"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Friday, February 5, 2010

Propaganda in the Huthi Rebellion

Nasser Arrabyee reports that the governor of the Sa'ada province is claiming that the Huthi rebels are responsible for 1500 civilian deaths in the latest round of fighting.  Needless to say, this number is not verifiable.  And, coldly, it doesn't matter if it is true.  What matters is that it is being said.  From a human side, one is too many, but in a civil war the truth is just another battleground.

What the government wants to do is to further shift the perception of the war both to his people and to the outside.  Before the Christmas bomber and the intense focus on Yemen, reports of the war largely and correctly painted the government as the brute, with its carpet bombing and refusal to let outsiders observe what was happening.  But since the new year, and with the focus on AQAP, there has been a slight shift, where the Huthis are something that need to be dealt with in order to stop terrorists.  There is still pressure for negotiation, but I think president Salih has seen an opening.

This isn't the first time, of course, that official statements have tried to highlight the ruthless iniquities of the rebels- they have been portrayed as puppets of Iran and bloodthirsty nation-wreckers, violent and atavistic remnants of a cruel Imam.   And there is some truth there- neither side has clean hands.

But unless they are "our" rebels- and Shi'ite enemies of an ostensible ally clearly are not- the term "rebellion" will always be a loaded one.  Salih recognizes this, and if he can help to paint the picture when people are finally paying attention, then it will make it easier for him to get what he wants.

Again, the government might not be wrong.  But what this highlights is the need for the Friends of Yemen, the Facebook-echoing international working group, to pressure the government to let the world take full account of what is happening in that northern fastness.  That is the only way to make the dead more than a number to be kicked around by equally relentless protagonists.

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