Friday,11 September, 2015
It has now been nearly a month since Aden was proclaimed “liberated”. The clouds of war are clearing, the dust is settling and preparations are being made to fill the political gaps bequeathed by Sanaa, now besieged and choking after once having secured for itself all the instruments of power and force.
Naturally the southerners find in this situation a historical gift that offers some sense of retribution against their archenemy. But they are still disinclined to believe the hyperbole about the “brilliant” victory. True life in most of the war stricken areas is slowly feeling its way back to normality. But the situation is still precarious; a well-aimed bullet or even a stray one could easily shatter the fragile calm in the city in view of the security breakdown.
It would be wrong to claim that the Yemeni state with its current capacities could end this condition. The chain of assassinations and the ongoing skirmishes between politically and ideologically rival groups speak of the mounting social and political tensions that precede a huge clash. The escalating precautions and preparations on the part of factions that had just fought on the same side of the trenches but are now eying one another warily from across barricades is sufficient to dispel any conviction in the media hype about the “utopian” Aden, the first liberated city and the second Yemeni capital.
Whether the Saudi-led coalition decides to pursue its war, which has grown more complicated, up to the bitter end in Sanaa, or call a halt to it at the borders of the South in view of the pounding coming from the north and east of Azal and in light of indications coming out of Oman that the position of the Houthi-Saleh alliance has softened sufficiently to pave the way to a long term settlement in the framework of a regional accord that seeks to defuse conflict zones, the question of Aden constantly weighs on the minds of the leaders of the Arab coalition and causes them frequent anxiety.
It thus appears that long-term military commitment or involvement on the part of Gulf countries in Yemen will be an axiomatic feature of the coming phase. There are too many difficulties involved in maintaining security in the liberated areas which nominally are controlled by the legitimate government and effectively controlled by militias that toe the line for various reasons (such as money or sharing a common enemy).
As tangible corroboration of the premise, Al-Ahram Weekly learned a week ago from various security sources close to the coalition command in Aden that the coalition intends to send in 1,600 Saudi and UAE troops (of which 300 have already arrived) in order to secure Aden and the other liberated cities. What those sources leaked anonymously has since become public knowledge thanks to Aden’s Governor Nayef Al-Bakri who informed the press that two regiments (one Saudi, the other Emirati) were on their way to Aden “to protect the city and safeguard the coalition’s achievements in it”.
Al-Bakri’s disclosure was not guileless. It came at a time when coalition commanders took a moment at the time of mourning over the victims who died in the bombing Maareb to remind certain parties lying in wait in Aden that events in the east will not distract the coalition forces from their duties in the south. Still, if Bakri’s revelation disappointed those lurking parties, it did not refute another piece of information that the Weekly learned from the same sources: all the efforts that have been exerted to unify the official Yemeni army loyal to President Hadi and to merge the popular resistance forces into it have so far met with failure.
A colonel in the Yemeni army who took part in the battles in Aden and Abyan, explained why. “Frankly, the Yemeni government lacks the genuine will to unify the army. It suffices with brightly polishing up slogans that eventually fade because of the machinations.”
On the other hand, a high-ranking military official told the Weekly, “the problem is larger than the will of the president or the government or even the coalition. The contradictions and political and ideological differences that are surfacing between the resistance fighters and the militia factions are a basic cause of this problem.”
He went on to observe: “Basically there are forces that do not recognise the concept of the state from the outset... We have to acknowledge that if we’re failing in this task in Aden, what about the rest of the country?”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was referring to the fact that the initiative launched by President Hadi in late August to merge the resistance with the national army was coldly received by the southern militias and Salafi fighters. On 28 August, commanders of Salafi forces and Southern Movement forces were pressured by coalition leaders into attending the conference billed as “The merger of the southern resistance into the national army.”
The term “southern resistance”, which appeals to a large segment of Salafi fighters, was not enough to convince the fighters from the Southern Movement, but quite a few of them were on hand for the inaugural ceremony of that conference, however grudgingly.
Subsequently it came to light that the architect of that project was the southern commander Adib Al-Issa who enjoys sufficiently broad popularity and respect to ensure the conference went off well, at least in appearances. As for the Salafis, their attendance was a foregone conclusion given their doctrine that prohibits disobeying authority.
“The purpose of this initiative is to block all avenues before the destructive acts of the Sanaa gang,” Al-Issa told the Weekly. However, he also admitted that it was an attempt to create a southern foothold in the forthcoming state “under any formula”.
Al-Issa’s extensive ambitions would soon flounder. Over the next few days the Weekly, following through on progress of the conference, contacted Colonel Fadl Baesh, one of the names cited as a member of the committee responsible for the merger. The colonel was at a loss for words. He was surprised to learn that he was a committee member as no one had contacted him to inform him on the matter.
The curse that has plagued Yemenis since the moment they coalesced into a single political entity is that they always resort to patchwork solutions as they race to catch up with the catastrophes mounting around them. The merger initiative is one of the manifestations of this eternal curse. It also helps explain something a senior commander in the southern resistance (known to belong to the Islamist Nahda Party) confided to the Weekly. He said that the ultimate solution to burying this problem that jeopardises the Aden victory would be to give sweeping powers to the coalition forces and then, for example, to strike Aden airport which is now protected by coalition forces after the rampant chaos when militia groups belonging to the resistance took control of it.
In sum, the romanticised narrative about the coalition’s swift and decisive role that will put an end to the Iranian backed coup-makers in record time and restore Sanaa, and the whole of Yemen, to the Arab embrace and control of its legitimate president does not mesh with current developments. In fact, it might be more accurate to liken the Gulf role in Yemen after or during Operation Decisive Storm to the Syrian role in Lebanon in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war. The most salient point of resemblance is that the standing army, if foreign, is the only guarantee for the realisation of security, especially given the animosities between the militias, the lack of a political project capable of bringing those diverse groups together, not to mention the physical absence of the Yemeni government which is absorbed in its intrigues in the hotels of Riyadh, unable to pay the salaries of civil servants in Aden, and unable to perform any government services let alone its security and military functions, in sharp contrast to the “coup-makers” in Sanaa who are reported to be carrying out the actual functions of government quite well there.
This is the historical gift to the northerners keen to return the southerners’ schadenfreude tit for tat.
As for the coalition members, there are four reasons why they should feel compelled to intensify their military presence in Yemen significantly without fearing international censure: terrorism, coup, secession and chaos. This quartet of spectres is what will make open and decisive intervention in Yemen a moral duty as opposed to a repugnant intrusion.