Yemen is mired in a raging sea of questions. Aside from its foreign relations and peace developments, Yemen’s domestic front is full of agonising intrigue.
Is it the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islah Party, the Salafis, Houthi militias or cholera that is kinder to Yemenis? Why did Islah set its eyes on Taiz’s Old City? Why has Vice President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar been accused of treachery in Taiz? Is Yemen’s cholera an epidemic or a weapon of annihilation?
The Yemeni government delegates in the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) agreed Tuesday on the final touches to the plan proposed by RCC head Lieutenant-General Michael Lollesgaard, concerning the implementation of the first phase of the Stockholm Agreement regarding redeployment in Al-Salif and Ras Issa ports.
Colonel Waddah Al-Dbish, the military spokesman of government forces in Hodeida, said that although the joint forces extended their hand in peace, they are prepared to wage a military battle should the UN plan be again obstructed.
“Tuesday’s meeting should place the final touches on implementing the first phase of the plan stipulating the militias’ withdrawal from the ports of Salif and Ras Issa,” Al-Dbish wrote on Facebook.
He explained that the pull out would be conducted over a week.
RCC Yemeni delegates demanded Lollesgaard pressure Houthi militias to implement the deal, anticipating Houthi deception and fearing they might reject the UN plan at the last minute.
Information Ministry Undersecretary Najib Ghallab told Asharq Al-Awsat that the prolongation of war in Yemen became a short-term tactic to deplete the Arab coalition.
“It is clear that UN bureaucracy thrives on crises… One cannot understand the legitimisation of an extremist movement that operates as an Iranian pawn against the Yemeni state and Arab national security,” he said.
Houthis have committed to none of the articles of UN Resolution 2216 and the international body was offering the Houthis a chance to impede the political solution in the country, Ghallab stated.
Meanwhile, Russia has been asserting its historic, strong ties with Yemen. President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi met with Russia Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov on Sunday on the sidelines of the 30th Arab Summit in Tunisia.
Hadi hailed Russia’s support for Yemen’s legitimate government and transition based on the three terms of reference for peace: the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative; the outcomes of the National Dialogue; and UN resolutions, prime among which was Resolution 2216.
Bogdanov affirmed Russia’s interest in Yemen’s security and stability and the prevalence of peace among Yemenis, and Russia’s contentedness with mediation efforts and the cooperation taking place between the two countries.
Iraqi cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, meanwhile, addressed Arab leaders on Yemen at the closing session of Tunisia’s Arab Summit on Sunday.
He tweeted: “We have to act responsibly in the face of the Trump-Netanyahu union. I call on everyone to end sectarianism, and to recall the spirit of Islam, Arabism and humanity and give up on hostile policies.” And UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, according to Yemen News, urged the UN Human Rights Council to provide support to the Yemeni government to be able to establish institutions aimed at protecting human rights in the country.
In Taiz, southwest of Yemen, inhabitants are suffering from the scarcity of water, abject poverty, deteriorating health and the spread of cholera.
The epidemic of the latter has hit the residents of Taiz, Sanaa, Ibb and Dhamar. Sanaa farmers are using sewage water to irrigate vegetables and fruits, contributing to the further spread of cholera in the capital.
Since the beginning of the year till 17 March, nearly 109,000 cases of severe acute watery diarrhoea and suspected cholera were reported. “Nearly one third of the reported cases are children under the age of five. This comes two years since Yemen witnessed the world’s largest outbreak when more than one million cases were reported,” a UNICEF-WHO report said.
The report concluded: “It is time for the four-year long war to come to an end. If not, Yemen will continue to be trapped in a web of diseases, malice and sink deeper in endless humanitarian disasters.
With the most vulnerable paying the highest price.” Yet the people of Taiz continue to endure what appears to be a sectarian war between Islah Party forces, Salafis and Houthi militias, with each group fighting for their own interests. In this war, Yemenis are confused who is with whom against whom.
As coalition attacks on Houthis stopped for relative calm to prevail, infighting ensued. Then Governor Nabil Shamsan arrived in the city and unleashed a security campaign to chase the “outlaws of Abul-Abbas militias” charged with assassinating army leaders.
Islah’s military wing joined in to settle scores and engaged in bloody clashes across the city that left more than 50 civilians dead. Residential buildings were damaged, a hospital blazed and the Old City terrorised. The violence forced Shamsan to cease the security campaign.
Yemen’s Saba News Agency reported that Shamsan stressed the “significance of integrating security efforts, teamwork and standing firm for the sake of imposing the rule of law” in Taiz, during a meeting with security and military commanders in Al-Turbah town on Sunday.
The meeting was attended by the security director of Al-Shamayatain district, Abdel-Karim Al-Samaai and Special Forces commander Jamil Aqlan.
Informed sources revealed to Yemen News Monday that after leaving Al-Turbah, Shamsan refused to return to Taiz until the requests he presented to President Hadi were met.
The governor’s demands included the discharge of a number of military and security leaders for causes related to the security campaign on the Old City. Shamsan revealed he was headed to Aden to meet with the prime minister.
But Al-Mashhad Al-Araby Website ran a report Monday titled, “The forbidden deal: Mohsen Al-Ahmar supports the campaign to grant control to the Houthis”.
The article said: “Instead of assuming his role as Hadi’s Vice President Mohsen Al-Ahmar chose to continue his treachery towards Taiz, after rejecting its governor’s plan to end military and security chaos in the city in order to implement his forbidden deal with the Houthi coup forces that besieged the city once and seek to regain control over it. Al-Ahmar wants the crisis to escalate and linger in Taiz for his own benefit.”
Al-Mashhad Al-Araby’s report added: “Sources in the legitimate government revealed that Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar rejected a plan proposed by Taiz Governor Nabil Shamsan to President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi calling for the end of military and security chaos in the city. But Al-Ahmar ordered Brotherhood militias to hand over control of a number of sites in the district of Demt in Dhale city to Houthi militias.”
The report continued: “Al-Ahmar’s treachery included handing over the most important strategic heights in the area to the Houthis, such as the mountains of Matrah, Nassa and Al-Dhari overlooking the governorates of Ibb and Dhale, as well as Oud and Morice mounts.”
Questions abound in Yemen, and many remain unanswered. The distressed nation clings to the hope that war will be over and disease will recede. Over everything else, certainty breaks down.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 April, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Yemen in time of war and cholera