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Alumni Share Insider's Perspective on Yemen

By Simone Bak & Alyssa Lodge

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CIA Map of Yemen, 2012

In an effort to learn more about the developing security situation in Yemen, the ISMO staff recently interviewed Major General Mujally Al Moradi (ICAF/ES class of 2003), former Commander of Special Forces in Yemen, COL Mohamed Al-Joumari (ICAF/ES class of 2010), Military/police Adviser in the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Yemen to the United Nations, and COL Abdullah Al Barati (ICAF/ES class of 2011), General Director of Yemen Coast Guard Read Sea District on their perspectives surrounding the conflict.

*These conversations have been translated, paraphrased and edited for clarity.

What background can you give us on the current conflict?

MG Al Moradi: During the 2011 Arab Spring, President Saleh, who was previously in power for 33 years, stepped down from the presidency against his will. He took half of the presidential cabinet with him and allied himself with the Houthi's, against whom he had previously fought 6 wars. This is how the Houthi's gained their foothold in Sanaa. The Yemeni Military is not fighting the Houthi's because the military is divided and are not always willing to fight. The south is primarily Sunni, and they do not support the Houthi. The Houthi's control two sectors in the north that will not try to thwart the Houthi because (a) one of the sectors is Shia and therefore supports the Houthi's, and (b) one of the sectors in on the Red Sea, which is too weak to fight back, and the Houthi will not easily let go of this area because it is resource rich.

COL Al Joumari: The current situation is very difficult—there are political differences among the parties right now, we have no president, no prime minister, and no government. While there is dialogue between the parties, the process is slow.  We want to follow this process, but we need to stop everything in order to negotiate and eventually come to a result. Right now, there are factions trying to fight but those working on behalf of Yemen are trying assert firmer control over the political process and establish a national committee.

COL Al Barati: I firmly believe that the 2011 Arab Spring has transformed from a revolution of building, construction, development and prosperity and become a revolution demolition and destruction. Parties, both Yemeni and external, have financed parties, tribes, and political personalities to encourage sectarian disputes.  This has weakened the Yemeni state. Then armed conflict started between parties, specifically Al Islah and the Houthi's. This resulted in the Houthi victory. The Houthi's now dominate all aspects of the state, including the president and prime minister’s office.

Al Qaeda also has a strong armed presence in Yemen. Can you tell us more about their impact on the current situation?

MG Al Moradi: Al Qaeda has an existing presence in the country. They will not ally themselves with the Houthi because the Houthi are Shia and supported by Iran and Al Qaeda is Sunni. Houthi and Al Qaeda will likely fight though the Houthi's don’t stand a chance because Al Qaeda outnumbers them in the thousands. Because the Yemeni Army refuses to fight the Houthi's, Yemeni's may align with Al Qaeda because it is the only force that is currently opposing Houthi militants.

COL Al Barati: Because of the weakness of the Yemeni state after the resignation of the president and his government, Al Qaeda in Yemen is able to control parts of Marib where they seized heavy weapons. They may also control some eastern provinces in the future. Because of Yemen's strategic location, the fall of the Yemeni state into the hands of terrorist groups would be a disaster not only regionally but to the world.

The events in Yemen will obviously impact the countries around it. What are some strategies, from your perspective, to combating terrorism in Yemen, and, with that, the broader Middle East?

MG Al Moradi: Remember, Al Qaeda is still the enemy. We should use everything else aside from supporting Al Qaeda against the Houthi's. The Houthi's are not good for Yemen, and not good for the United States.

COL Al Joumari: The biggest challenge for Yemen is terrorism, specifically Al Qaeda. Surrounding countries try to save themselves from Al Qaeda by pushing them into Yemen because Yemen (its people and culture) is a safe-haven for this group.  What is now needed is local effort in a national capacity, regional support and the international community. We need strategy that should concentrate on social and economic aspects, and above all security capacity building. Strategy needs coordination and communication including meetings or conferences. We need priorities such as ‘how can we engage in this challenge?’ Right now, Al-Qaeda is using the past to its benefit—the divide between the different political parties—and more people are joining them. We need to start to make a strategy work. Countries such as the U.S. are starting to pull their embassies from Yemen, which in my view is not right and will be challenging for the region and the community.

What are the potential options—both good and bad—for Yemen moving forward?

MG Al Moradi: In my view, there are four potential scenarios: (1) The Houthi's form an agreement with the other political parties.  (2) The Houthi's stay in control.  (3) The Houthi's and former president Saleh (whose party still holds a majority in parliament) will come into conflict.  Because of the former president’s party’s parliamentary majority, this party will come out on the strong side.  (4) Civil War occurs in which pre-1990 chaos and dissolution returns.  My suggestion to my government is to let the Houthi's be responsible. The Houthi's are a militia and not a government, similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon, so they only want to control the country, its people and resources, and they do not want responsibility for true governance.

COL Al Barati: Yemenis are currently living in a constitutional vacuum, and Yemen’s friends have abandoned Yemen without finding an honest solution to get the country out of this stifling crisis. There are in my opinion three options at this time: (1) The government could accept a Houthi domination to prevent bloodshed and keep the rest of the state's institutions intact.  (2) The military could resist the Houthi's with help from external forces, specifically Saudi Arabia and the United States of America.  Or (3) continue the dialogue with the Houthi movement in the hope of compromising to achieve coexistence and participation in political power. All options are extremely difficult and have their advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, acceptance of Houthi domination is surrender, and resistance may be a process with a high financial and humanitarian cost, especially in a country as exhausted as Yemen. I do not have the solutions, except to repeat the need for dialogue and coexistence and for moving away from regional and sectarian fighting. 

COL Al Joumari:  I think that if the current parties can reach results in their dialogue, this will benefit the nation and we would be able to return to normal life and make a new constitution and a new government. If not, then it will be a problem. At the same time, we have the culture from the north and the south for a compromise agreement. It takes effort to try and convince the international community to fight, and it cannot be done alone. The only way to fight Al Qaeda is to come to an agreement among the parties and create an international strategy. There also needs to be a national effort through creating a legitimate government. I think we need the U.S. and other countries to help come up with a strategy for Yemen and to help come up with a compromise treaty between the parties. We should have them sign it and then have countries like the U.S. force them to follow the process. The U.S. is the only country that can make an agreement going forward because it can tell the countries to do it and has the initiative to implement the compromise. We need the U.S. to put pressure to come up with an agreement, then we can go forward.


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