[Marxism] Yemen: Battle of two counterrevolutions

Michael Karadjis mkaradjis at gmail.com
Tue Apr 7 12:07:47 MDT 2015

-----Original Message----- 
From: Ken Hiebert via Marxism

> http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article3957

> The revolutionary Marxist organizations signatory to this statement, 
> strongly condemn the various acts of aggression carried out by Houthi 
> militias in alliance with the military, which is still controlled by 
> the former tyrant of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and strongly supported 
> by the Islamic Republic of the mullahs of Iran. These organizations 
> also condemn the recent onslaught perpetuated by the Kingdom of Saudi 
> Arabia and its allies in this brutal criminal process and calls for 
> the cessation of hostilities between all the parties involved and the 
> withdrawal of all foreign military presence from Yemen. All 
> intervening imperialist factions, be it Iran or the various Gulf 
> regimes, notably Saudi Arabia, must be forced to offer a huge 
> financial compensations to alleviate the grave losses suffered by the 
> people of Yemen, in recent years, due to the savage interventions by 
> those regimes.


Excellent document. On the one hand, it clearly opposes the Saudi-led 
aggression on Yemen, the effects of which are clearly disastrous. On the 
other, it does not make the mistake of many who think, either, the 
Houthis are just an oppressed minority, even if with a sectarian 
leadership, and so there might be something by default "progressive" 
about the internal forces the Saudis are fighting, or that their main 
problem is that they are a proxy for Iran in its regional struggle with 
Saudi Arabia.

Rather, the document makes clear that this is as much an internal 
aggression by the former tyrant Saleh, who controls a large part of the 
military and its US- and Saudi-supplied weaponry, as it is a "Houthi" 
movement. Some analysts have noted this, and then passed it by as if 
without any consequence. Yet given that Saleh was the tyrant who ruled 
for 33 years, who was overthrown by the Arab Spring uprising, who is 
believed to have stolen some $60 billion from the country (!! a similar 
figure to what we hear about Mubarak, from a much poorer country, thus 
proportionally much more), and who is still connected to the military 
high command and its weaponry, it is patently absurd to see this as a 

In other words, we do actually have a battle of two counterrevolutions 
currently going on in Yemen. In general, I try to avoid that kind of 
formulation, as it is often a too easy way of dismissing everyone as 
"bad" when you don't have time, or are too intellectually lazy, to think 
in more complex terms. But in some cases, the term is apt. This is one 
of them.

An invasion led by the monarchies of the Gulf is obviously 
counterrevolutionary in its aims and impacts, whatever its claims (aside 
from the fact that as primarily an air war it is a war crime by 
definition, in my books; and aside from the fact that an external 
intervention into a primarily internal conflict is never going have good 
results, whatever one thinks of the internal actors). But a war led by 
the overthrown tyrant and enabled by his control of the military, 
violently throwing out the elected government and imposing their will 
all the way to Aden, via large scale use of tanks and missiles against 
population centres, is also a counterrevolution, and the impact on 
civilians by all accounts, is no less than that of the Saudi aircraft.

Thus many articles have tried to analyse the crisis and got many things 
part correct. One recent article (can't remember which) said the "ancien 
regimes" of the Gulf were out to stomp on all threats to the "ancien 
regime" in the region. But Saleh is unquestionably the "ancien regime" 
in Yemen. In Dabashi's overall excellent article (Counterrevolutionaries 
on the march), he says the invasion "is the thematic finale of a 
successful counterrevolutionary mobilisation by a transnational 
coalition of entrenched forces trying to put an end to Arab 
revolutions." As a big picture statement that might be true, but the 
"Arab revolution" in Yemen overthrew Saleh, so ironically enough the 
Saudis are, officially at least, on the side of the post-revolution 
order, and, perhaps even more ironically, the south Yemen left and 
secessionist movement. Therefore I thought his insistence that the 
invasion of Yemen has to be seen as the same as the invasion of Bahrain 
in 2011 was not correct (except that both must be opposed).

Louis Proyect pointed to the opposition of regimes like the Saudi 
monarchy (and secular tyrants like Sisi and Assad) to any movements with 
a "mass" base, rather than simply to sectarian issues (eg Sunni Saudis v 
Shiite Houthis). This is a good point, because it helps us understand 
why the Saudis also hate the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood as much as they do 
the Shiite Houthis or Hezbollah; why the Saudis bankrolled the *secular* 
military coup of Sisi against the Sunni MB government in Egypt. In fact, 
so anti-MB were the Saudis (who last year declared the MB a terrorist 
organisation alongside al-Qaida) that for some time last year the Saudi 
regime was even trying to coopt the Houthis 
because the main "mass" force behind the Hadi government in Yemen (and 
also main party in coalition govt) was the 'Islah' movement, ie the 
Yemeni MB. Ultimately however the Saudis decided the "mass" Sunni group 
was less an immediate danger than the "mass" Shiite group when the 
latter wasn't satisfied with taking over the capital, Sanaa, but in 
advancing all the way to Aden.

But in this instance, how much is the Houthi movement a mass-based 
threat? Sure, in the past, the Saudis actively supported Saleh's 
dictatorship when it waged war after war against the Houthi in their 
northern stronghold. But the Houthi have not taken over the whole 
country, north to south, due to having any mass base whatsoever outside 
their far northern (Shiite) stronghold; on the contrary, they have been 
opposed by mass demonstrations in Sanaa and everywhere else they went 
(ie, the rest of the largely Sunni country), and seized power and ruled 
via jailings, killings, suppressing the media, violently overturning the 
constitution etc - coup methods. The claims in some places that the 
Houthi have touched a cross-sect revulsion against the wealth of the 
ruling elite under Hadi seems to be false, based on the empirical 
evidence of the mass anti-Houthi demonstrations, and in any case their 
alliance with the ultimate plutocrat Saleh makes it absurd.

And above all, the rapidity of the Houthi advance from their northern 
base, through the Sunni mid-north and centre, against the Sunni tribal 
regions where they have been, alongside the US, "fighting al-Qaida" (and 
as we know, the US war on these Sunni civilians has driven large numbers 
of them to supporting, by default, al-Qaida), and even into the south 
and into Aden, is impossible to understand without understanding their 
alliance with Saleh's military: a thoroughly opportunist alliance for 
sure, but only this can help us understand the rapid advance - 
experienced by the locals as a full scale invasion, and resisted as 
such, especially in the south.

So why don't the Saudi and Gulf monarchies support the Saleh 
counterrevolution? Clearly, we cannot avoid the sectarian issue, even if 
it is true that sect is not the answer for everything. Seems to me that 
the Saudis were willing to sit back as long as the Saleh/Houthi alliance 
was mainly causing trouble for the Hadi regime, especially balancing the 
influence of Islah; but once they marched all the way south to Aden, the 
Houthis' alliance with Iran simply could not  be ignored. Of course, 
people are right when they say the Iranian role has been exaggerated - 
Iran has provided money, arms and intelligence, but none of it in 
massive quantities; the Houthi military superiority cannot be explained 
by any massive Iranian intervention at all. However, in the struggle for 
regional supremacy between the twin poles of reaction, Saudi Arabia and 
Iran, clearly the Houthi are seen by the Saudis as an Iranian knife into 
the heart of Saudi Arabia, in a region the Saudis see as their sphere - 
which they aim to  preserve all the more now that the US has clearly put 
Iran in charge of operations in Iraq and Syria, the northern part of the 

The current attempt by Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood to kiss 
and make up, including a Saudi visit to Turkey (relations have been bad 
since the Saudi aid to Sisi's coup against the MB), a much discussed 
possible Hamas visit to Riyhad (and Hamas' support to the Saudi 
intervention) is connected to Yemen.

At the same time, I think the Saudis simply could not allow 
Saleh/Houthis to throw the framework the Saudis had so carefully put 
together, the so-called Yemeni Solution, which precisely had the aim of 
derailing the Yemeni revolution. The Yemeni Solution consisted of 
getting Saleh himself to step down in order to save his regime, while 
broadening the regime by including representatives of the then 
opposition within it. He was replaced by Hadi, his deputy, from the same 
party. Saleh could keep his fortunes, have Saudi residence, keep control 
of parts of the army, and melt away, to assuage the hatred of the 
masses. But sociopathic tyrants like Saleh are not so easily kept away 
from power: the Saudis are furious that he would make an alliance even 
with his former enemies (those he used to bomb) and with Iran and 
sabotage the soft-counterrevolution solution the Saudis had crafted, 
just to vainly try to put his son in power; moreover, it is precisely 
this Yemeni Solution model that the Saudis (and formerly the US) aim to 
push on Syria to save the regime from itself, so the Saudis need to save 
the model.

The Saudis have amassed a grand Arab coalition for their attack on 
Yemen, have got Arab League cover, and even UN Security Council cover in 
as much as the UNSC unanimously declared the Hadi government legitimate 
and opposed the coup. Of course it is a reactionary Arab coalition, as 
many like to call it, but this is tautology: there are no 
"non-reactionary" Arab regimes. There is no doubt deep cynicism about 
the fact that Arab rulers can form grand coalitions to intervene in 
little Yemen with loads of warplanes but cannot do anything to aid 
Palestine; and indeed, voices from Syria, while tending to be supportive 
of the Saudi move (as they are being genocided by an Iran-backed regime, 
it simply seems logical to them), say much he same: how come you notice 
Yemen, but exactly the same Gulf-state coalition has been bombing Syria 
for 8 months alongside the US but has not touched the genocide-regime.

Nevertheless, I think we can't understand the success of the Saudi 
coalition-making if we don't understand how deep Arab hostility is to 
what is perceived as an Iranian attempt to dominate the Arab world via 
its sectarian reach, via its support to sectarian tyrants in Iraq and 
Syria, and its partnership with the US in this.

Incidentally, the Egyptian position was not as firm as it has since 
become, as Sisi has strongly fallen in behind the grand Arab coalition. 
While it may seem incongruous, Sisi was playing with the Saleh/Houthi 
element much longer than the Saudis were 
This isn't because Sisi loves Iran; but unlike Saudi Arabia, his great 
patron, there is no Shiite minority in Egypt to worry about; his enemy 
at home is far more clearly the Muslim Brotherhood who he has violently 
suppressed. It was thus harder for Sisi to accept an MB-dominated regime 
just  down the Red Sea from home than it was for the Saudis, whereas the 
Houthi were less threatening, and Saleh would seem positively a good 
thing to the Egyptian revanchist regime. This parallels the more open 
Saudi-Egyptian difference regarding Assad in Syria 

As for the US, it has declared support for the Saudi attack and is 
providing logistical and other support; but the US was apparently 
informed of the invasion one hour before it occurred. Make no mistake, 
Saudi Arabia (like Iran) is quite capable of being counterrevolutionary 
entirely in its own right, in fact, the big growth of Gulf capital means 
there is a relative independence. This is a Saudi/Gulf initiative, and 
the grand Arab coalition its ideological prop. The US had in fact been 
making all kinds of overtures to the Houthi, not so much as part of its 
tilt to Iran as many believe, but rather pragmatically, as an ally in 
its war on the Sunni Yemeni peasantry (the "war on al-Qaida"). (Really - 
I read somewhere "make no mistake - the US is now at war in Yemen". Now? 
Not for the last 7 years?). However, the Saudis view the al-Qaida danger 
somewhat more directly: from their point of view, if they don't confront 
the Houthi takeover of most of Sunni Yemen, then al-Qaida will become 
much more powerful as a part of the "Sunni resistance" and completely 
undermine Saudi "leadership" of the Sunni world.

The forthrightness of the Saudi move however has changed any other 
calculations for the US: if they can do the job of restoring some kind 
of "order" then they will be supported, just as Iran will play that role 
up north. In any case, the US needs to keep the balance: it may have 
played with the Houthis pragmatically, but if the Iraqi-Syrian sphere is 
being ceded to Saudi rival Iran, then all the more reason that Saudi 
hegemony must be recognised over the Gulf.

Like all massive foreign interventions, however, the actual effects are 
rarely those intended, and often the opposite. An air war kills 
civilians on the ground, just as surely as the Saleh/Houthi shelling 
does; but the Saudi killing of civilians is killing by an outside power 
that Yemen has traditionally had national problems with (including the 
Saudi seizure of three Yemeni provinces back in the 1930s). We thus now 
see Yemen divided in three: a Houthi/Shiite far north; the centre around 
Sanaa, which had erupted in enormous anti-Houthi demonstrations the last 
couple of months in response to the coup, but which is now reportedly 
strongly anti-Saudi intervention, a product of the vigorous Yemeni 
nationalism of Sanaa; and a south which is furiously resisting the 
Saleh/Houthi onslaught through their popular resistance militias, and 
which by and large appears pro-intervention. Big anti-Saudi 
demonstrations have erupted in Sanaa, while big demonstrations 
supporting the Saudi campaign have erupted in Taiz and Aden. Meanwhile, 
al-Qaida has taken advantage of the chaos and seized a provincial 
capital in the south as well.

As such, the massive ham-fisted intervention with warplanes has appeared 
to have accentuated Sunni-Shiite and South-North divisions while also 
accentuating anti-Saudi Yemeni nationalism in parts of the country. 
While it may seem deeply ironic that the forces the Saudis need to rely 
on on the ground - Muslim Brotherhood, South Yemeni forces (Nasserites, 
Yemen Socialist Party, Southern secessionist movement) - would seem 
anything other than natural allies of the Saudi monarchial despotism, 
the fact that the other side - a Shiite sectarian force allied to Iran - 
is hardly better, reveals the very deep political *weakness* of the 
Saudi position there (exactly the same is true in Syria). Therefore, by 
directly intervening, the Saudis hope to be able to better control 
precisely these forces on "their" side. But with their bombing 
alienating a section of nationalist Sunni, with it allowing al-Qaida to 
gain more of a foothold, with it not preventing the Saleh/Houthi forces 
from reaching Aden, and with massive street fighting erupting in Aden 
and the south, the Saudis may find they have created a much bigger 
problem than the one they aim to "fix" and their famous "Yemeni 
Solution" appears further away than ever.

Meanwhile, there is also no guarantee of the cohesion of the anti-Saudi 
side; apart from those sections of the population which are essentially 
against both (especially in Sanaa), the Saleh and Houthi forces may well 
fly apart at some stage with their own inter-civil-war, depending on how 
much their aims can be reconciled and what deals with either the Saudis 
and others offer. Saleh may well think that by Sunni and Shia, MB and 
Houthi, and south and north, killing each other, he (or actually his 
son) can return as Bonaparte. And despite the Saudis current anger at 
his perceived treachery, it is not out of the question that they may in 
time come to see the old tyrant, the ancien regime, as their best bet. 

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