that US-Saudi-brokered «compromise», Saleh’s long-time deputy, Mansour Hadi, was made president in February 2012 after a non-contested «election». His presidency was only supposed to be a transitional position until the advent of full elections and the reconstitution of a representative parliament.
For the past three years, the US-Saudi process of transition has been nothing but a cynical rearguard action to retrench the old order, in which the majority of Yemen’s 24 million population are shut out from democratic control of the country’s politics and economics. The old kleptocratic order would thereby persist in its disenfranchisement of the Yemeni population while serving the geopolitical interests of Washington and its client Arab monarchies. Prime among those interests is the deterrence of democratic change in the region, as American political analyst Noam Chomsky has consistently argued.
The northern-based Houthis are adherents to a Shia sect of Islam. They have received political support from Shia Iran, but Saudi claims of Iranian fifth columnists are wildly overblown. Also, in the Houthis’ recent push for democratic change in Yemen their political vision has been notably inclusive of all religions and tribes. The Houthis, also known as Ansarullah, have spearheaded the ouster of the old regime simply because they have felt the most grievances of exclusion under the old Western, Saudi-backed order.
Last September, Houthi frustration over continual delay in the promised political transition boiled over when they took over the capital Sanaa by force of arms. One of its leaders Mohammed Abdulsalam said then: «This is a strategic victory for all Yemenis. But it is only the beginning of a long campaign to defeat corruption endemic in Yemen’s governing system. Today is the beginning of an age different from the past as the voice of all of the nation is being heard».
The Houthi movement can therefore be rightly seen as much more than just a narrow Shia sect, and one that seems to be genuinely agitating for a more democratic, inclusive Yemen.
When the Western-Saudi puppet president Hadi was forced last September to speed up the overdue transition, it is notable that Saudi Arabia began issuing dire warnings of Yemen’s collapse and Iranian foreign aggression, as it has once again cited this week. Meantime, Riyadh began to step up its support for Al Qaeda-linked groups in Yemen, who embarked on a campaign of car bombings and shootings in the capital and other towns loyal to the pro-democracy movement. Warnings of chaos had a self-fulfilling quality because of covert Saudi sponsoring of chaos. One month after the Houthis took over Sanaa in September last year, a car bomb claimed by Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (which is linked to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) killed more than 50. Last week, saw another atrocity when two Shia mosques were bombed by the same group, killing more than 130. In between those atrocities there have been numerous other massacres carried out by the Al Qaeda-linked extremists, mainly directed at the Houthi community.
The systemic link between Saudi rulers and Islamist terror groups is not a matter of contention. It has been well documented elsewhere, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon and Syria. So too are the links between US and NATO allies and the same terror groups who function as proxies for regime change or pretexts for foreign military intervention. There are contradictions, of course, such as Saudi Arabia (and Qatar) claiming to be allies in the US-led so-called war on terrorism against Al Qaeda. Washington and Riyadh claim to be waging a counterinsurgency campaign in Yemen against Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, which the US has targeted with its aerial drones for the past decade.
Western powers, including the US, Britain, France and Germany, followed moves by the Persian Gulf monarchies to shut down embassies in Yemen earlier this year. This had the effect of heightening tensions and destabilising the country. The rush to evacuate Yemen had the unmistakable air of a forced abandonment to contrive a state of emergency, which would undermine the Houthi push for political transition. This puts Samantha Power’s recent accusations against the Houthis in a more enlightening context.
Now the deposed puppet-president Mansour Hadi has set up a base in the southern port city of Aden – the old British colonial «Protectorate». Hadi and his clique are calling for foreign military intervention from the Saudi-led GCC states to «restore order» – a phrase that reveals more than intended. It is patent that the Aden remnant is speaking according to a US-Saudi script aimed at giving a legal fig leaf for justifying foreign interference, whose real intent is to roll back a popular uprising.
In this Yemeni development there is an unerring analogy with the Bahrain pro-democracy movement. In mid-March 2011 when a Bahraini popular uprising was threatening to overthrow the kleptocratic regime of the Al Khalifa monarchy, the Saudis led a GCC military force into the Gulf island-state to crush that pro-democracy movement. Again, as with Yemen, the Saudis invented the pretext of Iranian aggression as a political cover for its actions. The Americans and the British, too, went fully along with the Saudi ruse in Bahrain to crush a democratic opening and to shore up the old order.
The old order of autocratic, despotic rule in the Arab region is sacrosanct, as far as Washington and its petrodollar allies are concerned. Democracy, or even the mere possibility of democracy, cannot be tolerated. For that would threaten the fascist order that underpins American global hegemony. Yemen is now entering dangerous political territory. It is threatening the Washington-ordained order, not just in the country, but in the entire oil-rich region. A US-backed Saudi-led military intervention to «restore order» is therefore on the way. That could take the form of an overt invasion, as in Bahrain, or a ramped-up covert terror campaign to drown the country in blood.