Yemen is again in the headlights and headlines. Yesterday more than 60 people were killed by Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) during attacks targeting a Houthi gathering in the capital Sana’a and at an army base and a checkpoint in Hadramout. Houthi Shi’ite Muslim fighters on Tuesday rejected President Hadi’s nomination by Decree of a new Prime Minister. Saba News Agency claimed that the appointment of Dr. Ahmed bin Mubarak was met with agreement of all parties earlier in the week, but later it appeared the Houthi leadership claimed American meddling and rejected the appointment. More worryingly, and likely causing the attacks of today and what will now follow, the Houthis stated an intent for “revolutionary escalation” and likely a full scale return to the incidents and clashes of the last few weeks which have claimed the lives of around 200 innocent Yemeni. The Houthis are behaving like Hezbollah and AQAP are countering. It appears that democracy has failed. Is Yemen on the brink again?
On 23 November 2011 former President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) implementation mechanism that transferred power to Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. The signing brought to an end nine months of mass protests to force out Saleh’s regime and a further six months of disturbance before the GCC initiative was submitted. In that time the Yemeni version of the so-called Arab Spring claimed some believe over 2,000 lives. This figure does not include those lost to terrorism including the martyrs of today and those who died in other cowardly acts of AQAP during the same period. Specifically, AQAP is condemned for their horrific suicide attack that targeted Yemen’s Ministry of Defense complex in Sana’a, claiming the lives of 50 innocents in December 2013. The AQAP problem is ongoing and now focusing on the Houthis.
Houthi unrest began in 2004. The most recent Houthi incident seemed to come to a close last week. President Hadi agreed to reverse the cut to fuel subsidies and to form a new national government, including advisors nominated by the Houthis in exchange for their withdrawal from Sana’a and other northern cities. But in a turn of fate, painting a picture of a Hezbollah-like press for power as an Iranian proxy, the Houthis have not withdrawn and are now easing further forward toward their goal of absolute power.
Yemen has been on the brink of civil war since early 2011. It is only the GCC deal and herculean efforts by President Hadi, his trusted people, the international community and in particular United Nations Special Envoy Dr. Jamal Benomar that has prevented war and complete collapse before now. The Yemeni National Dialogue Conference was part of the GCC deal and all involved labored long and hard to draw a consensus set of recommendations. These are for the future of Yemen. Participants worked tirelessly across a range of issues in working groups. Following the National Dialogue Conference a Constitution Drafting Committee was charged with writing the new constitution to be followed by a national referendum and then Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.
There seemed to be so much hope and opportunity presented through this democratic approach to a new Yemen, despite the many destabilizing factors pulling Yemen apart. These include the daily traumas of water and oil shortages, poverty, lack of jobs, illiteracy, Qat and ghosts of a former regime, not to mention the Houthis and AQAP. Yemen is a mess. The current Houthi challenge adds enormous weight to an already heavily loaded set of challenges. AQAP’s intervention looks like it will break the camel’s back. Luckily, as always, the hardy people of this fine country have almost limitless tolerance and depth in their well of capacity for suffering, but how much can they take? The recent good news of an International Monetary Fund first payment of $73.8 million out of the $552.9 million total credit is most welcome, but this has now been overshadowed. Moving forward, who is going to invest in a Yemen that is so torn apart by violence?
Now should be the time to look beyond short-term aims to longer and sustainable achievements. The ideal strategic leader for Yemen right now is someone who is both competent to support Yemen’s development and also young enough to embrace and connect to the influential youth and draw all the parties together. Yemen needs leaders who can demonstrate emotional intelligence in terms of their self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management, as much as decision-making and direction. All those skill sets were heavily tested during the National Dialogue Conference as parties wrestled to be heard and achieve consensus. Who better to have been the new Prime Minister of Yemen than someone who at 46 years of age had recently served as the President’s Chief of Staff, who holds a PhD in Business Administration, and was the Secretary-General of Yemen’s successful National Dialogue Conference.
Dr. Mubarak proved he had the necessary strategic leadership skills to form a new government and in particular demonstrated proven savvy to stand a safe distance from all parties when he was Secretary-General. It made sense that the man who orchestrated the National Dialogue should now step up and implement its outcomes. Dr. Mubarak clearly has the confidence of the majority of the thinking people in Yemen and also of the President. It is therefore tragic that wishing to prevent the anticipated widespread violence (which happened anyway) and in support of the unity of Yemen and the integrity of the office of President Hadi, that Dr. Mubarak announced yesterday his resignation as Prime Minister.
Is it realistic to expect the international community under United Nations Resolution to consider intervention? Iran is turning Yemen into a proxy through the Houthis who have just prevented, by the threat of violence and coup d’etat, the best man for the job from being confirmed as Prime Minister. Now AQAP are stepping up their war with the Houthis. Will Yemen now receive the international community support it so deserves or will activities to prevent the expansion of ISIS dwarf today’s death of democracy in Yemen?