‘Without Tarnishing Its Reputation’; This Is the Saudi Plan To Escape the Yemen War
"Yemen has always been the weak point of the Saudi regime."
The Turkish newspaper Star highlighted the new steps taken by Saudi Arabia in order to cover and compensate for its “military weakness” in the war in Yemen for more than 6 years.
The newspaper published an article by Necmettin Acar—read Nejmettin Ajar—, a professor at Mardin Artuklu University, in which he said: “It is a well-known fact that Saudi Arabia has been trying to get rid of the Yemen war for a long time, since it was not been able to establish a political order in its favor…and has suffered a serious loss of reputation in the face of the humanitarian crisis that was reflected to the international public opinion.”
He added, “It seems very difficult for the Saudis to be able to end this war, which they did not have much difficulty in starting with the UAE, and to be able to withdraw from the conflict area without harming the national reputation of the country. Because the weak performance of the Saudi military elements at the front throughout the war encourages the Houthi fighters in Yemen to continue the war, let alone forcing them to compromise.”
The Future of the Crown Prince
According to Acar, Saudi Arabia resorted to the economic card to close the Yemen file “without tarnishing its reputation” or harming the future of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is expected to be the country’s future king, and to cover up its weakness and military failure.
He continued: “The termination of the contracts of Yemeni academics, doctors, and teachers in the southern provinces of the country (Asir, Jazan, and Najran) without justification, and the cancellation of their residence permits, and the request to leave Saudi Arabia within four months is important in terms of symbolizing that the Yemeni war has entered a different phase. Today, there are around 800,000 Yemeni workers in Saudi Arabia.”
He pointed out that “the annexation of Asir, Jazan, and Najran provinces on the southern borders of Saudi Arabia, dates back to the Treaty of Taif signed between Imam Yahya, who ruled Yemen, and Abdulaziz ibn Saud in 1934. Although Yemen accepted the abandonment of Asir, Jazan, and Najran regions to the regime of Ibn Saud as a result of the Treaty of Taif, the Yemeni side did not completely abandon its territorial claim on these provinces.”
Article 22 of the treaty stated that the two parties could withdraw from the treaty unilaterally and that the treaty would be renewed every 20 years, which can be evaluated as an indication that both countries were working to establish stability in the region temporarily at the time, according to what the Turkish writer sees.
He added: “Saudi Arabia has historically tended to see the Gulf region and Yemen as its sphere of influence. The main goal of the leadership of Ibn Saud, who defeated Sharif Hussein in the 1920s and took control of the country, had been to expand the borders of the country throughout the Arabian peninsula.”
This policy is based on the assumption that the Saudi border would be more secure if it extended as far as the Arabian Gulf (Persian Gulf), southern Arabia and the Red Sea.
Still, the Saudi regime, which failed to control the region militarily, tried to maintain its influence in the country with its policy of “keeping Yemen weak” and interfering in Yemen’s affairs.
Therefore, Riyadh has shown harsh reactions to the efforts of some parties that Saudi Arabia considers a threat, whether ideologically or militarily, to gain political influence in Yemen.
The efforts of Egypt in the 1960s, the Soviets in the 1970s, and Iran in the first decade of the 21st century to gain influence in the region caused great security concerns for Riyadh.
Since Yemen has always been a source of vulnerability for the Saudi regime, its competitors used to strike them through the Yemeni front when they wanted to weaken Saudi Arabia’s control, according to the writer.
Acar said: “The reluctance of the people of the region to accept Saudi citizenship has been the most important issue that supported Yemen’s claim to the region. The last time around 40 separatists were killed in the conflict between the Saudi security forces and the tribes in the region in 2000.”
He added: “The fact that the population of the region generally belongs to the Zaidiyyah sect, which is a branch of Shiism, and is considered non-Islamic by the country’s official ideology, Wahhabism, has been used as a justification for the military pressure of the Saudi regime.”
Because of the asymmetry of power between Yemen and Saudi Arabia and the pressure exerted by the Saudi regime on the table and in the field, Asir, Jazan, and Najran remained within Saudi Arabia’s borders.
However, Acar added, “the problem is completely different when viewed from the Yemeni side. Despite the treaty signed between the two countries, the feeling of losing their lands has always continued to play a disturbing role in the country’s domestic politics and relations with Saudi Arabia.”
Since the 1920s, the conclusion of most agreements between Yemen and Saudi Arabia came either after a military conflict in which Saudi Arabia won, or during a difficult economic or political crisis that Yemen experienced.
Acar said: “The Ibn Saud regime’s seizure of Asir, Jazan, and Najran regions by taking advantage of Yemen’s military, political, and economic weaknesses is the most important reason for the anger directed towards Riyadh in the Yemeni public. It is a common belief in Yemen that all agreements signed with Saudi Arabia had to be signed in a time of weakness in Yemen and that one day Yemen will regain its lost lands if it gets stronger again.”
He added, noting: “It is also necessary to see the effect of rising Yemeni nationalism in this outburst of anger directed at Riyadh. In this context, it would not be misleading to say that Yemen’s main ‘national’ enemy is a neighboring Arab state (Saudi Arabia). The core belief shared by most Yemenis is that the regions of Asir, Jazan, and Najran should be a part of Yemen, today and in the future, as well as its historical and social fabric.”
Acar believes that the Saudi regime was able to use the economic card effectively to expand its regional influence, thanks to massive oil revenues, even though it has not been successful in building a deterrent military capacity throughout the country’s history.
With this policy, which can be called “realpolitik,” the Saudi regime succeeded in gaining wide influence in countries with weak economies in and around the Arabian Peninsula.
Acar said: “The 10 million migrant workers working in Saudi Arabia, coming from neighboring countries, play a critical role in the political influence the Saudis have gained throughout the region. The important countries of the region have become significantly dependent on Saudi Arabia economically thanks to the remittances sent by the workers working in Saudi Arabia.”
He continued: “For example, the most important instrument of Saudi influence on the foreign policy of Egypt and Pakistan is the three million migrant workers sent by both countries to Saudi Arabia. The weight of remittances coming from Saudi Arabia, approaching ten percent in the national income of both countries, is sufficient data to show how costly it is to ignore Riyadh’s demands in the foreign policy making process in Islamabad and Cairo.”
Currently, Saudi Arabia is taking steps to cover and compensate for its military weakness in the Yemen war through the economic card. In fact, the unjustified dismissal of more than a hundred academics and doctors working in universities and hospitals in the southern governorates, the withdrawal of their residency permits and forcing them to leave the country, may be the first signs of this policy, the Turkish writer warns.
Acar continued: “This is important as it shows that the Saudis are inclined to continue the Yemen war on Yemenis working on Saudi soil. Today, hundreds of thousands of Yemenis who have fled Yemen for their safety and sought refuge in Saudi lands due to the ongoing war in Yemen, and 800,000 Yemeni workers who have been providing quality services in professional occupations in Saudi Arabia for decades are experiencing serious anxiety.”
He stressed that this is a step “that will have serious consequences that can take the Yemeni crisis to a different level.”
“The heavy humanitarian and economic consequences of the war that has been going on for more than six years have led to serious mass problems such as hunger, misery and epidemics in Yemen. Despite this, there is a large group of people who work abroad and provide economic support to their families in Yemen,” Acar said.
He added: “The loss of their jobs will aggravate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and the fact that close to one million people are expelled from Saudi Arabia and forced to return to Yemen will worsen the economic picture in the country.”
The writer concluded his article by denouncing: “The recent Saudi policy of deporting Yemeni workers is nothing but an effort to compensate for their weak military performance with the realpolitik card. At the same time, this is a policy aimed at weakening the Yemeni parties in a move that will paralyze the Yemeni economy and forcing them to sit at the table and accept the Saudis’ terms by making concessions.”
Acar recalled: “Let us remind you once again that the gains that the Saudis have made against Yemen throughout history have come true during a difficult economic or political crisis into which Yemen has fallen.”