Pomeps papers show the fractional nature of Yemen's war

In November, The Project on Middle East Political Science at George Washington University brought together scholars from Yemen, Europe, and the United States to discuss the situation in Yemen. This workshop produced a series of short papers that illustrate the fractional nature of Yemen’s war and contemplate the challenges behind any future negotiated settlement.

April Longley Alley, “Collapse of the Houthi-Saleh alliance and the future of Yemen’s war”

Alley predicts the Houthi-Saleh split will prolong conflict and heighten the suffering of Yemenis. Alley claims Houthi vulnerabilities have been revealed by the split, most notably that they can be more easily associated with Iran and that popular support has waned, but this does not “translate neatly into Saudi-led coalition military victories.” The Houthis retain strong military capacities and support in the northern highlands, so the coalition would need ground troops and political cohesion to defeat them. Alley stresses that any assault on Houthi controlled territory, particularly Hodeidah, will have devastating humanitarian consequences.

Peter Salisbury, “In Yemen, 2018 looks like it will be another grim year”

According to Salisbury, many actors in the war have multiple incentives to prolong conflict. The war cannot be regarded as the Houthis versus Hadi because many groups are fighting and profiting from the war economy. The Houthis in particular have a sustainable revenue base, and winning a war in the northern highlands would cost them enormously. The alternative to complete victory is maintaining this sustainable profit. These incentives to prolong conflict are combined with the Houthis’ military strength, which Salisbury argues is stronger than perceived.

Susanne Dahlgren, “Popular revolution advances towards state building in Southern Yemen”

Dahlgren claims that Southern Yemen has already, in effect, seceded from Yemen. She analyzes the institutional development done by the Southern Transitional Council, and how Hirak has spread popular support for Southern secession. While the UAE is involved in Southern development, Dahlgren warns that “it would be too optimistic for southern separatists to believe that the UAE actually endorses southern independence” (21). The UAE has its own agenda, which includes fighting for leadership in the Sunni world.

“In the chaos of war and absence of a state power, the South already has seceded. While the STC has chosen its 'president,' 'cabinet' and 'parliament,' all ready to embrace national functions, it is the people in neighborhoods and villages who have taken over power. Among these people, the flag to be raised is the “South Arabian” flag, not the Yemeni flag” (22).

Laurent Bonnefoy, “Sunni Islamist dynamics in context of war: What happened to al-Islah and the Salafis?”

Bonnefoy analyzes how Sunni Islamist groups have changed since 2011. There has been politicization among salafis, which is shown most clearly by the formation of the Rashad Union. Rashad has highlighted the apolitical and pro-status-quo stance of salafis from the Dar al-Hadith institute and, consequentially, provoked their marginalization. Al-Islah has also been marginalized, largely due to Houthi aggression and weak international support.

Elisabeth Kendall, “Impact of the Yemen war on militant jihad”

From 2015 to 2016 militant jihadist groups were empowered by the war, but Kendall reveals signs of their fracturing in 2017. The groups are facing heightened pressure from the UAE and the US, and Kendall reports internal arguments over priorities. There are signs of leadership rifts, and “fluidity in allegiance among the foot soldiers,” which means more groups need to be acknowledged than just AQAP and ISY.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, “Endgames for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen”

Ulrichsen argues Saudi Arabian and UAE involvement in Yemen has promoted a “hyper-hawkish axis.” Both countries are stuck in Yemen because Saudi Arabia cannot commit the necessary ground troops to win militarily and the UAE, despite completing its military objectives, has invested too much political support in the Saudi crown prince to withdraw. Ulrichsen voices skepticism about whether these countries are capable of producing instead of consuming security.

Marie-Christine Heinze and Hafez Albukari, “Yemen’s war as seen from the local level”

The security situation in Yemen is varied and complex on the local level. Through quantitative research, Heinze shows that communities are experiencing the war differently. Threats to security and perceptions of personal insecurity vary based on region. This diversity in experience produces divergent political opinions, and Heinze argues this complexity must be recognized by international actors.

Marieke Transfeld, “Yemen’s education system at a tipping point: Youth between their future and present survival”

According to Transfeld, the war has reversed all educational progress in Yemen. Yemen’s education system improved in the 1990s, but classroom overcrowding and a wide gender disparity remained. When the war began, 1.8 million students joined the standing 1.6 million children who did not attend school. Schools have been destroyed or converted to shelters, and 166,443 teachers have gone a year without payment, many refusing to teach as a result.

 “The lack of opportunities for young people within their communities also results in sentiments of despair and depression. Therefore, to counteract the radicalization of communities, thwart early marriage, and give Yemen’s young generation the opportunity for a better future, the international community must support the educational system and enable Yemen’s children and youth to attend classes” (42).

Ala Qasem, “Gasping for hope: Yemeni youth struggle for their future”

The future for young Yemenis is bleak, according to Qasem. In the past, young Yemenis have responded to economic hardship with political action, but that small space for change has been shrunk by the war. These young Yemenis, with no outlet for change and dark visions of the future, focus on survival.

“The choice they currently face appears straightforward: either stay at home and wait for death to get to you in the form cholera, dengue fever, or starvation, or carry a gun and go meet it head on. And maybe, just maybe, you could survive it and make a living out of it” (45).

Ala’a Jarban, “Supporting and failing Yemen’s transition: Critical perspectives on development agencies”

During the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), the government agreed to lift fuel subsidies in order to receive an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan. Jarban argues this loan “acted as the deathblow to the transitional process in Yemen” because it did not account for political tensions in Yemen, and ignored the risk of fuel subsidy reform during a political transition.

Silvana Toska, “The rise and fall and necessity of Yemen’s youth movements”

During the 2011 uprisings, Yemeni youth were able to temporarily sideline their divergent political affiliations and unite in protest. Toska cites this phenomenon as the most important outcome of that period, and stresses the importance of its recurrence after the war. In order to challenge standing elites after the war, young Yemenis must come together stronger than they did in 2011. This will require clear leadership and coherent organization.

Dana M. Moss, “A diaspora denied: Impediments to Yemeni mobilization for relief and reconstruction at home”

Many studies have demonstrated the positive role diasporas can play during conflict, but Yemen’s diaspora is not providing the relief and reconstruction these studies outlined. The violence of fighting forces, repressive threats in host-countries, and intra-community division prevent Yemen’s diaspora from helping their homeland. Aid is blocked or stolen, host-countries see assistance efforts and suspect disguised terrorism, and the politicization of aid provokes arguments over distribution methods.

Sheila Carapico, “War and De-Development”

In her contribution, Carapico analyzes the Saudi-led coalition’s deliberate de-development of Yemen. This de-development has provoked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and will have long term consequences on the country. The environment may be permanently damaged, Yemen is vulnerable to dependent-development post war, and “shattered and stunted bodies and minds may never entirely recover” (61).

“Food insecurity, like the cholera epidemic that began in October 2016, is manufactured, not the result of underlying factors such as drought. The YDP tracked bombardment of roads, bridges, gas stations, and food production facilities – from potato chip factories to agricultural extension centers. Using YDP data and Ministry of Agriculture information, anthropologist Martha Mundy graphed, mapped, and analyzed the purposeful targeting of agricultural and food production sites, concluding that hunger and the decimation of farm communities are not a side effect but rather an intended consequence of the military campaign” (60).