Until a few weeks ago the main party or bloc that wielded power in Yemen, actually mostly in Sanaa, was called “Islah”. Islah is dominated by the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, along with some other tribal and Islamist allies. So far so good, but the real joke starts with the word “Islah” which means “reform” in Arabic (when you reform or repair something you are doing Islah: got that?). No reform was seen in Yemen under Islah and its allies. Now the Houthis and allies are also talking reform, no doubt according to their own definition of reform.
In politics and business, poor Yemen is not different from much of the rest of its neighborhood. In the usual Orwellian Arab fashion, reform means corruption, patriotism means acquiescing in repression, unity means tribalism, stability means stagnation. The de facto ruling family of the capital of this Yemen were the Al Ahmar, from one of the largest tribes in Northern Yemen. President Generalisimo Abd Rabu Hadi (a.k.a Al Zombie) was as much a figurehead leader then, a few weeks ago, as he is now under the Houthi militias. Even with his 99.8% of the vote in 2012. (He still beat Egypt’s Generalisimo Field Marshal Al Sisi who could only eke out 97.5% of the vote, still beat the hapless Morsi who had won only about 51% against a Mubarak crony, and he even beat the recent bete noir of the West, Bashar Al Assad and his paltry 88%).
Yemen is like Afghanistan: political matters are inevitably settled (or unsettled) in their own fashion. Foreign intervention, be it Saudi, Iranian, or American can only influence developments, not shape them. Foreign intervention is not decisive beyond the short term. Egyptians learned that costly lesson in the 1960s and the Saudis have learned it again and again in recent years. Ancient Ethiopian and Persian invaders also learned that lesson many centuries ago. The GCC-Western arranged transfer of power in 2012 has apparently failed as much as any other foreign intervention. It was never taken much seriously, and now it is dead even in Sanaa.
Yemen, the alleged source and genesis of the original Arabian tribes is largely ignored and shunned by its closest Arab neighbors. The Saudis, in a moment of royal madness, briefly invited faraway Morocco and Jordan to join the GCC in 2011. But not Yemen. Yemen is best left alone by outsiders.
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum