Participants in the panel discussion, “What is Happening in Yemen?,” concluded that for the last five years, Yemen has seen attempts by regional and international forces to divide the country and exploit its resources. These attempts have been driven by domestic actors, some subordinate to Iran, others to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. But the Yemeni people are capable of thwarting plans to partition the country if they wisely choose to go back to the outcomes of the National Dialogue conference and if the parties to the conflict—at home and abroad—realise that fragmenting the country will spell unrest and turmoil for all of them as well.
The panel discussion, convened on Wednesday, 11 September 2019, in Qatar University’s Ibn Khaldon Hall, was attended by researchers, media workers, and members of the Yemeni expatriate community in Qatar. The panel was organised by the Ibn Khaldon Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences, in concert with Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, Al Jazeera Mubasher, and Brookings Doha Center. Panel participants included Yasser al-Yamani, a leading figure in the General People’s Congress (GPC); Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of Ansar Allah’s political office who joined the discussion by satellite feed from Sanaa; Bakeel al-Zandani, the chair of the international affairs department at the Faculty of Humanities at Qatar University; and Saeed Thabit, the chief of Al Jazeera’s bureau in Yemen. Hamdi al-Bokari, an Al Jazeera correspondent in Yemen, moderated the panel.
The coalition agenda
Yasser al-Yamani, a GPC leader, opened the discussion by speaking about the difference between the declared agenda of the Saudi-Emirati coalition and the agenda they have pursued for the past five years. The coalition went into Yemen to preserve the country’s unity, restore security and stability, quell the Houthi coup, and restore Yemen’s legitimacy under the leadership of elected President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. But, al-Yamani, explained, the coalition pursued policies that empowered the Houthis in the north and divided the south between areas of Saudi and Emirati influence. They ended up fighting President Hadi and did not enable state institutions to function. In fact, Saudi Arabia is keeping Hadi under virtual house arrest, as it did previously with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
Al-Yamani added that the UAE prevented the presidential plan from landing at Aden airport and proceeded to implement its own agenda for the country, occupying its airports and ports and the island of Socotra. Al-Yamani concluded that what the coalition has publicly declared and what it has actually accomplished on the ground are two different things. According to him, the collusion of these two parties is the primary cause of the Yemeni crisis and has brought the country to its current state.
Restoring Yemeni independence
Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the political office of Ansar Allah (the Houthis), said that the movement’s goal is to stop Saudi and Emirati interference in Yemeni affairs and prevent the two states from imposing their hegemony and extending their influence.
Al-Bukhaiti added that the restoration of Yemeni sovereignty and independence is the principal goal of his movement, denying that Ansar Allah is subordinate to Iran. “We are a national liberation movement,” he said. “We serve Yemen and the interests of Yemen and the Islamic community. We devote special attention to the Palestinian cause. We are not a sectarian enterprise and we are not agents of Iran.”
Al-Bukhaiti said that the problem of Ansar Allah’s political opponents is that they get drawn into details and jump to conclusions rather than looking at the larger picture to understand what the group plans for Yemen. He said that the conflict underway in Islamic countries, including Yemen, is managed by the superpowers to serve their own strategies and fulfil their interests. In this context, he added that the objective of the Saudi-Emirati aggression was to subordinate Yemen and realign it with the American axis, to keep the country from acting in its domestic interests and the interest of the Islamic community.
Speaking of the beginning of the conflict in Yemen, al-Bukhaiti said that it was when political forces failed to implement the national peace and partnership agreement, which Ansar Allah signed despite its prejudicial terms.
Al-Bukhaiti said that the goal of Ansar Allah is “to retake Yemen’s sovereignty and independence from the hands of Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed,” whom he described as “tools of the US.”
Regional and international designs
Dr. Bakeel al-Zandani, the chair of the international affairs department at the Faculty of Humanities at Qatar University, said that Yemenis turned on each other when they agreed to embark on a comprehensive national dialogue that brought in anyone with a grievance. According to al-Zandani, the outcome of the national dialogue should have marked the beginning of the resolution of the country’s chronic problems, but some Yemeni forces turned to outside parties with well-known designs on Yemen.
Speaking of regional and international ambitions in Yemen, al-Zandani noted that Yemen occupies a strategic geographic locale and has oil and gas resources as well as a uniquely diverse environment, which makes it attractive to regional and international forces. “The result was that the Houthis became tied to Iran while legitimacy [Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi] was linked with Saudi Arabia and the Transitional Council was bound to the UAE, and these regional states are only interested in realising their own interests at Yemen’s expense,” al-Zandani said. Yet these regional states themselves, he added, are only tools for the international order.
Redrawing political maps
Saeed Thabit, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Yemen, said that international powers seek to redraw the political map of the Middle East a century after it was first drawn by the Sykes-Picot agreement. Events in Yemen cannot be divorced from these efforts.
Thabit said the conflict erupted with the coup against the conclusions of the National Dialogue conference, which, for the first time in Yemen’s contemporary history, involved everyone across the political spectrum. This, he said, was to prevent Yemen from resolving its domestic crisis. Some states in the region supported the Houthi coup against the authorities, while the Saudi-Emirati coalition launched Operation Decisive Storm. The coalition’s intervention in Yemen was a mistake, Thabit said, and he recalled that even at the time, he had said that the coalition wanted to correct one mistake with another.
Thabit concluded by saying that the Saudi-Emirati coalition is a tool for international powers. The coalition has only further complicated the situation in Yemen. Today, he said, everyone is fighting each other, which will have repercussions not only in Yemen, but in Gulf states and the entire region.
The path to a resolution
The panellists concluded by affirming that the key to resolving the conflict lies in returning to and implementing the National Dialogue conclusions, ending regional and international interference in Yemeni affairs, and letting Yemenis resolve their problems themselves, absent foreign dictates. Such a path would restore the country’s security and stability.