The quasi political collapse of Yemen’s government is another dose of bad news added to an already bad regional situation in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, who will be the real power house in Riyadh from now on, will face his first real test in what appears to be a “mission impossible” in Yemen. The test is to try to form an authentic “center” that is neither Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) nor the Houthi militias. Once thoroughly examined, it is apparent that it is not that impossible after all.
Admittedly, shaping such a center will be a tiring climb. First off, it is starting from a lower point than that of 2011; it is faced with multiple regional red lines (like dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood); it is confronted with a rapidly expanding AQAP; and it has to deal with a stronger separatist’s trend in the South. Yet, the majority of Yemenis are seeking a return to stability within one unified country.
The direct trigger of the current crisis was the delay in the implementation of reforms agreed upon in the National Dialogue Conference. But, the regional polarization created the general background, in which Iran and the Gulf states continued their dangerous roulette. The role of the Gulf states is really distributed between, on the one hand, the desire to quell the so-called Arab Spring, with its manifestation in Yemen since 2011, and the determination to defeat the Muslim Brotherhood (MBs) and aid forces affiliated with former President Aly Saleh; and on the other hand, to stop the Houthis by trimming their influence and ability to mobilize.
Such a game may look theoretically “okay,” but is very risky when implemented. It is extremely complex and has too many players with conflicting agendas. In reality, such plans are usually doomed to fail. And it did.
What to do then? The simple concept should be based on looking at two camps: one that is violent, armed and ideologically rigid; the other which supports a civilian government trying to reestablish stability in a unified country. This second camp could include the Houthis and the MBs and a large part of tribal forces that support a stable central government. If this second camp is to rule Yemen, it should return to the recommendations of the National Dialogue Conference. The elected President Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi must be reinstated to lead that process.
The collapse of Yemen is not imminent as long as the Southern political forces show some restraint. Striving to adopt an inclusive equation serves the interests of all players. The alternative is the fragmentation of Yemen, the rise of AQAP, and ultimately, another Syria.
It is not too late to save Yemen. It should be self-evident that playing with fire is too risky to continue. Fire does not distinguish who is Shia and who is Sunni.