In (9/11/2017) Withdrawal from Iran Nuclear; Mattis Plan; More Aggressive U.S. Strategy, it’s noted,
- Support the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in Yemen. There is a note of hope, with reported cracks (Stratfor) between Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis. It’s surprising this took so long, since Saleh was originally the Houthis’ chief persecutor.
With the detention of Mansour Hadi, the above now seems questionable. But a plural approach is still more likely to succeed. The de facto division of Yemen closely follows the borders of the two Yemens before voluntary unification in 1990. In 1994, the south had buyer’s remorse and revolted, but lost.
Respecting the north,
- The Houthi movement, which threatens the West as a proxy for Iran, is not exclusively Shiite, although it originated from an offshoot of Shi’ism, Zaydism (Fiver Islam).
- The Zaydis (Fiver Shi’ism), always a minority, dominated Yemen as a kind of warrior caste for a thousand years. The last dynasty, the Mutawakkilite, was Zaydi. The heads of state that followed were Zaydi, until the advent of Mansour Hadi, a Sunni.
- In recent history, pressure from the Zaydis has caused a migration of Sunnis towards the south.
- The current alliance in Yemen against the Saudi led coalition contained, since it just fell apart, (Reuters: Saudi-led air strikes support Yemen’s Saleh as he shifts against Houthis), somewhat incompatible Sunni and Shia elements, susceptible to proxy manipulation in advance of tribal interests.
- The north is economically more viable, if the term can be used for such a pathetic situation. It contains the highlands with the greatest rainfall, and the depleting oil reserves, still the main source of revenue.
Respecting the south,
- The area has been the recipient of Sunni migration south due to Zaydi pressure.
- The south contains Aden, formerly a great port of the British Empire. Unlike the rest of Yemen, it was exposed for centuries to cosmopolitan influences. Retaining a whiff of the multicultural, it gave birth in 1967 to the one and only communist Arab state.
- Excepting the southwest corner, the rest of of the south (and east) is too empty to support any political culture at all, except for terror statelets.
- Cosmopolitan influence extends as far inland as beleaguered Taiz, which now as then lies just beyond the former border of north and south. The designers of Britain’s Aden Protectorate, concerned with safeguarding shipping lanes of the Empire, saw no need to include it. Military weakness of the coalition currently prevents it.
- Up to the actual reunification of the two Yemens, the popular answer to the question “why unite” likely reflected the tail-end of Pan Arabism. But the more important reason, from the southern p.o.v. was that before 1990, the south looked to the north for economic opportunity. Yemen was poor, but not quite as desperately poor as it is now. And there was thought to be oil on the borderlands, an unjustified hope.
- The merger of the north and south, first mooted in 1978, was in a state of indefinite delay. It was seemingly hastened by the South Yemen civil war, internal to South Yemen, which resulted decimation of the senior leadership. By some accounts, this catalyzed the merger.
By now, you have the experience of staring at an optical trick intended to induce double vision. You ask the optometrist to insert another lens, but it doesn’t help.
Keep these lists handy. Pairing them reveals some peculiar relationships. To be continued shortly.