As Yemen enters a new era with the killing of longtime ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, professor and author Isa Blumi says financial motives help drive the Saudi-led war
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. The war in Yemen has entered a new phase with the killing of longtime ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh was killed Monday just days after breaking with his former allies, the Houthis. How did their alliance collapse, and how does his killing impact a conflict that has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis? Joining me is Isa Blumi, associate professor at Stockholm University, author of the forthcoming book ‘Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us About the World.’ Professor Blumi, welcome. Your reaction first to how it happened that Saleh, who was allied with the Houthis pretty much since this conflict began, was killed by them? What happened here? ISA BLUMI: First of all, it’s not surprising that he would come to an end in this manner. It was in many ways ordained that a man who comes to power in such a form, and maintained power in a country that had long been the target for aggression from the outside world, and required men like him to serve as intermediaries to subdue Yemen or to, indeed, surrender Yemen in one way or another to these outside interests, would himself at one point be at the end of a gun, see the end of his life. The consequences are quite extensive. If indeed we could think about this breakup between the General People’s Congress, which is a party that Ali Abdullah Saleh represented, at least a portion of it, if indeed there is strong consequences and reactions to his death as if it somehow constitutes a real break between those who had been allies for at least three years during this overt campaign run by the Saudis with American and British assistance on- AARON MATE: Professor, haven’t we already seen that? Haven’t already Saleh’s allies, who previously were fighting with the Houthis, have since his death been fighting against the Houthis in Sana’a, the capital? ISA BLUMI: Yes, we can say that the most entrenched loyalists and those who had also strong connections with Saudis and others who have invested in wreaking havoc on Yemen, have nowhere else to go, but it is very curious that this roll of the dice, if you will, the timing of this defection, if you will, could have been seen as desperation, and results that very quickly they subdued the capital. In fact the so-called leader of the party, of this faction, is now dead, and much of his immediate family is now dead suggests that the GPC has been fractured. It has lost its coherence. Indeed, many of those who were once allies or loyal to him had already moved to joining a larger coalition called Ansar Allah and related parties we call in the West Houthis, which I think is a mistake. It is actually a much larger coalition than any one particular group of loyalists or individuals. Again, it seems that he has lost the loyalties of many, many people because of his shenanigans, because of his games playing with a coalition that has killed tens of thousands of Yemenis and likely killed many members of the families of once-loyalists to Ali Abdullah Saleh. Again, you run the risk of alienating many, many important assets if you turn and join forces with the likes of Saudi Arabia and others. This is what I think we’ve seen in the last couple of days. AARON MATE: What does this mean, then, for Saudi Arabia now that it’s possibly antagonized even more people than it already had, which is hard to imagine given the devastation that it’s wreaked onto Yemen? ISA BLUMI: It means the war continues. It means parts of what is claimed to be Saudi territory, it will continue to face guerrilla-like warfare, sabotage. You will likely see more ballistic missiles, that are in the repertoire of the Yemeni army that has remained intact more or less for these last three years, raining down on various assets inside Saudi Arabia. It’s hemorrhaging money. One of the reasons why they initiated this war in the first place is that it was hemorrhaging money and low oil prices had meant it was constantly seeking new sources of revenue. Indeed, this gambit to arrest many of the members of the larger families and steal their life savings is a reflection of the long-term cost of maintaining a war that costs somewhere around $200 million a day for Saudi Arabia. AARON MATE: Professor, let me clarify that. You just suggested that a reason Saudi Arabia launched the war in Yemen to begin with is because they were losing money on the low price of oil. How would attacking Yemen help them financially? ISA BLUMI: Yemen, for one, has considerable assets, indeed, oil and gas. It would enable Saudi Arabia to gain direct access to the Indian Ocean, which has long been coveted. There are suggestions that the considerable wealth that one could find within the private accounts of actors like the larger Saleh family and the Al Ahmar clan constitutes a big prize for those who can sequester these resources. Admittedly, what happened to Qatar is quite similar. For Qatar, they were able to gain Turkish protection and they did not suffer the same consequences as Yemen. Yemen’s oil resources, its gas resources, its offshore assets, its fisheries, its minerals, these are all untapped wealth that is very attractive for a country that’s desperately in need and seeking new sources of revenue. I would suggest that we continue thinking about it in these terms as we move forward, because Saudi Arabia is becoming more and more desperate now since its main tools of influence, both the Salafist-Takfiri terrorists and Ali Abdullah Saleh, have proven to be incapable of securing the region for its interests. AARON MATE: Okay. Let me then present to you the conventional line that we hear about why Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen. This is very different from the picture you’ve just painted, which is that after Saleh stood down in the face of popular protest, he handed off power to his handpicked successor, [Abdrabbuh Mansur] Hadi, who is referred to as the internationally recognized leader. He won an election, although he was the only candidate. Then when the Houthis turned on Hadi, the Saudis intervened to protect his “legitimate government.” You’re saying actually that the reason was financial in design. ISA BLUMI: Hadi was the handpicked candidate of Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration. By 2012, when he was given a mandate of two years, which was more or less internationally recognized, even Yemenis had conceded it. Even what we would call so-called Houthis said, “Okay, we will give you this two-year period to actually reorganize the society and organize elections.” When the two years were up, there were no elections in sight, and in fact Hadi and the Saudis had actually just basically said, “We’re going to dismiss entirely this arrangement.” In this period, Hadi very quickly and very aggressively started to one, rip up contracts that had long worked or functioned, contracts that benefited Dubai Ports companies, for instance. Those contracts were ripped up, and they started issuing new contracts to Saudi and Qatari companies. Worse still, they started to initiate this hardcore austerity program on Yemen that was of course applauded by IMF. As we have cases elsewhere in the world, when you start imposing new kinds of taxation, forced privatization of lands, then you begin to see that this was indeed a process of financial colonization that the Yemenis just could not stand. AARON MATE: Right. If I remember correctly, one of the biggest issues for people of Yemen was the fact that the government cut fuel subsidies, which was the work I believe of the World Bank, which recommended to Hadi that he do that. ISA BLUMI: Exactly. Again, more austerity was applied, and what was worse is that constitutional changes were being made without parliamentary consent. Indeed, there was not a parliament functioning at the time. Again, Yemenis across the board were beginning to realize that this was in fact a stealth campaign to completely disrupt Yemeni sovereignty and steal its richest assets. One example was the Federation of Yemen, where there would be this vast territory of Hadramawt which would be created, more or less an independent state with all the oil and gas wealth basically in the hands of a small group of allies of Saudi Arabia, who in the long term one could imagine would sequester this wealth for the benefit of a neighboring state rather than the larger Yemeni society. Yemenis had had enough. This is where Ansar Allah and many other elements of Yemeni society joined forces. AARON MATE: Finally, professor, let me put to you the question posed by the subtitle of your book, Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us About the World. What does the chaos in Yemen right now tell us about the world we’re in, and where do you think the Yemeni conflict is going? ISA BLUMI: The chaos in the larger Arabian Peninsula, the larger Middle East is a direct link … There are direct links to the way global finance has since the 1940s, the Bretton Woods regime, has slowly but surely harnessed the power of debts to service the interests of a very small group of interested parties in the north Atlantic world. Yemen has been on the foreground of this campaign. That’s the whole thesis of my book. I provide historic roots to what global interests represented by the World Bank and IMF have been aggressively trying to do to Yemen, which is steal the wealth of Yemen from its people and facing considerable resistance. What happens as a consequence is you have virtual proxy wars uprooting Yemen’s sovereignty and the ability of Yemenis to resist this long-term campaign of basically robbing Yemen of its natural resources and its ability to maintain independence from a rather rapacious global finance capital regime that unfortunately the rest of the Middle East has already been facing since the interwar period, even. AARON MATE: We have to leave it there. Isa Blumi, associate professor at Stockholm University, author of the forthcoming book Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us About the World. Professor, thank you. ISA BLUMI: Thank you. AARON MATE: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.