Sama Al-Hamdani, analyst and researcher on Yemen, Adam Baron, visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Peter Salisbury, journalist and political analyst, discussed the impact of war in Yemen on the development of non-state actors like the self-proclaimed Islamic State and the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and how the international community can help end the conflict. Timothy Fairbank, co-founder and managing director at Development Transformations, moderated the discussion.
UNPRECEDENTED DIVISIONS AND DESTRUCTION
- Unprecedented Destruction: The conflict in Yemen is unprecedented in its level of destruction and its scope, Baron said. It has had a particularly disturbing impact on Yemeni society. There is an unprecedented level of sectarian language coming from Yemenis, many of whom would be loath to use such language even six months ago, said Baron.
- Bizarre Alliances: The alliance between the Houthis and Saleh alliance is not a new phenomenon, Baron added. Since the beginning of this conflict, disturbing alliances have been made; for example, al-Qaeda is infiltrating Yemeni communities and using the conflict for its own benefit and goals. This poses a great threat to the coherence of Yemeni society.
- Long-term for Yemen: Baron said that the European Union is uniquely well-placed to mediate the conflict, along with Oman. However, the current situation is leaning toward a war of attrition, which is far more likely to continue than a negotiated solution, he warned.
MILITARY IN YEMEN
- Division of Military: Over the past few years, there has been increasing conflict between General Ali Mohsen and Ahmed Ali Saleh, head of the Yemeni Republican Guard, explained Al-Hamdani. This created an increasingly divided military, and efforts to weaken Ahmed Ali Saleh’s and Ali Mohsen’s grip on the military were unsuccessful. Rather than trying to create a unified national military, the Yemeni government under Hadi dealt with problems on a case by case basis, which Al-Hamdani said has led to the fractured military Yemen has today.
- Mistakes Made: Many mistakes were made in the 2011 restructuring of the Yemeni Army. Al-Hamdani explained that first, the army restructuring was not Yemeni planned; a lot of the information that belonged to the army was handed over to America. Just as jihadis infiltrated the army in 1994, Houthis did as well: With the peace and partnership pact, President Hadi issued appointments for 2,000 Houthis to join the military. Today, there are about 40,000 Houthi fighters in the military, said Al-Hamdani.
- Restructuring: Al-Hamdani suggested that in order to restore Yemeni security, regional military outposts must be required to have both officers from that region and outside it.
- Inequality: Salisbury explained the Yemeni central state grew in power in the early 1990s, as Yemen became an oil exporter. Yemenis became dependent on the central state, not on families and tribal leaders, for resources and patronage. But Yemen lost the ability to export oil and by 2011, the country was nearing an economic and fiscal crisis. Currently, Salisbury said, the poorest people do not have access to clean water and are dependent on imports of food and oil. Meanwhile, the elite are fighting each other for the largest slice of the pie.
- Yemen’s Political Culture: Although some believe the events of 2011–2014 demonstrate something new in terms of Yemeni political culture, Salisbury argued that the past few years are only a continuation of a political cultural which has developed over a period of decades. This political culture consists of one group of powerful elites fighting against another group of elites for power and money, while the people on the ground suffer, summarized Salisbury.