Yemen: End of marriage of convenience!


AS we bless and support the uprising of the General People’s Congress party and its leader, former Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, against their former allies, the Houthis, we should not forget the bizarre (but educating) story that led to this unholy marriage between two opposing parties.

In political relations, as in human, there is always the so-called “intersection of interests” that transcends differences, however deep and strong, to unite forces toward similar goals and to achieve certain interests. This intersection is like a marriage of convenience that lasts until the mutual aims are achieved. Then, each party returns to its original project, private agenda and permanent interests.

British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, summed up this principle when he declared that there is no permanent friendship or permanent enemy in international relations, but permanent interests. We have witnessed in this respect the oscillation of the relationship between the West and the Soviet Union in World War II from hostility to cooperation.

The Houthis ‘relationship with former Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is another example of politicians’ ability to bury deep differences, temporary, and to agree on immediate interests that require unity of ranks and concerted efforts. Despite the fact that the two sides are opposed to each other, ideologically and politically, they were united by the lust for power.

The September Revolution of 1962, was against the 1000-years Imamate rule, the Houthi movement aspires to resurrect. According to their Shiite ideology, only the direct descendants of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, and her husband Ali, (peace be upon them), are entitled to rule. The Zaydi, on the other hand, regard their rule as preferable, but not a must.

The Houthis belong to the “Jaroudiyya”, a class of outcasts of the Zaydi sect, which, in recent decades, has followed the Jaffari Shiite sect, thanks to Iran’s concerted efforts. Therefore, they now follow the Deputy of the Absent Imam, in Tehran, as the ultimate ruler of all Muslims.

On the other hand, the September 1962 revolution, based on the principles of the republic and the rejection of religious rule, started with the assassination of Imam Ahmad bin Yahya Hamid al-Din and the overthrow of his son, Imam Al-Badr. In the late 1960s, it succeeded in defeating the royalists and has ruled Yemen, ever since. Today, the republic and its revolution are represented by the General People Congress party and its allies.

Because of such bloody history of sectarian and political conflict, the republicans and Shiite royalists went into six wars. The Ansarallah movement (established by Badr al-Din al-Houthi and his sons, Hussein and Abdulmalik), has fought the former president’s government with the support of Iran and Qatar. Each war has ended with the government on top, and with the Houthis’ signature on a peace treaty. And every time, the war would ensue as soon as the movement regains its strength.

Against this blatant contradiction in ideology and goals, the interests of the chronic enemies converged to overthrow the legitimate government and to seize power. The former president had planned for his eldest son, Brigadier General, Ahmad, to win a rigged election and assume the presidency. The prime minister post could go to the Houthis’s representative. Other ministerial, military and security posts would be shared between the two sides.

Saleh may have forgotten or ignored his previous experiences with the movement —its perpetual defiance of the covenants, its organic relationship with Iran, and its belief in the Imamate rule. Or perhaps he underestimated their power, and overestimated the strength of his Republican Guard, security services, and Al-Qaeda and Daesh (the so-called IS) allies, assuming he could turn the table on his partners in crime, any time he wished.

The result is what we witness today — a bloody conflict renewed once more among yesterday’s enemies, today’s allies, after each side returned to their comfort zone of conflicting agendas and diverged interests. Add to that the lack of confidence in such unholy marriage, the dispute over power sharing and war booty, with the ever-increasing scarcity of resources.

I wish this uprising to succeed in freeing Yemen from the claws of Iran and pray for a safe return to its Arab-Muslim Gulf home. I also hope that we all learn from past lessons, before moving on to setting up the grand and noble project of rebuilding a happy, prosperous, peaceful Yemen.

— Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi