Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The Houthi Train and Yemeni Facts

It was not strange for former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to sense the need to abandon the train of his alliance with the Houthis. He knows very well that it was colliding with the complexities of the internal Yemeni scene and balances of power that would be impossible to turn against.

His declaration that the Houthi adventure was leading the country from one abyss to the other clearly represents the conviction of a vast majority of the Yemeni people. The Houthis meanwhile are in no way likely to become part of the state because they come from a militant background that completely disregards the internal complexities in Yemen, as well as its foreign borders. Saleh realizes that the Houthis have turned into a mobile militia in the country and they have transformed the border into a bloody frontier.

Saleh’s attempt to abandon the train is not unusual. It is unusual that he stayed there for so long. He does not need anyone to explain to him the agenda of the current Houthi leadership. No one knows it better than him after the series of wars that he waged against them and later truces that he was forced to strike with them. He knows the change in their ideology and the story of the “consultants”, who came to their regions as part of the “Iranian crescent” agenda.

Saleh became aware that the longer he stayed on the Houthi train, the more losses he and his National People’s Congress will incur. He became aware that the Houthis were taking advantage of the cover that he and his party were providing so that they could continue in implementing the Iranian agenda. Furthermore, he realized that the reactions to the Houthi-Iranian rocket attack against Saudi Arabia demonstrates that the Houthi project is suicidal in its nature.

Saleh enjoys the deftness of a manipulator, not the recklessness of an adventurer. He is a man, who closely monitors the balances of power and their changes. He does not like to repeatedly run into a brick wall due to miscalculations. Saleh is a former president, but he is a constant expert in the complexities of the situation in Yemen and the balances between the state and tribe and among the tribes themselves. He therefore realized that the Houthi rule has become a burden on the country and its people.

There is no doubt that the break up of the alliance between Saleh and the Houthis represents an important turning point on the field and on the political level in the Yemeni crisis.

One cannot simply come to power after taking advantage of local division and foreign incitement and not expect to improve the situation in the country. Slogans are not enough to cover up the lack of a program that befits a state. There is a major difference between confused gunmen on the streets and the decisions that should be taken to ease the suffering of the people, not exacerbate them.

It is not enough to seize the presidential palace, Defense and Information Ministries and presidential guard. The people are the source of legitimacy, not buildings. The first condition for legitimacy comes from the people, not foreign powers who are alien to them. Experience has shown that a minority cannot impose its authority or ideology over others by force. Those who usurp power have no right to push the people towards costly internal and foreign adventures. Such adventures could turn a country into fuel for regional fire and lead to great losses, especially among those who claim to represent the people and who claim to be working on easing their suffering.

The current Sana’a developments have revealed that the series of events it has witnessed since the Houthi takeover in 2014 were alien, scary, fabricated and without any real roots.

Let us set aside the accusations of those who knew early on of the Hothis’ real intentions. It is enough to now analyze the accusations directed against them by those who were once their partners and allies, who eventually realized the danger of continuing with submitting to their hegemony. The problem begins when the Houthis decide to direct the country towards their language, methodology and militia ideology that challenges all other components on the inside and Yemen’s natural relations on the outside.

The Houthi leadership had opened the door wide for recklessness from the moment they turned against the legitimacy. They violated internal balances and Yemeni norms and laws. On the border, the Houthis opened the door to another form of recklessness when they did not leave Saudi Arabia with any other choice but war. The truth is that the first shot of the war was the militias’ seizure of a rocket arsenal that could be used to threaten, extort and destabilize neighboring countries. Added to the dangerousness of that first shot was the revelation that the Houthis were completely affiliated with Iran.

The Houthi arsenal consequently became another step, an advanced one at that, in the agenda that is aimed against Saudi Arabia and keeping its territory under constant threat.

It was therefore difficult for the Kingdom to leave a reckless neighbor with the power to harm and intimidate others as part of a series of coups managed by Iran. War was therefore the solution. In this sense, we can say that the all the responsibility of what had taken place and is still taking place in Yemen falls on the Houthi leadership and those that provided it with the fuel to run its destructive internal and external adventure.

Whether the battle is short or long, the result remains the same. One must return to the Yemeni facts. The facts of the dialogue, coexistence and umbrella of the state. The legitimate forces in Yemen and the coalition backing them have expressed their definite desire to end the wars and return Yemen back to Yemen.

Yemen cannot be ruled from Saada. It cannot be ruled from Tehran. The Houthi train is loaded with mines that are gradually exploding in Yemen and the passengers themselves. There must be a return to Yemen and an abandonment of regional roles that exceed its capabilities. There must be a return to the Yemeni map and the implementation of a plan that would amend ties with the Yemenis themselves and their neighbors.