Editorial

No quick fixes for Yemen

The orgy of violence in Yemen warrants the attention of not just Middle Eastern nations but also the rest of the world for compelling reasons. Alongside the grave humanitarian crisis in the poorest country of the Arab world lurk other worrying dangers.

For one thing, energy security is at stake, given Yemen's location at the choke point of the Gulf of Aden through which much oil is shipped. Its implosion, following in the footsteps of Syria, Iraq and Libya, raises fears that the Arab Spring four years ago will turn into a long, hard winter for the region. It is bad enough when Yemen is a proxy battlefield for Sunni power Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite rival Iran, but a deepening risk is that Al-Qaeda will exploit its haven in Yemen to expand in the region while the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria will also spread its tentacles. It is a deadly combination.

In the absence of the United States - whose withdrawal of its Special Forces from Yemen is said to represent a failed campaign - could one take some comfort from the efforts of the Saudis to demonstrate regional leadership, and of Arab League nations to create a joint Arab military force? If the analysts are correct, air strikes can only do so much and any land intervention "could quickly spiral out of control", according to The Economist.

Ultimately, Arabs will have to take a long, hard look at the primary causes of the troubles in their backyard and seek durable solutions. A case in point is the root cause of the insurgency in Yemen.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who had long been active in the country's north, overran the capital Sanaa last September on the back of general discontent over the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. It unravelled badly because of Mr Hadi's profound failure to accommodate the interests of the Houthis. The context is that Mr Hadi was installed in 2011 in a deal backed by the United Nations and mediated by the Gulf Cooperation Council to end an uprising. That deal, however, excluded non-establishment factions such as the Houthis. The lack of an inclusive government contributed to the current civil strife.

Looking ahead, concern should not be just focused on preventing Yemen from falling under the thrall of Iran, given the latter's rising geopolitical influence which now includes Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. A glimmer of hope lies in Teheran's call for "dialogue and reconciliation". This is what major Arab players should also push for. Yemenis cannot afford to delude themselves for much longer, with or without the aid of their much-touted addiction to a mild narcotic. For a political solution to last, they must embrace one that is demonstrably inclusive.