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Pam Bailey

#KefayaWar: Yemeni youth seek to reclaim their revolution

Yemen's best hope lies in its youth [Hamza Shiban]

Date of publication: 9 April, 2015

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Comment: Yemen's youth are asserting themselves once again. If there is any chance to force Yemen onto a more peaceful path it is through them, says Pam Bailey.
I observed the foreshadowing of today’s crisis in Yemen when I visited Sanaa and Aden in June of 2013. In some respects, it was a time of great optimism. Weeks of protest, led in large part by thousands of youth, had forced long-time, dictatorial President Ali Abdullah Saleh from office. A “National Dialogue Conference” was in full swing — an elaborate process involving more than 550 delegates that appeared at first blush to be a genuine exercise in participatory democracy.
 
     The people who rallied in the streets of Yemen in the hopes of winning true democracy are being ignored.
But it was appropriately symbolic that the conference convened in a five-star hotel-cum-fortress, barricaded from the masses who continued to struggle with chronic power outages, unemployment and government corruption. Pretty quickly, we heard complaints that not only were key parties excluded from the dialogue process, but that external powers — including the United States and neighbouring Saudi Arabia — were really pulling the strings.
 
This is what I wrote at the time:
 
“The only hope Yemen has of a peaceful transition to a new government that actually represents and serves all of its constituents is to get each of the stakeholders to the table. Abdulrahman Barman, head of HOOD, the most prominent human-rights-focused non-profit in Yemen, told us: ‘Dialogue is the only way Yemen can build a better future. But the United States is playing the lead in the transition process. Our own leaders are afraid to upset the U.S.’
 
Barman wasn’t the only one who believed that the United States and other international players were trying to call the shots. We heard more than once that the real powerbrokers behind the scenes were the United States and Saudi Arabia vs. Russia and Iran.”
 
Re-learning Afghanistan
 
Today, those same dynamics continue to play out to disastrous end. The people who rallied in the streets of Yemen in the hopes of winning true democracy are being ignored in an ever-escalating proxy war between nations competing to protect their own interests.
 
It seems, unfortunately, that the lesson of Afghanistan must be learned all over again: When the proclaimed enemies are largely indigenous, with roots deep in the local culture, military force—particularly external—is never effective in the long run.
 
A case in point is the Houthis, the group at the heart of the current crisis and poorly understood in the West. It is true that the Houthis represent a more fundamentalist interpretation of the Zaydi Shia sect to which Saleh also belongs. However, there is so much more to their rebellion, which first flared in 2003, when the Houthis protested Saleh’s decision to side with the United States in its “War on Terror”. Hundreds of Houthis were arrested, but the movement only grew and the protests expanded, resulting in the assassination of its leader, Hussein Badaraddin Houthi. A martyr had been created.
 
There have been periodic Houthi uprisings ever since. As one Yemeni political analyst explained, “With every new round of confrontation, clashes increase in their intensity, scope and repercussions, and new grievances are provoked, thereby multiplying the points of conflict.”
 
Although one of its rallying cries is a call for a greater role in the federal government and designation of the north as its own region, the movement has broadened its support beyond its religious ideology. It has drawn in other segments of Yemenis who have become increasingly disillusioned with the dismal performance of the transitional government of Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi. His administration has been tarred by perceived nepotism and corruption, as well as deep unhappiness over a dramatic cut to fuel subsidies, a heavy burden among a population in which more than half live in poverty.
 
"The Houthis use sectarian language to build their local bases of support. In reality, however, the conflict is local and centres on some real political issues — including power, corruption, underdevelopment and poverty," observes independent journalist Safa al-Ahmad.
 
Military force no shortcut to peace
 
These are not issues that can be resolved by military force. And the US government knows it, despite its escalating support for attacks by Saudi Arabia and its Sunni neighbours. In fact, in a 2010 memo released by Wikileaks, American ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche warned that Saudi Arabia’s acceptance of the Yemeni government’s claims that the Houthi rebellion could be “finished” militarily is “both dangerous and delusional.”
 
Negotiations are the only road to peace, and the Houthis have signalled they are ready to talk: "We have no conditions except a halt to the air strikes…and that any international or regional parties (involved) have no aggressive positions toward the Yemeni people (meaning the Houthis)," spokesperson Saleh al-Sammad told the media, adding that he wants the negotiations to be televised.
 
The call for a neutral mediator pretty much rules out the proposal of Saudi Arabia's King Salman, who was quoted as saying that the kingdom also is ready for a meeting — but under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Five out of the six GCC member states are part of the military coalition that is bombing the Houthis.
 
It’s a quagmire of rhetoric that means prolonged suffering for the Yemeni people, while the elites squabble. However, I have hope. Why? Because the youth are asserting themselves once again. Hundreds have taken to social media once again, declaring #KefayaWar (enough war) and #OurYemen.
 
‪”#OurYemen‪ because our children's lives should be defined by their dreams rather than by war,” posted one young person.
 
“This is ‪#OurYemen, please don't destroy it. ‪#KefayaWar,” tweeted another.

If there is any chance to force Yemen onto a more peaceful path, it is through the efforts of civil society — led by these youths, whose future is at stake.

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