Lessons from Round VIs Sa’ada (Yemen) at peace now? [Archives:2008/1173/Opinion]

July 17 2008

It is truly remarkable that Ali Abdulla Saleh has managed to hold on to one of the hardest thrones to keep and it could be possible that he has indeed managed to hold the record as the longest reigning ruler of Yemen in its current geographical expanse (i.e., in its unified form). Even the Imam Yahya, who ruled from 1904 to 1948, was the ruler of a fully independent (North) Yemen from 1918 only when the Ottomans acceded the country as a sovereign entity to Imam Yahya Hamid Al-Din, who was already recognized by the Porte as the Temporal Ruler of Yemen since 1904).

Nevertheless, these thirty years that President Saleh has astutely maintained his tight grasp on authority and power in this most difficult of countries to rule, are at best a period of intermittent clashes and unsteady conditions that warrant assessment to help provide the proper directions for the decades to come in Yemeni history.

For one thing, one can say for certain, that President Saleh does want to have his record noted for the many noticeable achievements that were far more than coincidental circumstances when the stars of the President met with the workings of fate to produce moments of historical significance for the country and the regional at large.

Of all the clearly unforgettable achievements worth remembering are the unification of two diametrically opposite forms of governance, the former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and the Yemen Arab Republic. Notwithstanding the short-lived relatively peaceful early years of the new state, this paradoxical coexistence was bound to come in conflict with the very difficult realities of Yemen, in general and the regional and international forces at work in the country and the region at large. Here again, events unfolded beyond the influence of the actual people involved – the general people of Yemen, yet to their detriment.

The shocks that Yemen underwent over the last three decades are enough to bring mass chaos, disillusionment and overall despair to say the least, as the factors of livelihood withered away into chronic acute poverty, seemingly uncorrectable mismanagement of government and national resources and the establishment of a broad buffer of access to the most essential of services between the deprived, disadvantaged and marginalized and those who the President relied on to balance the conflicting forces that are needed to ensure steady continuation of his fragile, but tight hold on the reigns of authority. Some might even note that this in itself is a remarkable achievement indeed, considering the formidable difficulties that former leaders of the country faced in assuring their ability to exercise their authorities accordingly, both as an Imamate or a Republic.

While many have said that all the President had to do was recall the positive aspects of previous regimes or leaders and take off from there and it will lead to honey and butter. But the truth of the matter is that Yemen can not at all be ruled by such naive simplifications. Yemen is simply very difficult to rule and many a Yemeni leader of almost utopian ideals found himself the first victim of the mischief that rulers usually are confronted with as they seek to achieve the realization of their naive objectives and aims. Knowing this meant that President Saleh was going to first of all ensure that he is entrusted with the appropriate undisputed authority to achieve the aspirations of the Yemeni people.

In such a simple visualization, the paradoxes that Yemen is characterized become easy play for those who supposedly seek to implement the policies of their boss and they either discolor the situation for their leader and present it in ways that influence his major decisions, with a view to their own enrichment or to bolstering the faction they represent, or simply seek to hold on tight to their own positions accordingly. Amidst all this, the Huthi rebellion in the very difficult region of Sa'ada arose over four years ago to become the most serious challenge to the President in all the past three decades, in which he has managed to easily overcome the challenges that arose and disappeared. Indeed the Huthi challenge continued for about five years and the four times of peace that followed each reemergence of violence simply failed to last long enough for either the President or nation to finish their sigh of relief.

More importantly, the extent and severity of the resurgence of violence grew with each new explosive incident that set off the past five rounds of fighting with the Huthis. In addition, the last Fifth Round saw significant developments: The Huthis were able to expand their reach geographically as well as ethnically by incorporating new regions (Bani Hushiesh, Amran and other regions to a lesser extent) and recruiting new elements. Al-Diyar Newspaper (whose author 'Abid Al-Mathhari is one of the most authoritative sources on Sa'ada and the current Huthi Insurgency in general, if not the most authoritative; he really deserves a prize for his outstanding coverage of the fighting there, as a former free lance journalist and later as Editor of his own newspaper) reported that the casualties on the side of the Huthis on this Fifth Round were of Huthi Elements who recently joined the movement from various regions other than Sa'ada (including Shara'ab, Ta'ez and even Abyan Governorate), then from Sa'ada.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that the Al-Diyar Newspaper and its editor were victims of a few repressive measures by the regime as well and has only managed to come out with 57 issues since it obtained its license some four years ago) To be continued.

Hassan Al-Haifi has been a Yemeni political economist and journalist for more than 20 years.