Houthis and their allies take over major part of Yemen – Old Actors React to Changes in the Middle-East as Turmoil Deepens

Developments in the Middle-East continue to convulse the Arab world. The old order in the region is trying to assert itself against the winds of change brought about by the international and regional developments. This reassertion is leading to a spate of wars in different countries. The old order is waging wars against those forces and factors which they think are upsetting or may upset their domination in the region.
For long western imperialist powers dominated oil resources of the region and to that end its economic and political life. Since the commercial refining of oil, western imperialist powers had established their military bases and controlled the region with their armed might. Gradually they carved this region among their vassal states guaranteeing security of the regimes brought into power with military might. They patronized Jewish dream of homeland in Palestine. They utilized all conflicts and developments in the world and the region to establish the regimes loyal to them and hostile to the people of the region. It was their necessity as they wished to rob and did rob the people of the region of their natural resources. With defeat of Ottoman Turkey, the overlord of the region, in teh First World War they carved out different states and took steps towards establishing Zewish state on the lands seized from Arabs. Since Second World War, Israel and Gulf monarchies led by Saudi Arabia have been the mainstay of the domination of the region by western imperialist powers led by the United States. While Egypt and Iran have been in and out of their influence, the basic architecture of US led western domination was woven around these twin pillars. The winds of Arab nationalism were weathered by this establishment countering Arab nationalism with promotion of Islamic fundamentalism. This architecture has held out for decades. The regimes have been keeping the people of the region suppressed and powerless while oil wealth allowed them to hand out doles. This imperialist domination of the natural resources and occupation of Palestinian Arab lands by Zionist aggressors had been brewing discontent among the people and sections of elites in these countries leading to periodic outbursts. However, owing to small size of industrial working class and absence of any powerful agrarian movement of the peasantry, these outbursts have been mostly led by sections of elites, including military officers, and propelled by middle class disenchantment providing strength to these outbursts.
All these aspects have been asserting themselves through the contradictions prevailing in the region i.e. contradiction between imperialism and Arab people and countries, contradiction among different imperialist powers and contradiction between chieftains of the pre-capitalist social formations and the masses of the people. Ruling elite of these countries are tied to imperialist powers whose loot and plunder they facilitate and in this loot and plunder they partake a share. Many Bedouin tribal chiefs long accustomed to trade have been transformed into compradors of the imperialist powers. They have wielded weapons of religious fundamentalism to keep the people suppressed. They have wielded their wealth and religious fundamentalism to extend their influence in different countries to help imperialist powers as well as themselves for subverting regimes there inconvenient to their domination of the region. They also extended support to ruling elite of several countries to be summoned in case of emergent need of suppressing rebellion at home. For long this architecture held sway though region has always been unstable marked by people’s movements and Israeli expansionism interspersed with attempts by rulers of several of these countries to break the shackles imposed by this architecture. These attempts were met by intimidation and aggression by imperialists and subversion by these monarchs.
Over the past years two serious developments have impacted this architecture and these developments have affected the contradictions operating in the region. First had been the decline of superpower US imperialism which has been militarily dominating the region and has been providing military security to the continuation and influence of these regimes, particularly monarchies and which has been acting as gendarme against the people of the region and forces threatening to upset the architecture of western imperialist domination. The decline of US imperialism is also manifested in its inability and unwillingness to send military forces to control the region. This decline has deepened the sense of insecurity of these anti-people regimes, particularly monarchies and has aggravated the contradictions among imperialist powers on this changed basis. Both Russia and also France have sought to increase their role in the region, albeit in contradictory terms the former is opposition to western alliance and the latter from within this alliance. In the wake of its declining position, US imperialism is trying to reach a compromise with Iran on its nuclear programme and accommodate Turkey to add two additional pillars to the two pillar structure of its domination of the region. But both these additions are unacceptable to Israel and Saudi Arabia, the existing pillars of US domination of the region.
Turkey is currently ruled by a party sprung from Muslim Brotherhood (MB). It has adapted its Islamist moorings to bourgeois democratic political system. MB has widespread influence in Arab countries particularly among Sunni Arabs. Its opposition to monarchies has repeatedly brought it into conflict with Saudi rulers of S. Arabia and other Gulf monarchies. Upsurge in people’s struggles which resulted in the overthrow of military dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, brought MB affiliated parties to power in the elections held after their overthrow. This un-nerved Gulf monarchies particularly House of Saud who supported Army in toppling Morsi Govt. in Egypt in a military coup. Turkish rulers’ support to Hamas, the ruling group in Gaza which also owes its origin to MB, has also soured its relations with Israel to an estent. Saudi rulers are not prepared to accept enhanced role of Turkish rulers in the affairs of Arab world.
More problematic for them is to accommodate the role of Iran which has emerged as a powerful challenge to their domination of Arab world. Iran is large country situated to the east of Arab world and has influence in many Arab countries. Its brand of political Islam, a bourgeois democratic exercise circumscribed to the rule of Fakih, poses threat to Arab monarchies by its electoral model and also its penetration in Arab countries helped by sectarian divisions in these societies. Iran sees an opportunity to expand its role in the region on the back of the decline of US imperialism. US and its main allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia, have long been raising the bogey of Iranian threat to keep the region under their control. They have raised the bogey of Iran’s nuclear bomb to impose sanctions on Iran to keep it away from benefiting from its immense natural resources. However, failure of US military aggressions in the region, particularly in Iraq, have increased the reach and strength of Iran. Civil war in Syria has particularly demonstrated the limits of US power in the region and rising strength of Iran and increasing role of Russia in Middle-East. Rise of Islamic State from the anti-US forces in Iraq has further complicated the situation in the region where US imperialists and its allies are facing a threat from new forces. IS, an amalgamation of Salafi, MB and Bath elements, has emerged as a big force in the region forcing US imperialists to make a common cause with Iran in containing IS. US has been forced to accommodate Iran in managing the Middle-East. It obviously does not mean that US imperialists would abandon their efforts to curtail Iranian influence and at least contain it. It only means that it would no longer be part of “axis of evil” and hence subject to both cooperation and collision in the region. Hence this engagement is neither going to be smooth nor free of twists and turns or even reversals. A new Middle-East is being born but not exactly the one desired by US imperialism.
Framework agreement between US & P5+1 and Iran has less to do with nuclear programme and more to do with new architecture of Middle-East balance of power sought by US imperialism. It is this which has angered Israeli and Saudi Arabian rulers who have been opposed to any deal between Iran and US led western powers. Israeli rulers do not want any strong power in the region which is not controlled by their US patrons and themselves. They have raised a lot of hue and cry over Iranian nuclear programme prophesying apocalypse in the event of any deal with Iran. Saudi rulers who wanted US to “crush the head of (Iranian) serpent” are aghast at the deal. They had repeatedly warned against the deal but rulers of US and EU have gone ahead.
While decline of US imperialism and changes sought by it in the new architecture of domination over the region is one big development, the other serious and even more significant in the long run is the rising struggle of Arab people against these autocratic regimes including monarchies. These struggles often amorphous and not well directed, lacking clear programme and leadership, have nonetheless shaken the status quo in the region. They led to fall of military dictators. Though military could come back to power in Egypt, the rising of the people for democratic rights and better living conditions in the land full of gas and oil has by no means disappeared. It has left the autocrats and Zionist rulers of Israel with whom these autocrats are in league, un-nerved. They sought to crush people’s upsurges through military suppression and sought to drown it in the blood of sectarian strife. Their efforts sometimes apparently successful have however not eliminated the democratic aspirations of the people. These rulers are seriously apprehensive of awakening of Arab people. They are trying to further weaken and disorganize the people by sponsoring several groups of fundamentalists. But they are not able to erase people’s strivings and struggles against domination of imperialists and rule of these agents of imperialist powers.
Arab monarchs are deeply fearful of their own people. They depend on outside powers for their survival as they cannot trust their own people. They dare not arm them for the fear of these arms turning against them. Hence they depend on the outside armies to maintain them in power. They fear rise of any power in their vicinity as this may embolden their subjects. But most they fear is their own people and their democratic aspirations. They feed them on the daily dose of religious fundamentalism and stage spectacles of medieval brutalities to instill fear in their hearts. They are assisted by Salafist religious establishment but they cannot fully trust them either. These highly insecure ruling groups are fearful of any change in the balance of power in the region. They need to continuously engage their people with their diversionary tactics and show of the power of ruling groups, their ability to shape and reshape the region as they will. On this fear and awe they depend on their continuation of power.
With the perceived weakening of foreign assistance, particularly from US imperialism, Saudi rulers are seeking to ‘return to their roots’. They are encouraging and strengthening Wahabbi religious establishment and their “foreign assets” (religious fundamentalist groups) not only to keep their own people in subordination, but also to advance their interests abroad. The present king, Salman, is an old hand of Saudi establishment who dealt with Al Qaeda and other Jihadi groups in Afghanistan and the other main powerful person, Prince Nayef, has been instrumental in dealing with Al Qaeda in Arab Peninsula (primarily Yemen). In fact in the Saudi establishment, the group having closer links to fundamentalist organizations has gained strength. Hence the present belligerence of Saudi establishment also has an inner dimension.
In this background that Yemen has erupted. It has shaken the already uneasy balance in the Arab world and un-nerved Saudi monarchy. Developments in Yemen have their roots both in the recent developments as well as in the long history of this poorest country of Arab world. Yemen was shaken by the rise of popular struggles in the Arab world. People demanding democratic rights rose against dictatorial regime of Army leader Abu Saleh who was forced to leave. US imperialists and Saudi rulers brought his deputy Mansour Hadi to power. Hadi had been a leader from South Yemen and his forces were defeated by Saleh’s Army leading to unification of Yemen in 1990. However, during Saleh’s rule a powerful insurgency in the north by Zaidis, their militia also known as Houthis after the name of their founder leader, had been continuing for several years and had fought many battles against Saleh’s Army. They had successfully fought back the offensive of Saudi Govt. in 2009. They had been holding on to their stronghold in Sada province in the north. In the South Yemen, which had been having a separate state existence till its forcible unity with North in 1990, a secessionist movement of tribes of South has been in existence. In addition to these, Al Qaeda has been having strong presence in Yemen, particularly in South and Central Yemen. AQAP (Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula) has been based in Yemen.
This country of 24 million people is situated to south and west of Saudi Arabia with whom it shares the long border. It is separated from Djibouti and Somalia by small expanse of Red Sea. It has historically served as a trading route to India. Its population has over a third of Zaidis (a sect of Shias) and rest Sunnis. Population is sparse in eastern part. Of the 7 million work force, nearly 25% are engaged in industries and services and rest in agriculture which is diverse. Its petroleum production constitutes 25% of GDP and 63% of total Govt. income. There is a large number of immigrants particularly in technical and professional jobs.
With Hadi brought to power by western imperialist powers and Saudi monarchy, conditions continued to deteriorate and corruption increased much. Hadi Govt. increased economic burden on the people. People who had risen against Saleh’s dictatorship were disenchanted with the new regime. Army mostly still loyal to Saleh also grew distant from Hadi Govt. On the other hand, AQAP continued to grow in Yemen particularly making eastern part as its base. Western imperialist powers and Saudi monarchs were keen on keeping Yemen under their control and paid no attention to the people’s problems or aspirations. While Saudi were keen to keep Zaidis in check in North, US imperialism periodically bombed AQAP bases. With the growth of people’s disenchantment anger against Hadi Govt. increased. A large section of people started supporting Houthis. Houthis battling the Yemen Govt. scored one victory after another, ousted the Govt. from northern region and drew close to Sa’ana which they captured in September 2014. In this they were helped by Yemen Army still mostly loyal to Saleh. People fed up with Hadi’s corrupt dictatorship did not oppose Houthis’ capture of the capital. A power sharing pact was reached between Hadi, Houthis and other forces. But Saudi monarchy was against this pact and incited Hadi to renounce this pact. Hadi who was first confined to his palace in Sa’ana fled to port city of Aden in South Yemen. Houthis and their allies continued their victorious advance and reached Aden. Hadi fled from Yemen to Saudi capital. UN interlocutor for Yemen has openly stated that different sections of Yemen were close to an agreement when Saudi rulers apprehensive of such an agreement chose to struck.
Saudi monarchy brought together a coalition of Arab monarchies to oust Houthis and restore Hadi to power. They have unleashed air strikes since March 25, 2015. They have targeted schools, hospitals, old age homes and civilian areas besides armed depots. In these raids hey have killed hundreds, mostly civilians, and caused vast damage to infrastructure. Despite their continuous air raids, Houthis and their allies are continuing to advance. This is a blatant aggression against a neighbour by Saudi monarchy and their allies. US imperialism has also aided Saudi aggression by giving military aid and more importantly intelligence inputs for targets. More importantly US imperialists have stopped air raids against Al Qaeda bases and fighters who are also battling Houthis and Yemen Army units.
Saudi rulers have unleashed a virulent propaganda campaign against Houthis in Yemen. They have portrayed it as an ‘aggression’ supported and orchestrated by Iran. They have also played Houthis being Shias to play Shia-Sunni division. The propaganda of Saudi rulers is totally baseless. Firstly it ignores that Houthis in this fight are in alliance with many Sunni groups, particularly Yemen’s Army which is mostly Sunni. In fact, Saudi led air raids have targeted Yemen Army and its arms depots besides Houthis. In fact this struggle was never about Shia-Sunni conflict. In Yemen any way such conflict has not been there and Shias and Sunnis share common historical legacies. Saudi charge backed by US Admn. about Iranian involvement is also frivolous with regard to Iran’s military support.
Besides launching air strikes, Saudi monarchy also tried to enlist Pakistan and Egypt for providing military support particularly ground forces. Egyptian military rulers, hesistant to send their Army, instead proposed setting up of joint Arab force, Pakistan rulers were caught in a dilemma. There was a widespread people’s mood against participation in this Saudi war. But the Pakistan ruling classes, particularly ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has deep ties with Saudi monarchy. Gulf monarchies have been extending financial assistance to Pakistan besides a large number of Pakistanis working in Gulf countries. PML(N) brought the issue before Pakistan parliament to avoid from sending troops to Yemen. In a unanimous resolution Pakistan parliament decided to remain “neutral” while standing for the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia which is actuallynot the case. This resolution drew sharp rebuke from Saudi and other Gulf monarchies with UAE foreign minister threatening that “there would be consequences”. Religious organizations funded by Saudi and other Gulf monarchies have organized a number of programmes denouncing this parliamentary resolution and demanding that Pakistan stand with Saudi monarchy. PML(N) has gone into flurry of activity after these rebukes and repudiated the “neutrality” clause of the parliament’s resolution. While Pakistan Govt. may make a somersault there is widespread opposition to Pakistan sending ground troops to Yemen both among the people as well as sections of ruling elite.
It has been variously reported that foreign pilots are engaged in this bombing campaign. Involvement of Pakistanis, Egyption and those from western countries is being talked about. While these govts. are reluctant to commit their troops, they are extending help in raining devastation from the sky. Saudi strategy is to cause widespread destruction and help forces loyal to Hadi and even those affiliated to Al Qaeda to take over Yemen from Houthis and their allies. But air campaigns have their limits, they can change the balance of power on the ground but ground forces are necessary to take control.
In the meanwhile UN Security Council has met to impose sanctions against Houthis and their allies. However, UN has not condemned unprovoked act of aggression by Saudi Arabia. Such is the clout of oil exporting Gulf monarchies that this blatantly partisan resolution was supported by all except Russia. Russia proposed that this embargo should be placed on all parties to the Yemen conflict. However, it is significant that Russia did not veto the resolution but only abstained. China supported the resolution. After passage of this resolution, Pakistan govt. got into hyperactivity to shred ‘neutrality’ clause from the parliamentary resolution. It is hiding behind UN Security Council resolution to extend support to Gulf monarchies.
Iran, Syria and Hezbollah (Lebanon) have condemned the Saudi aggression. Houthis and their allies have vowed to defeat the Saudi aggression and continue the struggle. Big demonstrations have been held in capital Sa’ana and other cities of Yemen denouncing Saudi airstrikes.
Saudi monarchy and other Gulf monarchs long used to protection by western imperialist powers, are feeling nervous of the changing landscape of the power equations in the Middle-East. Most of all they fear the people of their own countries and hence want to pre-empt any rumblings of dissent. Saudi rulers had sent their tanks into Bahrain when people there demanded democratic rights. Till now vast majority of people are agitating for democratic rights in Bahrain, home of the Fifth Fleet of US Navy. So much for the propagation of democracy by US imperialists which use this tool only to further their imperialist interests.
US imperialism and its twin pillars, Israel and Saudi monarchy, are biggest enemies of democratic rights in the Middle-East. The first round of upsurge of the people’s struggles in Arab world has sought to be drowned in blood bath. But people continue to rise. People’s struggles would definitely undermine the existing status quo in this part of the world. Saudi monarchy, its Zionist friends and its imperialist patron, would not succeed in stopping the wheels of history from rolling for long.