By WAQAR RIZVI
Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen have been clouded by a massive propaganda campaign which doesn’t stand up to the facts.
The oft-repeated claim is that Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is the ‘legitimate’ president of Yemen, and must be accepted as such by Yemenis. Hadi came into office after a farcical one-man election forced down Yemenis’ throats by the Saudis and the US after the ouster of the one-time dictator-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. That many Yemenis were dissatisfied with this process was of little consequence to its backers. Ever since the appointment of Hadi as president, Yemenis have not backed down from the desire to see their revolution reach a conclusion that is satisfactory for all.
Yemeni nation will not go backward
Even if we do accept Hadi as president, the image of him landing in Riyadh looking well rested, relaxed, and happy as his people endure sleepless nights of airstrikes does not do much to further his legitimacy in the eyes of Yemenis themselves. A legitimate leader is meant to lead all his people, not just his supporters, something Hadi had never been able to comprehend nor act upon. In the manic effort to control the narrative, the Houthis and others, including the army, who oppose Hadi’s rule, as in the case of the majority of Bahrainis who protest against the monarchy, are labeled as foreign ‘stooges,’ as if anyone who opposes the installed president must be serving an outside power. That Hadi himself reiterates this notion does not bode well for him as a leader of all Yemenis. He cannot serve his country, if that is his real intention, if he only wants quiet submission to him and his policies. That was Ali Abdullah Saleh’s niche form of rule, and Yemenis rejected that, so contrary to what Hadi may desire, the people are not willing to go backward.
Beyond that, there is the hypocrisy of nations that have united with Saudi Arabia in the attacks on Yemen. Where is there such united front when it comes to freeing the long-suffering Palestinian people? To add to the absurdity, the man meant to represent Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas, has also supported the attacks on Yemen.
In addition, though Saudi Arabia and others in this ‘coalition’ claim moral authority over Yemen by wanting to see its ‘legitimate’ President Hadi put back in his place and freeing the country of foreign ‘stooges,’ within their own borders, such countries continue their dictatorial ways. That none of the countries in this coalition is democratic, while they preach to Yemenis to accept their farcical version of democracy, can only be understated as hypocritical.
For dictators days are numbered
The dictators of the region want nothing more than the return to the old way of doing things. One can imagine them huddled around talking about the good ol’ days when the peoples of the region silently bowed to them and did not question their rule. These men must realize that those days are long gone. Even if they are today, and for the next weeks, months, years, able to scare, torture, and kill enough people to gain the submission they demand, their days are numbered. The people of the region know that they have been deprived of rights and freedoms for long enough.
Much applause has been heard from extra-regional actors regarding the Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen. There is praise being leveled about how the ‘Arabs are now taking their affairs into their own hands.’ Through this feel-good talk, one stark reality stands out. When announcing the beginning of the airstrikes, the Saudi ambassador to the US quite specifically said that this was done after consultations with the US. What kind of Arab-led mission needs consultations with an outside power? And is that why the Arab dictatorships have never done anything worthy for Palestine; because of a certain US disapproval of any such notion?
The cheers from the West, even Israel, since the Saudi-led airstrikes began may raise the uncomfortable question in many people’s minds as to whose bidding this ‘coalition’ is really doing. Though most blame must be put on the shoulders of regional countries for the dismal state of the region vis-à-vis the spread of ISIL or others as well as the horrendous human rights violations by state actors, it is just as true that the West has used this chaos to further its interests, especially in protecting Israel.
Any chants of wanting to promote democracy and freedom heard from countries where corporate interests and lobby groups twist and turn politicians into submission, are empty, at best. If there was a genuine interest in having the peoples’ voices heard, there would have been more calls for neutral dialogue in Yemen, not an attack to force people into submission.
None of the above is to say that Yemen should be predestined to fall into any one specific group’s rule. Yemenis must not fall into the trap of once again becoming part of a nation that is nothing more than a proxy satellite state of its more powerful neighbors.
Any country which believes that it can rule over another without consequence and question is mistaken. That is an old strategy desperately being applied to new realities on the ground across the Middle East. It is time for Arab-dictators to end these airstrikes on Yemen and let the Yemeni people deal with their own issues. No force upon them from outside will win their hearts and minds towards an end goal determined for them from the outside. These dictators must end the blood-shed, reflect on their own dictatorial-rule upon people they have suppressed for too long, and unite over long-standing issues such as Palestine.
Two thoughts in conclusion: The elephant in the room over Yemen is the fight against al-Qaeda. While it is clear where the ideology of extremist groups in the region stems from, support for them has recently not remained solely ideological, expanding into training, funding, and logistics. The Houthis’ efforts to fight al-Qaeda, a group which both Saudi Arabia and the US have publicly stated they are against, and the war against them raises several questions. Why is it that the Saudis have chosen to attack those against the installed Hadi government and not al-Qaeda? Who is the bigger threat to the kingdom and its dictator-allies?
Finally, the issue of Pakistan potentially joining in on this attack on Yemen must be addressed. Publicly, the Pakistani government has, to its credit, said it would not join in this effort which it says would divide the Muslim world. Yet, knowing the hold Saudi Arabia has over Pakistan, be it through its hateful ideology spreading like wildfire throughout the country, poisoning innocent minds and resulting in the systemic killings of minorities, and the billion-dollar gifts to the prime minister, this independent stance may not hold out for long. Pakistan and Pakistanis must ensure that they do not join this regrettable effort against Yemen, and must instead concentrate on the infinite internal issues of extremism, among others.