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Posts Tagged ‘Houthi rebels

Why Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to London was a fiasco

Nabil Ennasri. Thursday 15 March 2018


The Saudi crown prince’s eagerly awaited visit to London did not go off as well as was hoped.

The visit was supposed to lend credibility to the international stature of a crown prince aspiring to one day rule the world’s leading oil power.

It turned out instead to be a fierce attack on Saudi Arabia’s brutal and amateurish foreign policy in the Gulf state region.

The three-day state visit to the UK, which began on 6 March, was organised to both bolster the image of Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), as head of state, and to reinforce the strategic UK-Saudi partnership.

(The crown prince spent one $million to promote his visit)

Strategic partners

A long-standing ally, London is seen as one of the Wahhabi kingdom’s key strategic partners, second only to the United States and far ahead of France.

(Britain was the main suppliers of weapons to the Wahhabi tribes during the Ottoman Empire)

The Saudi ruler’s visit was quickly derailed as he came under fierce attack for his role in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which began in March 2015 and has since killed thousands of civilians.

Indeed, three years after the launching of Operation Decisive Storm, the situation is no less than catastrophic. Not only has the Saudi army failed to subdue the Houthi rebels, perceived by the Saudis as the armed extension of Iran in the Arabian Peninsula, but the rebels have put up an incredible fight.

On several occasions they successfully launched missile attacks on the outskirts of Riyadh, and they continue to inflict heavy losses on an increasingly discredited and dispirited Saudi army. And for Riyadh, the war has turned into a financial quagmire as well.

Every month, hundreds of millions of dollars – or even billions according to the most alarming estimates – are squandered, while domestic spending remains in the red. In a country plagued by endemic youth unemployment, social unrest is growing.

(Even before the pre-emptive war on Yemen, 25% of Saudi were living under poverty level in shantytowns)

A Typhoon jet manufactured by BAE Systems and operated by the Saudi air force (Creative Commons)

But the greatest losses are unquestionably humanitarian. The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people, and the wounded and refugees now number in the millions.

(Diphtheria and cholera epidemics have decimated the Yemenis, targeting the infants who lacks clean drinking water)

Yemen’s catastrophic food supply situation and dilapidated public services have triggered epidemics like cholera. The combination of devastating disease with famine and water shortages has alarmed humanitarian partners and led UN officials to call the Yemen humanitarian crisis the “worst in the world“.

The visit of a ‘war criminal’

MBS’s problems in London were largely due to the fiasco of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. Numerous human rights organisations have called for protest marches, forums and other symbolic gatherings to denounce the visit of a “war criminal”.

Activists have also rallied near Westminster, the home of the UK parliament.

Seventeen MPs published an op-ed piece criticising Saudi Arabia for its record on human rights and demanding a moratorium on UK arms sales to the Gulf state monarchy. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sharply condemned Theresa May’s misguided support for the crown prince’s policies.

According to the opposition leader, the values of the nation should not be sacrificed to the prime minister’s desire to offset the spiralling consequences of Brexit by developing a privileged relationship with the Saudi oil power.

Demonstrators protest the visit of Mohammed bin Salman, Wednesday, 7 March (AFP)

Because this is indeed one of the unavowed reasons for the crown prince’s UK visit: Britain hopes to capture a share of the juicy investments the Saudi authorities are getting ready to move forward on.

But discreet discussions on the forthcoming public listing of the all-powerful state oil firm, Saudi Aramco, were a particularly important part of the trip. Aside from this, it was about selling arms.

Vision 2030

The European consortium that manufactures Typhoon fighter jets, of which the British group BAE Systems is a partner company, has welcomed a memorandum of intent signed with Riyadh for the purchase of 48 fighter aircraft.

The announcement came at the end of the Saudi prince’s visit to the UK and could lead to an order worth over $10bn.

MBS and his advisors are also seeking foreign investment as part of Vision 2030, an ambitious plan to liberalise the kingdom’s economy through the privatisation of state-held concerns.

The spin machine behind Saudi Arabia’s ‘humanitarian aid plan’ for Yemen

Scheduled for later this year or early 2019, the public listing of the Saudi oil giant is expected to value it at $2,000bn with 5 percent of the company’s stock, worth $100bn, floated. Among the few details that remain to be settled – the stock exchange where Aramco will be listed.

One thing we do know is that the British government was hoping to convince the Saudi royal to choose London over New York, a city he will soon be visiting as part of an extensive tour of the United States.

Given the less than warm welcome he received in the UK, it is highly unlikely the Saudi crown prince will have many fond memories of the heavy weather in London.

– Nabil Ennasri is a doctor in political science and the director of the Observatoire du Qatar. He is the author of L’énigme du Qatar (Armand Colin). You can follow him on Twitter: @NabilEnnasri

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This story originally appeared in the MEE French edition and was translated by Heather Allen.

Note: The crown prince had his mother in solitary confinement in the last 2 years: She does Not agree with her son’s insane activities.

Saudi Arabia mired in the quicksand of the Middle East

Between War in Yemen and War of Succession

Orient XXI > Alain Gresh > 5 January 2017

Two years after his accession to the throne, King Salman faces many challenges.
The pre-emptive intervention in Yemen is bogged down and Saudi Arabia suffers setbacks in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. While the economic reforms initiated are much criticized, the questions on his succession remain unanswered.

If there is one thing the diplomats posted to Riyadh agree upon, it is that the Saudi leadership analyses the entire regional situation in terms of “the Iranian menace.”

“They see the hand of Iran everywhere and take seriously the declarations in the Iranian press, bragging about how Iran now controls four Arab capitals—Baghdad, Sanaa, Beirut and Damascus,” one of them explains.

“They are obsessed with Iran,” another chimes in. “They end up forgetting that country is their neighbour and that, however, they may feel about its policies, it’s not going to disappear overnight.” All see this obsession as the main reason for the Saudi intervention in Yemen.

“We had no choice, it was an obligation.” This conviction, voiced by a Saudi diplomat, is shared by most of the officials met in Riyadh.

“As we see it,” he went on, “Yemen is a domestic problem: we need a stable, friendly regime on our doorstep. It’s a matter of national security.” And he reminded us that the population of Yemen is as large as that of Arabia.

A “storm” not that “decisive”

King Salman, Abdallah’s successor, had only just been crowned on January 23, 2015, when, discarding a foreign policy that had until then been quite cautious, not to say conservative, he determined to show the world that the kingdom was prepared to defend its vital interests.

All the more so as the USA no longer seemed a dependable ally judging by their deal with Teheran on the nuclear issue or their passivity in Syria. And so, in March 2015, Riyadh led a coalition of some ten countries on a military expedition aimed at restoring the “legitimate” government in Sanaa, (the tenure of President Hadi had expired) ousted from power by the Houthi rebels and their allies, accused of being manipulated by Teheran.

However, the operation dubbed “Decisive Storm” was anything but “decisive” and shed a harsh light on the limitations of Saudi military (and political) strength.

Despite some ten thousand troops deployed along its border with Yemen, the Kingdom was forced to evacuate a strip of land 200 kilometres long and 20 to 30 wide; 7,000 inhabitants had to leave their villages for fear of Houthi incursions and still today the latter are firing missiles at cities like Jizan where they don’t do much damage, but create a climate of permanent insecurity, at times causing the shutdown of schools and other public institutions.

While the authorities admit to having lost 50 soldiers, the actual figure is said to be over 800, most of the casualties being camouflaged as “accidents.”

Finally, the very serious “blunders” perpetrated by the Saudi air force, including the bombing of a funeral in central Sanaa on October 9, 2016, killing 140, which shocked the world and led the US to suspend the Raytheon Company’s delivery of 16,000 precision munitions to Arabia.

And on December 19, after having denied using them for many months, Riyadh officially announced it would henceforth refrain from employing British cluster bombs. (Nothing refrains this lunatic Kingdom)

The nationalistic euphoria which had united a large share of the Saudi population gradually dwindled as the country found itself bogged down in an endless war, with many civilian casualties. “We are destroying a very poor country,” a young academic deplored. “And it affects us, even if we have no sympathy for Iran.”

And he went on to add: “We are beginning to see the connection between the austerity plans imposed on us and the cost of this war.” According to different sources, this cost is estimated at two, three or even seven billion dollars per month, at a time when the collapse of oil prices has drained the resources of the State.

In an attempt to put this bleak overview into perspective, a Saudi official serves us some data:

“We have captured 80% of the missiles under Houthi control and prevented South Yemen and the rest of the country from falling into their hands.” This is small consolation, a far cry from the original objectives, in particular the winning back of Sanaa.

And so Riyadh is trying to find a way out of this quagmire. But as usual it is much harder to get out of a war than it is to start one. Not only must Arabia take the actions of its enemies into account—at the end of November the Saudi press made much of declarations by the Iranian chief of staff announcing the establishment of naval bases in Syria and Yemen—but many of its allies are developing their own strategies.

The United Arab Emirates, who is very active in Yemen with hundreds of soldiers on the ground, distrusts Al-Islah, the Yemenite branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, despite its allegiance to the “legitimate” President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, backed by the Saudis. (They withdrew their armed contingent after suffering dire casualties)

And he in turn refuses to be the “fall guy” of a deal currently being brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry, discussions in which Riyadh seems to place all its hopes of extricating itself from what its adversaries term, with great exaggeration, “a Saudi Vietnam.”

Instability and regional divisions

In the eyes of the new King Salman, the Yemen intervention was only the first step in his country’s reassertion of its role in the regional stage. For the first time since the October 1973 embargo on oil exports during the Israeli-Arab war, the country has detached itself from US tutelage. It tried to hamper the normalisation of Iran’s relations with the rest of the world. The execution by Riyadh of the Saudi Shia leader Nimr Baqir al-Nimr on January 2, 2016, followed by the attack in reprisal on the Saudi embassy in Teheran led to the breaking off of diplomatic relations with Iran. Several Gulf countries followed suit.

“From now on,” a western diplomat explained, “the machinery is well oiled: every incident between the Kingdom and Iran leads to a condemnation before the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), then by the Arab League and finally by the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC). However, we need only glance at the regional situation to gauge the limits of this Saudi offensive.”

In Syria, the fall of Aleppo to the Syrian army with the help of Russian bombers, Iranian advisers and Shia militias from Lebanon and Iraq has strengthened President Assad’s position whereas Riyadh is trying to unseat him.

In Iraq, the efforts to improve relations with the Haider Al-Abadi government, formed in August 2014, have turned sour. The new Saudi ambassador, Thamer Al-Sabhan, appointed in December 2015 after a break in diplomatic relations that went back to the Gulf War (1990-1991), has repeatedly denounced the role of the Shia militia (Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi ) in Iraq, responsible for escalating tensions with the Sunnis, with the result that on August 28, 2016, Baghdad demanded the ambassador be recalled.

“However,” said a Saudi diplomat reassuringly, “we still have relations with Iraq, even if we would like our government to be more incisive. Daesh was fostered by a policy that excluded and ostracised Sunnis. The departure of Maliki—the former prime minister whose confessional policies were favourable to the Shias—was necessary, and yet his influence subsists.”

In Lebanon, after having frozen a gift of 3 billion dollars for the purchase of (French) weaponry—to punish Beirut for failing to sign an Arab League statement accusing the Hezbollah of being a “terrorist” organisation—and after cutting off funding to their ally Saad Al-Hariri—not a very profitable investment for Riyadh—the Saudis withdrew completely from the Lebanese arena.

When General Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, was elected president on October 31, 2016, there showed up in Beirut in quick succession to congratulate him the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Zarif and Bashar Al-Assad’s special envoy Mansour Azzam, whereas the Saudi embassy in Beirut had closed two months earlier. It was not until November 21 that Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, governor of Mecca finally met President Aoun.

On the pediment of the Saudi foreign ministry is inscribed this verse from the Koran: “Oh humankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another.” An exhortation with which Saudi diplomats have had great difficulty in complying, even with regard to other Sunni countries.

It is not entirely their fault, the region has never been in such turmoil, what with the US withdrawal, the rise of powerful non-state armed groups and the fluctuating alliances in which yesterday’s enemies are today’s allies: three years ago, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were on the brink of war, today they are on much closer terms while during the last few months relations between Cairo and Riyadh have steadily deteriorated.

The United Arab Emirates has failed in their attempts to mediate between the two countries. The visit to Ethiopia in December by one of King Salman’s advisers—followed by that of the Qatari foreign minister—and to that country’s Renaissance dam site on the Upper Nile, may be regarded as a message: for indeed Egypt regards the construction of this dam as prejudicial to its water supply.

And to top it all, the CGC has rejected Egyptian claims that Qatar had a hand in the terrorist attack on a Coptic church in Cairo on December 11, 2016. As was deplored by the Saudi columnist Khalid Al-Dakhil: “The crisis occurs after three years of exchanges, visits and assistance. Which means that there was never any real agreement on regional issues. And yet a threat to one of these countries is a threat to the other as well. The collapse of Egypt would be a major threat to Arabia and vice versa.”

The attempt to create a broad coalition among Sunni Muslim countries against terrorism, hastily announced on December 15, 2015—some countries had not even been informed Mansur Azzam, was little more than propaganda. Even the plan to transform the CGC into a tighter and more efficient alliance has not only been rejected out of hand by Oman but has met with the reluctance of other members, fearful of Saudi hegemony. From this point of view, the CGC summit held last December in Bahrain in the presence of King Salman, produced no concrete results. And while it is still too early to analyse the significance of Oman joining the anti-terrorist alliance at the end of the year, it does not appear to signal a radical change in the Sultanate’s foreign policy.

In his confrontation with Iran, King Salman can only claim one major success, the establishment of closer ties with Ankara at the end of December 2015. Turkey is a powerful ally, with substantial economic capacities and an army that could weigh heavily in the balance of power with Iran. However, in recent months a rapprochement has occurred with Russia, whereas the two countries were on the brink of war in 2015!

Tensions within the royal family

The results of this policy offer an uneven picture, to say the least, and have sharpened the debate inside the royal family as shown by a strange incident which was the talk of Riyadh. A Saudi daily paper, Al Watan published on its website off-the-record remarks, supposedly made during a meeting of the Gulf countries in Jeddah by the crown prince and Minister of the Interior, Muhammad Bin Nayef —best known by his initials, MBN. They were removed several hours later on the pretext that the site had been hacked and that the paper had never reported any such declarations! Of course no one believed these denials.

What did Prince MBN have to say? “Although we responded to the call for help from the legitimate government of Yemen,” he explained in substance, “our ’Decisive Storm’ operation has lasted longer than we foresaw and got out of hand, in particular because of the failure by other members of the coalition to carry out their tasks.” By inference, he was accusing Egypt of having failed to deploy ground troops.

“In Syria,” he went on, “we wanted to see the regime overthrown with the help of Turkey and the United States,” which did not come about. And in conclusion, he said “we must revise our politics and our calculations” and on these two issues we must make “genuine, agonising concessions” if we do not want the Arab world to become embroiled in endless conflicts.

In a country where arrests of “suspected terrorists” are a daily occurrence—on October 30 a terrorist cell was dismantled that was preparing attacks on government officials and soccer stadiums—, where rewards are now being offered for denunciations of “terrorists”, the crown prince cum minister is primarily concerned by the war against transnational groups like Al-Qaida and ISIS. And he favours political settlements of regional conflicts for fear that their extension will favour such groups.

But this debate over strategy also conceals a power struggle. The crowning of King Salman resulted in the meteoric rise of his son, Mohammad Bin Salman, who is scarcely thirty. First he was appointed defence minister, then vice-crown prince, in other words, third in line of succession to the throne.

“Salman’s ambition,” an Egyptian official interviewed in Cairo observed sarcastically, “is to create a Salmani Arabia to replace Saudi Arabia” . . . and, in other words, get rid of the crown prince. Indeed, the latter has been pushed aside, the war in Yemen and major economic reforms entrusted to MBS, chief promoter of an ambitious development plan, “Vision 2030” launched in April 2016 and meant to reform the economy according to precepts worthy of Margaret Thatcher.

Now this plan, adopted in answer to the fall in oil revenues, has caused steep price rises—especially in water and electricity bills—as well as a general shrinkage of middle-class purchasing power (due to unprecedented wage and bonus cuts for civil servants, the hardest hit being academics and military personnel, who have lost 50% of their income).

In 2016 the economy experienced its first recession since 2009 and the budget deficit was over 85 billion dollars—according to the next budget, it should fall to 53 billion in 2017. As a result of the concentration of power in the hands of the King and his son, decision-making is increasingly opaque and uncertain, much to the chagrin of business men, already thrown off balance by the late payments of the State. Not to speak of the governmental instability marked by the fusions of various administrations and the ministerial merry-go-round (four ministers of education in two years).

As a European diplomat put it, MBN, the crown prince, was wise enough not to be associated with either the war in Yemen or the economic reforms, which have as yet to produce any results. He is beginning to reap the rewards of his patience and has made a comeback on the political stage and in the media.”

All the more so as he had made known his qualms about these policies via the dense news networks which irrigate Saudi society, a mix of familial and tribal connections, but also an intensive use of Twitter—the Kingdom has a penetration rate of 35 to 40%, one of the highest in the world—and of WhatsApp (more secure), while over 90% of the population, has access to the Internet via their cell phones1. In Riyadh, anyone interested knows about the power games while, needless to say, nothing transpires in the media.

For the moment, the King, although he is over 80, has a firm grip on the reins of power. But is he still in a position to impose his son as his successor? Much will depend on the results of the economic reforms and regional developments but also on the new administration about to take over in Washington on January 21. Everyone in Riyadh is waiting for Donald Trump to take office with mingled hopes and fears.

No one in the circles of power will regret Barack Obama, accused of abandoning Hosni Mubarak to his fate, of being too soft on the Iranians and failing to come through in Syria.

And glossing over his declared Islamophobia and his sympathies for Israel, it is hoped that Donald Trump—with the men he has appointed to carry out US foreign policy—will side with the enemies of the Islamic Republic, the spectre which haunts the Saudi monarchy.


Is Yemen On the brink of civil war?

As if Yemen ever stopped being on the verge of civil wars for over a century.

If the problems were just fighting among themselves.

The collapse of the US-backed government in the 2,500-year-old capital city of Sanaa, and the takeover by a Shiite-like sect, Houthi rebels from the north, has left the country in turmoil, amidst the threat of yet another regional conflagration along sectarian lines.

Britain, the United States and France have already closed down their embassies, but less clear is how they can respond to a crisis that looks ready to spiral out of control.

Most Gulf Emirate States and Saudi Arabia have transferred their embassies to Aden, to where the deposed President Hadi fled and is seeking support to his position.

Yemen’s collapse is a taste of things to come #InsideYemen

Author Info Wrap Nafeez Ahmed, Friday 20 February 2015

The war pundits have been out in force offering all manner of stale recommendations, largely rehashed from the last decade of failed counter-terrorism policies.

We are running out of options, but the reason for this is more nuanced than some might assume.

The core drivers of state failure in Yemen are neither Islamists, al-Qaeda jihadists, nor Houthis: they are structural, systemic, and ultimately, civilisational.

Yemen’s crisis serves as a grave warning for the looming risks to states in coming years and decades, not just in the region, but around the world

Welcome to the post-oil future

Yemen’s story is one of protracted, inexorable collapse.

Around 2001, Yemen’s oil production reached its peak, since then declining from 450,000 barrels per day (bbd), to 259,000 bpd in 2010, and as of last year hitting 100,000 bpd. Production is expected to plummet to zero in two years.

This has led to a drastic decline in Yemen’s oil exports, which has eaten into government revenues, 75% of which depend on oil exports.

Oil revenues also account for 90 percent of the government’s foreign exchange reserves. The decline in post-peak Yemen revenues has reduced the government’s capacity to sustain even basic social investments. (And how the former dictator managed to stash $9 bn in overseas banks?)

Things are looking bad now: but when the oil runs out, with no planning or investment in generating another meaningful source of government revenue, the capacity to sustain a viable state-structure will completely collapse.

Water woes

It’s not just oil that’s disappearing in Yemen: it’s water.

Yemen is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world.

In 2012, the average Yemeni had access to just 140 cubic metres of water a year for all uses, compared to the regional average of less than 1,000 cubic metres – which is still well below adequate levels.

Now in 2015, Yemenis have as little as 86 cubic metres of renewable water sources left per person per year.

The water situation in Yemen today is catastrophic by any reasonable standard. In many cities people have only sporadic access to running water every other week or so. In coming years, Sanaa could become the first capital in the world to effectively run out of water.

Climate change has already played a role in aggravating regional water scarcity.

From 1974 to 2004, the Arab world experienced rises in surface air temperature ranging from 0.2 to 2 degrees Celsius (C). Forecasting models generally project a hotter, drier, less predictable climate that could produce a 20-30% drop in water run-off in the region by 2050, mainly due to rising temperatures and lower precipitation.

According to the World Bank, while “climate change-induced alterations of rainfall” have worsened Yemen’s aridity, this has been compounded by the rapid growth in demand due to the “extension and intensification of agriculture; and fast growth in urban centres.”

Demographic disaster

At about 25 million people, Yemen has a relatively small population. But its rate of growth is exorbitantly high. More than half the population is under the age of 18 and by mid-century its size is expected to nearly double.

Last year, at a conference organised jointly by the National Population Council in Sanaa and the UN Population Fund, experts and officials warned that within the next decade, these demographic trends would demolish the government’s ability to meet the population’s basic needs in education, health and other essential public services.

But that warning is transpiring now.

Over half the Yemeni population live below the poverty line, and unemployment is at 40 percent generally, and 60 percent for young people. Meanwhile, as these crises have fuelled ongoing conflicts throughout the country, the resulting humanitarian crisis has affected some 15 million people.

A major impact of the high rate of population growth has been in the expansion of qat cultivation. With few economic opportunities, increasing numbers of Yemenis have turned to growing and selling the mild narcotic, which has accelerated water use to around 3.9 billion cubic metres (bcm), against a renewable supply of just 2.5 bcm.

The 1.4 bcm shortfall is being met by pumping water from underground water reserves. As these run dry, social tensions, local conflicts and even mass displacements are exacerbated, feeding into the dynamics of the wider sectarian and political conflicts between the government, the Houthis, southern separatists and al-Qaeda affiliated militants.

This has also undermined food security. As around 40 percent of Yemen’s irrigated areas are devoted to qat, rain-fed agriculture has dropped by about 30 percent since 1970.

Like many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Yemen has thus become evermore dependent on food imports, and its economy increasingly vulnerable to global food price volatility.

The country now imports over 85% of its food, including 90 percent of its wheat and all of its rice.

Between 2000 and 2008, the year of the global banking collapse, global food prices rose by 75 percent, and wheat in particular by 200 percent. Since then, food prices have fluctuated, but remained high.

But rampant poverty means most Yemenis simply cannot afford these prices.

In 2005, the World Bank estimated that Yemeni families spend an average of between 55 and 70 percent of their incomes just on trying to obtain food, water and energy.

And while 40 percent of Yemeni households have got into food-related debt as a result, most Yemenis are still hungry, with the rate of chronic malnutrition as high as 58 percent, second only to Afghanistan.

Slow collapse

For more than the last decade, then, Yemen has faced a convergence of energy, water and food crises intensified by climate change, accelerating the country’s economic crisis in the form of ballooning debt, widening inequalities and the crumbling of basic public services.

Epidemic levels of government corruption, contributing to endemic levels of government mismanagement and incompetence, have meant that what little revenues the government has acquired have mostly disappeared into Swiss bank accounts.

Meanwhile, much-needed investments in new social programs, development of non-oil resources, and infrastructure improvements have languished.

With revenues plummeting in the wake of the collapse of its oil industry, the government has been forced to slash subsidies while cranking up fuel and diesel prices.

This has, in turn, cranked up prices of water, meat, fruits, vegetables and spices, leading to food riots.

There can be no doubt, then, that the rise of violent and separatist movements across Yemen, including the emergence of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has been largely enabled by the protracted collapse of the Yemeni state.

That process of collapse has been driven primarily by trends that are at play across the world: the peak of conventional oil production, intensifying extreme weather events due to climate change, the impacts on water and food scarcity, and deepening economic crisis.

As the government has failed to deliver even the most basic goods and services, it has lost legitimacy – and the vacuum left behind has been exploited by militants.

The ‘war’ on starved, thirsty and unemployed Yemenis

The US “war on terror” in Yemen is thus an ideal case study in failure: the failure of the “war on terror” as a strategy; the failure of the Yemeni state; the failure of neoliberal economic prescriptions; and, ultimately, the naval-gazing failure to understand how and why we are failing.

For the last few decades, successive US administrations have subsidised these failures by propping up corrupt, authoritarian regimes. Instead of recognising the fundamental drivers of state collapse, the approach has been to deal with the surface symptoms by propping up the police and military powers of a doomed and illegitimate state-structure.

The previous government of Abdullah Saleh was effectively toppled under popular protests in 2011, which forced Saleh to hand over the reigns of power to his vice-president, Mansour Hadi.

But Saleh, now blacklisted by Washington for sponsoring “terrorism” and “destabilising” Yemen by conspiring with the Houthis, was a staunch US ally, who even voluntarily took the blame for US drone strikes in the country, which have killed large numbers of civilians.

Saleh saw his main task as consolidating state coffers at the expense of the rest of Yemen, and deploying overwhelming indiscriminate military force to put down popular rebellions.

Throughout his rule, Saleh was supported by tens of millions of dollars in US aid annually – which reached a height of $176 million for military training and counter-terrorism assistance in 2010.

Yet as documented by groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW), US military aid was used to ruthlessly crush secessionist and opposition movements. Massive aerial bombardment and artillery shelling regularly inflicted consistently “high civilian casualties,” according to HRW. Government forces routinely opened fire on unarmed protestors years before 2011, usually “without warning” and from short-range.

Why do our friends love al-Qaeda?

Our blossoming love affair with Saleh was justified by the need to fight al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which of course recently claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris.

But Saleh’s regime had harboured al-Qaeda terrorists for decades, and largely with US knowledge. Since 1996 at latest, the National Security Agency (NSA) had been intercepting all of Osama bin Laden’s communications with his al-Qaeda operations hub in Yemen, based in Sanaa, which functioned as a logistics base to coordinate terrorist attacks around the world, including the US embassy bombings in East Africa and the bombing of the USS Cole.

But much of this terrorist activity also occurred under the patronage of the Saleh regime, as candidly described by a US Congressional Research Service report in 2010.

The report explains how in 1994, “President Saleh dispatched several brigades of ‘Arab Afghans’ to fight against southern late secessionists,” with US backing. In the same period, al-Qaeda-linked militants “began striking targets inside the country.”

Despite this, the Congressional report points out that “Yemen continues to harbor a number of al-Qaeda operatives and has refused to extradite several known militants on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists” – including people who had been convicted of targeting Yemeni oil installations.

Former FBI special agent Ali Soufan said: “If Yemen is truly an ally, it should act as an ally. Until it does, US aid to Yemen should be reevaluated. It will be impossible to defeat al-Qaeda if our ‘allies’ are freeing the convicted murderers of US citizens and terrorist masterminds while receiving direct US financial aid.’”

The rabbit hole goes much deeper than this, though. Almost immediately after AQAP formally declared its existence through a partnership between al-Qaeda operatives based in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Saleh “struck a deal with Ayman Zawahiri,” al-Qaeda’s incumbent emir, according to Yemen analyst Jane Novak.

“In the latest round of negotiations, Saleh reportedly asked the militants to engage in violence against the southern mobility movement,” wrote Novak, whose blog was banned by the Yemeni government in 2007.

“The deal has reportedly included the supply of arms and ammunition to al-Qaeda paramilitary forces by the Yemen military.”

A copy of an internal AQAP communiqué obtained by a Yemeni news publication revealed that al-Qaeda legitimised fighting for the state by referencing the 1994 war.

“Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula explained to its followers that President Saleh wants jihadists to fight on behalf of the state, especially those who did already in 1994, against the enemies of unity – southern oppositionists,” reported Novak. “AQAP in return will gain prison releases and unimpeded travel to external theatres of jihad, the letter explained.”

Protecting our oil

US support for Yemen’s authoritarian, terror-toting state structure continues. Since the arrival of Saleh’s successor, Mansour Hadi – deposed in the wake of the recent Houthi coup – Obama had authorised nearly $1 billion in aid to the Yemeni government. The support was supposed to be a model success for political transition, offering a blueprint for how to take on the “Islamic State” (IS).

Yet Hadi, like his predecessor, was no reformer. He came to power in a phony “democratic” election in which he was the only candidate, a US-backed process brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) consisting of some of the world’s most brutal dictatorships, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Now, in the wake of the GCC powers threatening a joint invasion to remove the Shiite Houthis, the Houthis have agreed to form a “people’s transitional council” with rival parties to resolve the political crisis.

For the US, the real issue in Yemen is its strategic position in relation to the world’s oil supply. Yemen controls the Bab el-Mandeb strait, through which 8 percent of global trade travels including 4 percent of global oil products. The Houthi coup threatens the Yemeni government’s ability to control the strait, and could even force it to close if violence worsens.

The closure of the strait would increase transit times and costs with severe implications for global oil prices that could potentially trigger an economic crash.

The biggest problem with the strategy in Yemen, then, is its obsession with sustaining business-as-usual, no matter how defunct. Our global chronic dependence on fossil fuels is driving climate change, which in turn is accelerating regional water and food scarcity.

But it also means that we must maintain a pliant authoritarian regime in Yemen to ensure that an anti-US government cannot come to power, undermine our access to this strategic region and destabilise the global economy.

Yet it is precisely the execution of this very strategy that has intensified instability in Yemen; fuelled the grievances that feed dissent, rebellion and even terrorism, and culminated in the Houthi coup that we are now desperate to find a way to quell and accommodate.

Until all actors in the crisis are willing to recognise and address its deeper causes, the new “transition council” in Yemen will solve nothing. In coming years, Yemen’s state will crumble, and US-led efforts to shore it up by empowering its most repressive structures will merely accelerate the collapse.

Yemen’s crisis, in that respect, serves as a grave warning for the looming risks to states in coming years and decades, not just in the region, but around the world.

Yet there is an alternative. If we want a stable government in Yemen, we would do well to re-think the efficacy of focusing so much of our aid on corrupt and repressive regimes in the name of countering terrorism, a process that has contributed to the wholesale destruction of Yemeni society.

We need a new model, one that is based on building grassroots community resilience, facilitating frameworks for mutual inter-tribal political and economic cooperation, and empowering communities to implement best practices in clean energy infrastructure, local water management and sustainable food production.

That we would rather shoot, bomb and kill our way to victory instead, in cahoots with regimes that sponsor terrorism under our noses and with our support, reveals how neck-deep in self-induced delusion we really are about the unsustainable nature of our chosen course.

– Nafeez Ahmed PhD, is an investigative journalist, international security scholar and bestselling author who tracks what he calls the ‘crisis of civilization.’

He is a winner of the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian reporting on the intersection of global ecological, energy and economic crises with regional geopolitics and conflicts.

He has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist. His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Armed Yemeni tribesmen from the Awlaki tribe, the largest clan in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province (AFP)

– See more at:

 Yemenis dream about drones. And their attacking dreams come true

We dream about drones, said 13-year-old Yemeni before his death in a CIA strike

Mohammed Tuaiman becomes the third member of his family to be killed by what he called ‘death machines’ in the sky months after Guardian interview

‘My father was martyred by a drone’: Yemeni teenager records life months before suffering a similar fate

Chavala Madlena, Hannah Patchett and Adel Shamsan in Sana’
Tuesday 10 February 2015 07.01 GMT

A 13-year-old boy killed in Yemen last month by a CIA drone strike had told the Guardian just months earlier that he lived in constant fear of the “death machines” in the sky that had already killed his father and brother.

“I see them every day and we are scared of them,” said Mohammed Tuaiman, speaking from al-Zur village in Marib province, where he died two weeks ago.

“A lot of the kids in this area wake up from sleeping because of nightmares of drones and some now have mental problems. They turned our area into hell and continuous horror, day and night, we even dream of them in our sleep.

Much of Mohammed’s life was spent living in fear of drone strikes.

In 2011 an unmanned combat drone killed his father and teenage brother as they were out herding the family’s camels.

The drone that would kill Mohammed struck on 26 January in Hareeb, about an hour from his home. The drone hit the car carrying the teenager, his brother-in-law Abdullah Khalid al-Zindani and a third man.

“I saw all the bodies completely burned, like charcoal,” Mohammed’s older brother Maqded said. “When we arrived we couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t move the bodies so we just buried them there, near the car.”

Several anonymous US government officials told Reuters that the strike had been carried out by the CIA and had killed “three men believed to be al-Qaida militants”.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris last month. (So did many other movements, like Daesh)

Marib province has become a flashpoint in the struggle between the Houthi rebels –who have ousted the president after overrunning the capital – and the local tribes who reject the Shia group’s attempts to bring Marib under their control.

Like the other families around al-Zur and throughout Marib province, the Tuaiman men have been involved in pushing back against the Houthis.

In a secretive program carried out by the CIA in rural, isolated parts of Yemen, it is easy for confusion to surround the particulars of those killed in a drone strike. Affiliations with al-Qaida and anti-government tribal sympathies mesh and merge depending on who is attacking whom.

Mohammed Saleh Tauiman was 13 when the Guardian gave him a camera to record his family life.

Maqdad said the family had been wrongly associated with al-Qaida, and family members strongly deny that Mohammed was involved in any al-Qaida or anti-Houthi fighting. “He wasn’t a member of al-Qaida. He was a kid.”

Speaking from al-Zur the day after his brother’s death, Meqdad said: “After our father died, al-Qaida came to us to offer support. But we are not with them. Al-Qaida may have claimed Mohammed now but we will do anything – go to court, whatever – in order to prove that he was not with al-Qaida.”

When the Guardian interviewed Mohammed last September, he spoke of his anger towards the US government for killing his father. “They tell us that these drones come from bases in Saudi Arabia and also from bases in the Yemeni seas and America sends them to kill terrorists, but they always kill innocent people. But we don’t know why they are killing us.

“In their eyes, we don’t deserve to live like people in the rest of the world and we don’t have feelings or emotions or cry or feel pain like all the other humans around the world.”

Mohammed’s father, Saleh Tuaiman, was killed in 2011 in a drone strike that also killed Mohammed’s teenage brother, Jalil. Saleh Tuaiman left behind three wives and 27 children.

The CIA and Pentagon were both asked to comment on whether the teenager had been confirmed as an al-Qaida militant. Both declined to comment.

Mohammed’s 27 siblings have now lost three family members in US drone strikes and may grow up with the same sense of confusion and injustice Mohammed expressed shortly before his death.

“The elders told us that it’s criminal to kill the civilians without distinguishing between terrorists and innocents and they kill just on suspicion, without hesitation.”

For Meqdad, Mohammed’s death has reignited his determination to seek out justice for his family. “We live in injustice and we want the United States to recognise these crimes against my father and my brothers. They were innocent people, we are weak, poor people, and we don’t have anything to do with this.”

However, he added: “Don’t blame us because we sympathise with al-Qaida, because they were the only people who showed their faces to us, the government ignored us, the US ignored us and didn’t compensate us. And we will go to court to prove this is wrong.”

Additional reporting by Iyad al-Qaisi in Jordan

“The family has again received no explanation for [13-year-old] Mohamed’s death from either the U.S. or Yemeni governments. Al Qaeda continues to offer the only support to the family.”…/drones-dream-yemeni-teenager-m…

Mohammed Tuaiman becomes the third member of his family to be killed by what he called ‘death machines’ in the sky months after Guardian interview




January 2023

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