Yemen: Defusing the Saada Time Bomb
Crisis Group Middle East Report N°86, 27 May 2009Page 24
an articulated agenda have hampered information-gathering.
Western attitudes have also been shaped by the rebels’ anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric which, coupled with vague and ill-defined demands, has alienated governments that might otherwise empathise with their suffering.129 Yemeni authorities have skilfully portrayed the conflict as part of the broader war on terrorism, thereby tapping into U.S. and European post-11 September anxiety to combat potential Islamist foes. Criticised in the West for its tendency to co-opt rather than confront jihadi militants, Sanaa had good reason to demonstrate its disposition to fight terrorist groups even if – or perhaps especially because – the “Huthi terrorists” were an isolated, grievance-based group detached from any al-Qaeda-type network and represented a group, Zaydi Hashemites, that already had lost out in the 1962 revolution.130 At the same time, Western governments also might have feared that pressure risked weakening a government already facing multiple challenges, including al-Qaeda and a sinking economy.131
The conflict gradually attracted greater, but still insufficient, attention, primarily thanks to efforts by humanitarian aid agencies.132 Independent journalists, Western diplomats and international humanitarian workers believe that the resulting international pressure, albeit belated, contributed to the July 2008 ceasefire.133 The U.S. and EU request early that month for improved combat zone access for international NGOs and UN agencies signalled
129 Crisis Group interview, Western diplomat, Sanaa, January 2009.
130 Ludmila du Bouchet, “The State, Political Islam and Violence: The Reconfiguration of Yemeni Politics since 9/11”, in Amélie Blom, Laetitia Bucaille and Luis Martinez, eds., The Enigma of Islamist Violence (London, 2007), p. 144.
131 Crisis Group interview, civil society activist and mediation committee member in 2004, Sanaa, 8 January 2009.
132 Examples include circulation of the Saada Update bi-weekly newsletter by the World Food Programme to all Yemen-based UN agencies and NGOs; the International Committee of the Red Cross’s programs in Saada governorate beginning with the fourth round; creation of an emergency response group in 2008 to coordinate local and international NGO action; and, more generally, growing involvement of international humanitarian organisations since 2007. Crisis Group interview, international humanitarian NGO country director, Sanaa, 13 January 2009. During the fifth round in 2008, Human Rights Watch sent two separate missions to Yemen to assess the situation after the July ceasefire.
133 Crisis Group interview, General People’s Congress executive, Sanaa, 20 January 2009.
growing concern and heightened pressure on the parties.134 Likewise, once the ceasefire was in place, the donor community enjoyed leverage, as the government sought reconstruction funding.135 All of this makes the relative lack of global interest during the war’s early years – when the conflict, arguably, could have been halted in its tracks – the more regrettable.
134 Crisis Group interview, EU member state diplomat, Sanaa, 10 January 2009.
135 Crisis Group interview, Western development official, Sanaa, 6 January 2009.