The Somalisation of Yemen

With population of more than 25 million, ensuing humanitarian disaster in Yemen will likely surpass one in Syria.


2017/01/08 Issue: 88 Page: 7


The Arab Weekly
Khairallah Khairallah



Yemen is rapidly deteriorating towards total chaos. As feared by the country’s supporters, the imminent demise of Yemen’s last state institution will turn it into a lawless state and hasten its Somalisation. With a population of more than 25 million, the ensuing humanitarian disaster in Yemen will likely surpass the one in Syria.

Yet those in power — or so it seems to them — in Yemen ignore the mounting danger. Some 19 million Yemenis do not have access to potable water and 14 million do not have enough to eat. Worse, a whole generation has been lost to poverty, sickness and illiteracy. This generation will become easy prey for terrorist organisations, such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) and their offshoots.

It is useless to speak at length about the evils of the presence of these two groups in Yemen. The December 11th terrorist attack in Aden, in which 48 soldiers were killed, is a good indicator of the extent of the threat to the country. Statistics released by international groups are alarming. Every day hundreds of Yemeni children die because of lack of minimal living conditions.

Yet, the crisis in Yemen persists and peace negotiations have reached a dead end. A political solution does not seem attainable in the short run. This does not mean that the various parties in the crisis cannot arrive at a negotiated solution. They can if they accept to be realistic. “Realistic” is indeed the key word here. Being realistic means, first and foremost, abandoning delusions.

The first delusion to go is the belief in the ability of any of the parties involved to achieve a military victory on the ground. This means, of course, to recognise that none of the parties is going to be able to eliminate the others and therefore a military solution must be abandoned.

Potential military solutions in Yemen have reached their limit. Operation Decisive Storm stopped the Iranian project for Yemen. Following their victory in Sana’a in September 2014, the Iran-backed Houthis became deluded about controlling all of Yemen. They did not see the military operation against them coming.

Territories under Houthi control have shrunk considerably but they are not out of the equation yet. They still control Sana’a and northern Yemen. They are a presence in Taiz, thanks to their alliance with former president Ali Abuallah Saleh, who lost power to the Muslim Brotherhood in 2011. Since then, the highly centralised regime has been in disarray.

Yemen is living a new reality. Consequently, new solutions are in order. It is useless to insist on the past and to appeal to a bygone legitimacy. Interim president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, champion of this legitimacy, has spent his time since February 2012 when he was handed the presidency by Saleh, in settling old scores with the latter. Almost five years in power and nothing has changed on the ground.

There is a vicious circle that must be broken. In addition to what has been agreed upon during the peace talks in Kuwait, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative would reduce Hadi’s presidential prerogatives in preparation for sidelining him. This is unavoidable if the desired outcome is to relieve Sana’a from the Houthis’ grip. Sana’a would become the capital of a federation of regions enjoying decentralised powers. This new Yemen would be a far cry from the old Yemen under Saleh.

It is in the interest of the Gulf countries and the international community to work towards imple­menting such a solution to avoid worsening the Yemeni crisis. In the long run, the only people who will benefit from a continuing crisis in Yemen are the terrorists, be they sponsored by Iran or by al-Qaeda or ISIS.

To break the vicious circle of violence in Yemen, a consensual figure must be found to prepare for resolution of the crisis. Concessions must be made by all sides or Yemen will continue to be held hostage by the Houthis, a fanatical group that believes that backwardness can solve Yemen’s problems, and by another group claiming “legitimacy” and refusing to accept that its days are forever gone.


Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer. The commentary was translated and adapted from the Arabic. It was initially published in middle-east-online.com.


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