Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

The incoherence in Saudi policy encouraged Saleh, the Houthis and Iran to try to increase their influence in Yemen

The Arab League’s declaration of the establishment of a joint Arab military force comes hot on the heels of the escalation of the Yemen conflict, but both Yemen and the league’s declaration are about more than stabilisation. They are also about restoring Saudi influence in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia used to be a major political broker in the region, but its role has declined in recent years largely as a result of internal power struggles within the royal family, which have meant its foreign policy sometimes lacked coherence. Yemen has witnessed the consequences of this.

The Saudis agreed that the 2011 uprising in Yemen against president Ali Abdullah Saleh threatened their interests and consequently led an initiative by the Gulf Cooperation Council to transfer power from Saleh to his deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. But they did not have a unified vision for what to do about Saleh. As a result, he stayed in Yemen and was able to lead his own political party and plan a comeback. Some Saudis also believed in keeping channels open with the Houthis, as they were opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, while others painted the Houthis as dangerous proxies of Saudi’s nemesis, Iran.

The incoherence in Saudi policy encouraged Saleh, the Houthis and Iran to try to increase their influence in Yemen. It also paved the way for extremist groups, namely Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Islamic State (Isis), to attempt to utilise Yemen as a hotbed of terrorism. The ensuing Houthi rebellion that began last September threatened to pull the country towards not just a civil war but also a regional conflict because of the involvement of transnational groups like AQAP and Isis. This was a wake-up call for Saudi Arabia.

By leading a multinational force to quell the Houthi rebellion Saudi Arabia is making a show of decisiveness against those escalating threats. This is affirmed by the name given to the operation: “Decisive Storm”. The backing of the West gives Saudi’s position legitimacy. The participation of Sunni-majority countries such as Pakistan is also a strong message to Iran, that it cannot control the Sunni-majority Arab world, especially the Gulf.

The kingdom is saying that Gulf security is the Arab region’s security and, from now on, Arab states should look to Riyadh for direction to deal with the region’s political and security challenges.

The writer is the director of Carnegie Middle East

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in