Fri 23 Jan 2015
Comments Off on Yet more change in Arabia
President Hadi of Yemen, left; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, right
In the space of 24 hours two countries on the Arabian Peninsula have seen a change, or at least anticipated change, in leadership. Yesterday President Hadi of Yemen, his Prime Minister Khaled Baha and the entire cabinet resigned after bowing to demands made by the Huthi leadership. The complicated political system ensures or at least suggests that he must remain in power for at least three months, although what power he actually has is severely limited. Not long after midnight King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia passed away at the estimated age of 90. The new Saudi monarch is Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is 79, with Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz as the new crown prince. Given the fact that Sultan Qabus of Oman is in his mid 70s further change is possible as the years roll by. Qatar and the Emirates have relatively young rulers, so their stability does not appear to be in question.
Yemen is in free fall politically. The Huthis have taken control of most of the northern highlands and the capital city Sanaa, while they continue to battle local tribes in Marib and the Jawf. Hirak has, at least in spirit, seceded from the once-touted wahda. Al-Qaeda continues its attacks on Yemen’s military and the Huthis, while there are now reports that ISIS/ISIL is trying to muscle into Yemen as well. Hadramawt has also removed itself from any central authority. Only Socotra remains isolated from the potential for violence. This political quagmire is even murkier due to the behind-the-scenes (and at times quite overt) maneuvering of former President Ali Abdullah Salih, who remains a potent force and appears to have ambitions of regaining power. Yemen has no functioning government, the economy has ground to a halt, foreign aid from the Saudis has all but ceased and there are daily clashes that take the lives of ordinary Yemeni citizens. Yemen has not become another Iraq or Syria, but it is teetering on the brink.
The Saudi transition will no doubt go smoothly. Crown Prince Salman is no stranger to the power structure of the kingdom. Will he be the last of Abd al-Aziz al-Saud’s sons to rule as the leadership must eventually pass on to younger members of the royal family? How will Saudi Arabia move forward in its often contentious relationship with its neighbor to the south, especially given the advances of the Huthis? What will be the reaction of other states on the Peninsula? I ask these questions not because I know the answers, nor do I think anyone does at this point, but to frame the horns of the dilemma now facing the endemic turmoil that covers the Middle East like a thick fog.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is reported to have once said that by going into Iraq we were in danger of getting trapped by the “Pottery Barn rule,” the idea if you break it you pay for it. There is no question that in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere the already fragile states are being broken piecemeal. But before we fall for the metaphor, it is important to remember that broken pots can be thrown away and replaced, but human lives are not consumables to buy at a shopping mall. Since the United States “liberated” Iraq, Rambo-charged against the Taliban and declared a universal “war on terror” by fighting one kind of terror (suicide bombs) with another (drones), much of the region has indeed gone to pot. But apart from the vast sums of money wasted on weapons and warmongering, it is not the United States that is paying. The thousands of men, women and children killed on all sides are paying the price for a political blunder that has only served to fan fires of hate on all side. And the vast, vast majority of the victims are Muslims.
My father grew up in the depression and three of my uncles fought in World War II. The world they lived in as young men must have seemed like an apocalyptic hell. During that worldwide fit of madness some 60 million people died, following on an earlier World War in which some 16 million are thought to have been killed. By the numbers, the ongoing crises today are no match, but if we as a species have not learned to avoid the savage stupidity of war and hateful violence toward others, what is the future of our common humanity? Again a question I cannot answer.