"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Huthi Support, and the South

Greg- who's been on a Kerouak-like tear the last 24 hours, though presumably without the uppers- briefly parses Abd al-Malik al-Huthi's declaration of support for the demonstrations around the country.

Does this mean the Huthis, who have generally been good at following the various cease-fire agreements, suddenly break the latest one in the hopes that the combined pressure of different centers can force Salih's regime to crack? I don't know, but I doubt it.  So what impact, if any, does moral support from the Huthis count for? 

He then says that they are probably waiting to see which way the wind blows (he thinks that there has to be a make or break moment coming soon).   While I think this is probably accurate, and I agree that they aren't likely to break a cease-fire, I don't think they have to for the "combined pressure" front to work.  

This is a boon for the Huthis.  The government cannot have its attention everywhere, and this allows them more time to regroup in case Salih emerges victorious and even more angry than before.  Ideally, for the Huthis, the Salih government is toppled and is replaced by either a weak leader in control of San'a and maybe Taizz, or by nothing at all.  In either case, they get what they want, which is a return to autonomy (some might argue they want a return to the Imamate; others that they'll just let Iran carve out a piece of the country.  Both fun and exciting theories, but probably best left to fantasy-land.) (Edit: the above link is an interesting article; I'm just being needlessly snarky about the Iran connection)

Right now the Huthis don't have to do anything.  The South seems like it is on the verge of exploding- the situation is probably far more tense there than in San'a, and maybe in Taizz.  There is certainly a longer history and worse memories, as well as a relatively more coherent political program.  Between the major cities of the "north" and the Southern Movement, as well as AQAP, who haven't gone away but seem a lot less relevant (for now), there are enough stressors to, if not knock Salih off, at least distract him. 

So, then: the South.  For years this has been the biggest issue, and still is.  It is wrong to say that they are inspired by the Tunisia and Egypt; they have been at this for years.  Where the inspiration might come in is the suddenly visible brass ring of success.  An emboldened opposition and harried Salih might push Yemen to the breaking point, and the dream of seceding could be within reach.  I think right now they are clearly separate from the protests in San'a and Taizz, even if they echo each other, with the calls for democracy and a chance at a decent life.  But for now in the South it is still secession. 

So, then, this is a question.  This is not policy advice or a cocksure guarantee, but a barely-formed thought.  Stipulating that if the south goes, Yemen as a centralized state will no longer be viable (which I agree with), and given that it isn't in US interests for that to happen, do we see an opportunity here?  Would the Southern Movement be placated, or at least temporarily appeased, if Salih was replaced with a promise of democracy?    Is that the only chance to hold the country together?  And, if so, should the US and the West throw their weight behind the demonstrators before it is too late?  Or is that way too big of a gamble?   And even if that is a possible course, do we have the skill or the means to pull it off?  I am in the camp that America can't do everything it wants, both morally and practically- there is a limit to our power and influence.   Even with aid, I am doubtful that we can ease Salih out, but it isn't impossible.  I fear that in this scenario our best way to do so is through the army, whose taking of power, even if it comes with hand-over-the-heart guarantees of just being transitional, won't exactly be met with acceptance in the south.   So what should be the play? 

1 comment:

  1. Brian,
    Your analysis alludes to a fundamental challenge facing the protesters (I still think revolutionaries is too strong): Yemen is already fractured.

    If this continues to grow, at some point, an opposition leadership must be able to navigate the fault lines that define existing conflicts, particularly the Huthis and Southern Movement. The question, then, is what would bring the Huthis and wide range of southern right’s movements into a future state, and to what extent is an eventual protest leadership willing or able to engage in that process? I don’t think the Huthis are far. An honest government that respects their constitutional and religious rights would be acceptable. The Southern Movement is another question.

    Regardless, at some point, any Yemeni gov’t must resolve these conflicts through intense negotiation and reconciliation. Does a future protest leadership follow the gov’t line, half-ass pursuing national reconciliation and evading real change? That won’t be acceptable, particularly in the South. Alternatively, does it seek to re-shape Yemen along fundamentally transformed constitutional, economic and power-sharing arrangements that might satisfy these groups? That’s quite the task.

    Perhaps the end-game here is several Yemens, as you alluded to. At this point, who’s truly invested in the current state model?