Yemen – turning point of Islamism in the Middle East

Posted on January 30, 2010. Filed under: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Communist, India, Iran, Islam, Islamic propaganda, Muslims, Pakistan, USA |

The Yemeni geo-politics is becoming most interesting, It is a mini cold war being played out to secure on the one hand resources, and on the other, ownership of the “hearts and minds’ of the Ummah. Whichever of the two contestants among the self-styled “original/pure” Islamic “ashrafs” – Saudi Arabia or Iran, gains Yemen, ceases the economic flow between the East and the West, through controlling the mouth of the Red Sea into Indian Ocean Region. So it becomes imperative for Saudi Arabia to prevent Iranian ascendancy in Yemen.

Whereas if Iran gains Yemen, it can stretch out and outflank the USA+Saudi Arabia strategic presence on the western side of the Gulf. Both sides are therefore likely to accuse the other of carrying out a proxy war in Yemen. What is strange is the supposed existence of the Al Qaeda in Yemen, with solid origins from Saudi Arabia and one-time collaboration with USA (Osama’s connections during the anti-USSR AFG war), and the simultaneous supposed Iranian sponsoring of the Shi-ite Houthi’s. But no reports of conflict between Qaeda and the Houthis.

Added complication is the often missed problem of the Al Ahwaz area under Iran. This is claimed to be a primarily “Arab” area and population with the greatest concentration of natural gas/petrol resources of Iran. There is a separatist movement based on this claim, and their spokespersosn find sympathetic ears in Yemen.  It is possible that USA+Saudi Arabia allows Al-Ahwaz separatists to function to pick at Iran, while Iran allows the Shia tribes in north Yemen to function to pick at USA+Saudi Arabia. But a connection between Qaeda and Iran is interesting to the point of absurdity. They obviously can have common purpose – overthrow of the Saudi Royal regime and then wiping off Israel. But how far will this Shia-Sunni collaboration go? Iran can very well think of sponsoring Osama, as an antidote to Israel+USA. But how much will the Arabian Sunnis accept Shi-ite domination? They have accepted “non-Arabic” Islamic over-lordship before though – Ottoman Turks for example. Or is it entirely a representation to tar and feather Iran and Qaeda together? It will be important to see how far Iran digests attacks against Shias in Pakistan and still does nothing against Pakistan.

Being seen as “sympathetic” to theologians in the various Islam dominated countries can appear sweet as a strategy for the moment – but it is much better to think of the future in these countries in the long run. The best bet lies in holding out the hope for a liberal democracy in today’s youth in these countries. If we have to choose sides, lets choose it on the side of the future of these countries. Assuming a blanket trend towards extremism could be realistic but does not help us to divide up these societies so that the theologians do not get all the advantages of a united society behind them!

Interestingly Yemen had a Marxist party almost in power (in a part before unification) just like a similar party in Iran whose antics were hijacked by the Ayatollahs – may with blessings from the anti-communist leaguers of the Cold War days. But a reformed “leftism” could be a good tool to spoil the fun in both Iran and Yemen.

The death sentences against the condemned army- personnel indicted for the assassination of  Sk. Mujibur Rehman in Bangladesh, are most likely to be carried out early this morning. There may not be any immediate backlash against the hangings. But the hangings are likely to convert the executed into icons for the militant Islamists  and their supporters in the Islamic world. The trial and execution already generated several threats against state personnel and politicians, but nothing concrete has yet taken place.  There was a substantial proportion of voters who voted for candidates not belong the Awami League led alliance, and a proportion of this vote would overlap with the “Islamist” vote. The move towards de-religionization of politics in Bangladesh has already brought out the Islamists in protest especially against any move aimed at weakening or delegetimizing “Islamic poilitics”.

Militant, hegemonic Islamism has now managed to manipulate “western powers” into getting trapped into a war of attrition which the western mind is bungling because it has failed to understand “Islamism”. The greatest factor in this bungling has been the dominant academic sociological schools of thought – led by various shades of the Marxists – that overemphasized the role of economics as primary motivations for violence and hegemony. This extremely biased and narrow view of societal dynamics that almost completely downplayed the role of “ideologies”, forced public and foreign policies that were completely unrealistic and inappropriate – especially in dealing with Islamic radicalism.

The result has now been an extension of the “west” versus “Islamism” war – from a small zone in Afghanistan-Pakistan and Sudan, into all of Afghanistan and Pakistan, into the Horn of Africa – Mauritania, sub-Saharan Africa, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, and Yemen, with branches leading into Bangladesh, Malaysia, southern Thailand, Indonesia, parts of Philipines, almost the entirety of Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, and spreading into Central Asia.

For Bangladesh, the executions will probably be used by the Islamists as an indication of the Awami League government’s connections and alleged “dependence” on countries like India and the USA – deemed to be among the “enemies” of Islam – (in spite of the zealous protestations to the contrary from the most vocal sections of Indian society and polity). If Islamism gains in sentiments in Bangladesh, the Awami League government will be forced to depend more and more on India and this will push the polarization further. Such a polarization in itself is not bad for India, if India can see a clear policy towards Islamic radicalism. However, so far Indian reaction has been self-contradictory – as it still mostly holds on to the Marxists myths of  “all radicalsim comes from lack of economic development”. So this part remains uncertain for the future.

The dynamic of the “Islamist politics” is changing. Regimes like the “royal” house in Saudi Arabia will become increasingly identified with and dependent on the “west”. Looking carefully as to how USA is being forced to shift its military attention, from Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Pakistan, back to Afghanistan, back to Iraq, to Yemen – all the while the militancy is gaining recruits across north and central Africa – spanning the two oceans is illustrative. Increasingly the Islamist militancy is taking on its traditional twin front struggle. On the one hand it is the struggle between theologians and temporal rulers for ultimate dominance of the Islamist movement. On the other it is the dream of conquering the whole world in the name of Islam.

In time, the “royal houses” in Saudi Arabia/Jordan or the emirates – will lose their prestige and position if the Islamist movement continues under the radical theologians. On the one hand – there is the exclusivist strand of claims of bloodline/clan connections to the Qureyish. On the other there is the urge to gain popular representation and empowerment irrespective of bloodlines within the “greater” Islamic identity – this is the Iranian trend. Over the long run, the ideals of “democracy” and empowerment prevalent in non-islamic societies will reinforce and strengthen its twisting into Iranian style theocracy dominated “populist” Islamic rule.

The “life span” of the Saudi royal house will be short if the “house” does not make tactical compromises with the “populist Islamism”.

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