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Yemen: We’ve Scorched the Earth, Now What?

September 16, 2009

And the award for best name for a military operation goes to….Yemen’s Operation Scorched Earth. Wow.

So it’s been one month now and Yemen’s war in Sa’ada is still going strong. Thing thing with Yemen is, everyone wants to ‘understand it’. Don’t believe me, try googling ‘Understanding Yemen‘. It’s one of those places that simply boggles the mind.

Unfortunately, I do not claim to fully understand the conflict in Sa’ada, as it is impossible to understand the absurd.  And I’m not going to explain what is happening there, as I’m not your fucking encyclopedia. Go read about it somewhere else, then come back here and get your facts de-constructed.

But, having worked in the area, here are 2 common misperceptions that I will try and correct:

1. This is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Big round of applause for the notorious numbskulls at the Economist, who once again manage to excel at making their arguments so matter-of-factly that you can easily overlook their questionable assumptions. Painting this war as a Sunni-Shi’a Saudi-Iran conflict really takes away from the complexity of the conflict. I wouldn’t put this so much under those terms as there are a number of variables at play here. Is Saudi involved? Yes, absolutely. But it’s involvement is not just explicit (in terms of military aid and support to the Yemeni government). Saudi Arabia has also been spending a lot of time and money building Wahhabi schools in northern Yemen, which has been sweeping the northern governorates of the country like, ironically enough, swine flu. A part of this conflict has to do with this infiltration, as traditionally Zaydi Shi’ite tribes  are coming into conflict with these new-born Wahhabis amongst them, who view the former as infidels of sorts.

2. The Houthi Rebels Want to Set up a Zaydi Imamate.

Referring to the Houthi rebels as Shi’ite fundamentalists or Zaydi extremists is misleading. Firstly, the demands of the Houthis must be understood in context, and with a dose of understanding that there will always be a slight amount of retarded anti-Global War on Terror knee-jerking that is inevitably and sadly associated with many Arab movements. Yes, the Houthis have more than once claimed ‘Death to America’ (who hasn’t, really?), and yes, that is completely retarded and doesn’t make much sense. They have also since retracted their statements that they aren’t against American people but against the regime. but what the Houthis ultimately want is what many in Yemen want, including the southern secessionist movement: equal and fair representation in Yemeni government that is increasingly being monopolised by a select few tribes and ideologies. The idea that they want to restore the Zaydi imamate is ridiculous as many have accepted Yemeni ‘Republicanism’.

K, that’s all for now folks.

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