Ammar al-Ashwal, a Yemeni researcher and an MA candidate in media studies at the Lebanese University in Beirut. Follow him on Twitter @lshwal.
The Saudi-led coalition is weakening the recognized Yemeni government by bombing the civilian population. Every time an airstrike hits a market, school, or house, that hurts the recognized government’s position and boosts the Houthis, who are able to recruit fighters as a reaction to the targeting of civilians.
Even as the internationally recognized government continues to operate in exile, the UAE—which is the second-most prominent member of the Arab coalition—has established a political body to exercise its authority on the ground, namely the Southern Transitional Council (STC). Inaugurated on April 4, 2017, the STC has the upper hand in southern Yemen, and its objectives are completely contradictory to those of the recognized government, most glaringly the former’s demand that the 1990 reunification of Yemen be abolished to create an independent south.
With direct support from the UAE, several paramilitary organizations were also created in the regions liberated from the Houthis, and all operate independently from the government’s ministries of defense and interior. For instance, paramilitary groups patrol the provinces of Aden, Abyan, Shabwa, and Hadramout, and other groups are active elsewhere in the country, such as the Giants Brigade in Saada, the Tihamah Resistance in Hodeidah, and the Republican Guard.
The Arab coalition also backs religious groups to the detriment of the recognized government. Instead of supporting the Ministry of Defense as a Yemeni military institution, Saudi Arabia bankrolls the military wing of the Islah Party (the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood), which now has a virtual statelet in Marib province and widespread influence in the city of Taiz. The UAE backs the Salafi groups headed by Abu al-Abbas, while Qatar—although it broke ranks with the Arab coalition due to the Gulf crisis—continues to pump funds to the non-military wing of Islah.
All of these political and military developments have handicapped the recognized government instead of restoring its place. The inability to give Yemeni government employees their paychecks for over two years since moving the Central Bank from Sanaa to Aden on September 18, 2016 has made the government look impotent and ineffective to the average Yemeni.
This has triggered frustrated responses from government officials, most prominently Deputy Prime Minister for the Civil Service Abdul-Aziz Jabari, who tendered his resignation on March 19 in protest. Jabari called for a “correction of the relationship with the coalition” as well as “treating Yemen with respect as a country with a civilization, not a ‘banana republic.’” Minister of State Salah al-Sayyadi followed suit, justifying his resignation by claiming that “President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has not been able to return to any part of the liberated areas in his country, nor the temporary capital in Aden, which has weakened legitimate institutions and undermined their role in favor of militia groups and organizations outside the government framework.” Then on March 10, Governor of Mahwit Saleh Samei lashed out at the UAE’s role in Yemen, demanding that President Hadi “end the coalition with Abu Dhabi,” saying the UAE was “reckless” and “behaving idiotically.”
Even though the government has the legitimacy of international recognition, the actions of Saudi Arabia and the UAE have weakened the government. This could prolong the war and worsen its human toll, which will complicate the peace process.
This article was translated from Arabic.