SHAFAQNA – The ancient land of Yemen seems to be cursed by its immense strategic wealth, centred as it is on one of the world’s foremost trading routes, linking the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea.
Yemen has a recorded civilisation dating back 7,000 years owing to its importance as a trading hub at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, straddling the Horn of Africa.
Some 2,000 years ago, the Roman Empire referred to the territory as Felix Arabia, or Happy Arabia, because of its fertile land and cosmopolitan culture. This was opposed to Deserta Arabia, the northern part of the peninsula known only for its inhospitable, barren deserts and scorching climate.
Tragically though, Yemen’s natural good fortune has incurred for its people the envious predatory attentions of foreign powers. The Ottoman and British Empires carved up the territory into a North-South divide to serve their respective trade routes to Asia.
In 1839, the British navy bombed its way to subjugate the port city of Aden, and formed a British “Protectorate” in the southernmost Yemeni territory. The British needed a coal depot to fuel the cargo ships of the East India Company en route to Bombay, thus giving the real meaning to “protectorate”.
At the end of the First World War, in 1918, the northern Yemeni tribes led by the Shia Imam Yahya Hamid el-Din established independence from the collapsing Ottomans. However, Imam Yahya’s vision of uniting the whole of Yemen as one country was thwarted by the intervention of Britain and the newly formed Saudi Arabia under Ibn Saud.
British warplanes bombed the Zayda tribes during the 1920s, and then later during the 1930s, the British-backed Saudis waged war on the northern Yemeni territory.
Britain did not want to lose its colonial possession centered on Aden, while the Saudis did not want a united and strong Yemen on its southern border. The British did eventually lose their protectorate in 1967 after a war of independence.
Tragically, this foreign interference in Yemeni affairs has been the dominant theme over the past century. The predatory meddling by outside powers has placed a stifling burden on Yemeni national development as well as stoking corruption and endless tribal conflicts.
Modern Yemen has seen at least 11 civil wars – a crippling legacy on its 24 million population.
Past wars have been fuelled by Saudi Arabia, Britain, Israel, Egypt, the US and the Soviet Union. Usually the objective is to keep the country from uniting and forming a strong representative government of the people.
When the Yemeni people began their Arab Spring uprising in January 2011, the 33-year-old dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh cracked down mercilessly with Saudi and American support. Saleh was eventually forced to quit in February 2012 under unrelenting popular opposition. That pressure continues to this day despite withering repression and covert Saudi terrorism.
Washington and Riyadh have all the while tried their best to thwart the pro-democracy movement. Saudi Arabia in particular has fuelled Al Qaeda and Salafist terror networks under the direction of the Yemeni regime to try to break the uprising, which is led mainly by the Shia Houthi, or Ansarullah movement.
This is in spite of the official position of Washington and Riyadh of declaring Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula a major enemy. American drones have killed hundreds of Yemeni civilians in a four-year war supposedly against AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) – a campaign that US President Barack Obama hails as a success.
Over recent weeks, hundreds of anti-regime protesters have been killed in bombings and shootings carried out by Al Qaeda-linked groups. This week saw one of the deadliest attacks when nearly 50 people, including children, were killed in a bomb attack in a central square in the capital Sana’a.
Ever since largely peaceful protesters over-ran the capital on September 21, the US and Saudi-backed regime in Sana’a has been intense pressure to step down. The President Abed Rabbuh Mansour Hadi is a holdover from the Saleh dictatorship.
A US-backed nomination for Prime Minister was this week rejected by the protesters. They are calling instead for a “clean sweep” of existing ruling personnel and they have vowed to maintain occupations of buildings and public squares until all their demands are met.
As Mohammed Abdulsalam, one of the protest leaders, said recently: “This is a strategic victory for all Yemenis. But it is only the beginning of a long campaign to defeat corruption endemic in Yemen’s governing system. Today is the beginning of an age different from the past as the voice of all of the nation is being heard.”
Yemen’s crumbling elitist regime is clinging on to power in the face of a widespread movement for democracy that has proven itself through adversity and sacrifice. The movement may be spearheaded by the Shia Houthis, but it is consciously uniting all Yemenis, regardless of tribe or religious sect, who have been marginalised by foreign-backed
rulers down through the decades.
Ominously, the House of Saud is warning that the unrest in Yemen is a threat to regional security, while the Al Qaeda and Salafist groups are stepping up their deadly violence. In other words, the Saudis are making self-fulfilling warnings.
It is, of course, bitterly ironic that Saudi Arabia has at the same time despatched warplanes to bomb Al Qaeda-linked groups in northern Syria as part of the US-led “cause for democracy” there.
Yemen is a crystal clear illustration that the US and its Saudi partner have no interest in democracy succeeding, indeed are deeply opposed to that outcome, not just in Yemen but right across the Middle East.
Nevertheless, the Yemeni people have history on their side and a crucial weapon – the truth. Washington and its despotic Arab clients are being strangulated every day with their own lies, hypocrisy, double standards and crimes.