Is war the only solution? [Archives:2005/830/Opinion]

April 4 2005

Needless to say the recent outbreak of fighting between Yemeni Government military and security forces and religious and tribal elements in Sa'ada Governorate have put Yemen on the headlines all over the world again and certainly this will not help project a stable situation in the country, notwithstanding the arguments put by both sides. It is not clear what has again brought on this sudden twist of events, especially as Hussein Badr-Aldin Al-Houthy was killed last September and peace has been relatively restored in the Sa'ada Governorate. While no one is pleased to hear of attacks on Government forces, the worry is still quite strong that in the end the greatest casualties and suffering would be amongst the civilian population of Sa'ada, who might be caught in the crossfire, as they flee homes to seek shelter in the surrounding mountains where their villages are located. Also reports of air attacks, would cause one to hope that these air attacks are not indiscriminate bombings against civilian residences.

What has even increased the worries of observers is that the present fighting seems to be on a larger geographical sphere and has even spread to other governorates such as Amran Governorate, which is only less than an hour's drive from the City of Sana'a. Common sense would dictate that observers and commentators would appeal for the Government to earnestly seek a peaceful way out of this unfortunate bloodletting as it seems that both sides in the conflict are mistaken if they believe that a decisive win in the battlefield is attainable and this is clearly shown by the fact that the initial victory against Hussein Al-Houthy has not led to a peaceful conclusion of the conflict. It is not for certain why there is a strong feeling of pursuing a military solution to all the disputes that arise between the government and its citizens, regardless of their conflicting views about the state of affairs in the country, region or the world. Furthermore, with the region beset by so many difficulties and threatened by possible foreign intrusions in its affairs, under different justifications, one would think that a peaceful environ would be sought by all governments in the region, especially with their citizens.

One was pleased at the recent Government policy of pursuing dialogue with “extremists” and it is indeed a sensible approach to dealing with misguided religious persuasions. However, the relatively less threatening rhetoric of the “Houthi followers” at the outset was not accorded the same privilege apparently and had the policy been pursued with seriousness with leaders of the Houthi “rebellion”, chances are a lot of lives on both sides would have been spared. Hussein Al-Houthi did indicate a desire for a peaceful solution, and he appealed to the President accordingly in a hand-written letter, which was published in several papers during the earlier phase of the fighting in Sa'ada.

It is safe to say that the Government, in its pursuit of only a military solution, is not helping to cool down the tensions, between the military forces that may be inspired by a feeling of revenge for the loss of many troops and the equally fired up followers of Al-Houthi and other citizens of Sa'ada, who have also lost relatives in the fighting. Thus, it would be wise not to get a blood feud get blown further out of proportion. One would think that an immediate cease-fire should first of all be called for by the Government to stop any further loss of life. Then a sincere mediation effort should be pursued, probably led by leading dignitaries, with long experience in such conflicts, such as Sheikh Abdulla Bin Hussein Al-Ahmar and Sheikh Sinan Abu Luhoum, with the help of moderate religious leaders respected by both sides.

The region of Sa'ada is one of the most deprived regions in Yemen, in terms of development focus and it is easy to understand why perhaps the people of the area may have their grunts against the Government. After all they lie between the rapidly developing areas of Najran and Asir in Saudi Arabia and the more steady developing areas of Sana'a Governorate and even Al-Jouf and Marib, notot mention the acceleration of development efforts in the Southern and Eastern Governorates. Sa'ada has hardly gotten a taste of what development entails, with very fewer schools and health, educational and service facilities than almost all the other regions of Yemen. A friend told this observer that had the Government announced it was increasing development investments in the region and will carry out a broad study to determine the Governorate's needs in terms of development projects, this could help simmer down the heated feelings.

On the other hand, the Government should be careful in its handling of the competition amongst different religious persuasions (quasi-Shi'a versus the more extreme Wahhabi elements that has been allowed to grow and is fast becoming very active and noticeable in the area. Therefore the Government should not appear as if it has taken sides in this senseless religious race for followers, especially as the former has been in existence in the area for centuries and the latter is supported by external generous financial support, as most Yemenis well know. Surely, it cannot be overlooked that the latter would encourage any Government help to remove any opposition to the propagation of this recent extremist entry to Yemen, especially in Sa'ada, where the population has generally resisted the spread of this Salafi or Wahhabi rendition of Islam, thanks to the appeal that people like Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi seem to enjoy amongst them. Accordingly, one is inclined to believe that the War on Terror would be greatly served by putting an end to this senseless bloodshed and not to let factional violence become a fact of life in Yemen, which has rarely seen such level of violence associated with religious persuasions. Otherwise, one would think that the country is being directed into a more serious long drawn out conflict of wider geographical dimensions, the end of which can simply not be visualized. Nor is it sensible to allow a venue that could call for foreign interference (including the influx of foreign gangs a la Zerqawi), and God only knows what will then follow.

Correction: Common Sense apologizes for the oft repeated mistake in the CS of Issue 829, starting in the second paragraph of writing “reinforcement” when it should have been “enforcement”.