BEIRUT: Yemen’s ambassador to Lebanon reflected on the crisis gripping his country and evoked a trope that has become synonymous with the George W. Bush administration’s war against terror.
“‘You are either with us or against us,’ and that’s what is going on in Yemen,” Ali Ahmad al-Dailmi told The Daily Star, quoting the former U.S. president’s infamous ultimatum, in a sit-down interview at the Yemeni Embassy in Bir Hasan Wednesday. “If you don’t take the views of one side, it means you’re on the other. They don’t recognize people who sit in the middle, who sit with the interests of Yemen at heart.”
“The situation is very sensitive.”
Since President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi fled Houthi captivity in Yemen’s capital Sanaa for his southern stronghold of Aden in February, warring Yemeni factions have descended into armed conflict.
A coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which includes five Gulf Arab states and Jordan, Egypt and Morocco, responded to the beleaguered president’s request to intervene and launched airstrikes.
By then, a combined force of Shiite rebels and security forces loyal to Yemens former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ceded power to Hadi in 2012 after popular protests against his rule, had taken over swaths of the country, including Sanaa, and were inching toward Aden.
Dailmi was originally party to the National Dialogue Conference of March 2013 to January 2014, transitional talks to tackle the country’s government after Saleh stepped down as part of a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative.
Sitting in his somber office, Dailmi, a former professor of political science, said a return to GCC-sponsored dialogue was the only means to solve the crisis in Yemen.
“Yemen and the GCC have very good relations and we don’t want this war to destroy this relationship. We are looking forward to the airstrikes [paving the way] to political negotiations to make peace,” he said.
“But no one group can rule by itself, that’s the message we [as a diplomatic mission] are trying to send to the GCC, that it has to engage with all groups,” he added. “We don’t want the GCC to take sides with one group and fight with the other.
“Yemen should be ruled by all.”
However, no one seems to be interested in putting down arms just yet. “This is why we are concerned about being in a long-term conflict,” he said, expressing hope that “our brothers in Saudi will be able to control this war as soon as possible.”
Opposed by both the Houthis and the Hadi government is Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, which is said to be the jihadi group’s best-resourced and organized. Dailmi, who was appointed to his post two years ago, fears the group might be strengthened by the crisis. “Right now we have a failed state in Yemen, Al-Qaeda has good ground to become stronger,” he said.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to launch airstrikes was a “legitimate” request of Hadi to ultimately lead conflicting parties back to dialogue, Dailmi said. “We hope it will achieve their goals and objectives but we are concerned about the civilians in Yemen and its infrastructure.”
More than 100,000 Yemeni civilians have reportedly fled their homes since the fighting began. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 15.9 million people are in need of assistance. The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization warned that the conflict would disrupt the crop-planting season and create food shortages.
According to the ambassador, “hundreds” of Yemenis have fled to Lebanon in recent weeks and the embassy is attempting to contact the United Nations to provide them with the necessary aid.
The Yemeni Embassy in Beirut, situated right next to the Iranian diplomatic mission, lacks resources. The remnants of a double suicide operation in November 2013 that targeted the Iranian Embassy could still be seen in Dailmi’s office wall and windows.
The mission’s funds are insufficient to repair the damage of the bomb attack, he explained.
The crisis in Yemen is also seen in the context of a regional power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the overtones of which have been felt in Lebanon in a war of words between politicians and groups at far ends of the political spectrum.
But from Dailmi’s perspective it was difficult to analyze fallout from the Yemen war elsewhere. “Everything is happening at once.”