Yemen has been mired in war for more than five years. In a country where there appears to be no peace at the end of the tunnel, the Yemeni people are also suffering, with the majority of the population now depending on aid.
This August marks the first anniversary of the takeover by the secessionist Southern Transitional Council of Yemen’s temporary capital after it ousted the republican guard of internationally recognised Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Observers anticipated that the Arab Coalition that has been intervening in Yemen and is largely made up of forces from Saudi Arabia and the UAE would be divided, with Abu Dhabi supporting the Transitional Council and Riyadh backing the legitimate government.
However, the coalition has not split ranks, and by supporting the Transitional Council, the UAE has kept the Al-Islah Party, the political front of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, away from decision-making positions in the country’s legitimate government.
“Secession is becoming harder for the Transitional Council as Abu Dhabi doesn’t want to see an independent South Yemen,” commented Naguib Seddik, a Yemeni journalist based in Aden.
Meanwhile, the power of Hadi’s government, mainly comprised of southern Yemenis to whom Hadi belongs and the Al-Islah Party is waning. Conflict between the elements supporting Hadi has been weakening his government, evident in the battles at Marib won by rebel Houthi forces.
Supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh are calling for the “uniting of the republican front” against “Houthi sectarianism.” However, “Saleh’s bloc and his General People’s Congress Party are divided between those that support the Houthis, those who want to unite and a minority favouring the legitimate government,” Seddik said.
The Houthis control most of the north of the country, where most of the country’s population is located, while the legitimate government is based in the south.
Meanwhile, some 80 per cent of the Yemeni population, or 24 million people, now depend on humanitarian aid. The north is under siege and has been deprived of food and aid for years, putting its people on the verge of famine.
The UN has repeatedly warned that the famine in Yemen could turn into the world’s worst catastrophe, particularly because there are some million cases of cholera among the Yemenis, and hundreds of people have died from the epidemic.
There are no accurate data on the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths in Yemen, which is also suffering from epidemics of malaria and dengue fever. Two million Yemeni children are severely malnourished, and the country’s healthcare system had collapsed even before the present conflict started.
Three weeks ago, heavy rains flooded the capital Sanaa, battering areas listed as world heritage by the UN cultural agency UNESCO. The Marib Dam was put under pressure by the most dangerous rains since it was built 34 years ago. The damage wreaked havoc on the Old City of Sanaa, whose gingerbread-coloured housing decorated with white symmetrical patterns is famous worldwide.
The Safer oil tanker, an ageing floating storage and offloading vessel moored off Yemen’s west coast 60 km north of the port of Hudayda, is another environmental threat.
It has received almost no maintenance and is carrying 1.2 million barrels of crude oil. The ship’s structure is deteriorating, leaving it at risk of leaking, exploding, or catching fire, especially after water leaked into the engine rooms.
The environmental hazards posed by the Safer are bigger than those of the Gulf of Mexico disaster in 1989 because the Safer’s cargo is four times that of the US tanker responsible.
Experts say that if the Safer explodes, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan will all suffer the consequences, which will spell disaster for the Red Sea’s rich marine life.
A UN team of experts has inspected the tanker but has not set a date for salvage work to begin. The Houthis are demanding that the oil tanker contains be sold to pay the salaries of employees in the municipalities they control, while the legitimate government is claiming the right to the oil to prevent “outlawed Houthis militias” from gaining valuable resources.
The legitimate government has been engaged in battles against forces of the Transitional Council since May, making it difficult for the two parties to resume negotiations, however.
Many observers expect the continuation of the conflict in which Al-Islah forces have advanced from Marib and Jawf in the north towards Aden to oust the Transitional Council. Whatever its final outcome, the conflict will result in the legitimate government losing a crucial part of its forces.
“If the Transitional Council wins, Al-Islah will collapse, and Hadi will not have authority on the ground. If the result is the other way around, the southerners will oppose Al-Islah, which will have to rule by force,” Seddik said.
However, Al-Islah is not expected to emerge victorious.
Unifying the ranks of what remains of former president Saleh’s regime may be useful in confronting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. But no matter how much support it receives, the Southern Transitional Council will not be able to defeat the majority Zaidi Muslim population in the north, who lean towards the Houthis, if Hadi’s government loses further ground.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly