Yemeni army (AFP)

What will be the Doctrine of the Future Yemeni Army?


Wed, 01-02-2023 03:45 PM, Aden

Waddah Al-Oubali (South24) 

Whenever there are emerging talks about peace in Yemen, they must be accompanied by crowded and logical questions. This is because peace talks, arrangements for ending the Yemen war and the recognition by all Yemeni parties of peace as the main and the only option require much work and research in the roots and mechanisms of the conflict. Moreover, this needs making a deep tour in the past and its impact which has led to decades of conflict in Yemen. This requires stopping at the pivotal phases and historical events which played a negative role in creating dangerous curves. In one way or another, they paved the way for creating this decades-long conflict.

The process of preparing for peace is more difficult and complicated than getting ready for engaging in a war. The two operations are largely similar to demolition and construction. This is because the peace process requires efforts to eradicate the remnants of war and repair the damages caused by a long period of the conflict. This includes reconstructing and re-building the state institutions, foremost of which are the army and security establishments.

Ideological not patriotic doctrine

While we have witnessed secret activities and negotiation tours surrounded by media blackouts, the first thing that comes to the mind of any expert or those interested in the country's security and military affairs is the shape of the future army. The Houthi-controlled areas in North Yemen have witnessed the biggest and most active sectarian recruitment at all levels. Additionally, soldiers and personnel affiliated with the basic army who remained in the Houthi areas and became part of their troops are forced to attend sectarian cultural courses. Those elements have been integrated with the Houthi doctrinal and ideological force which includes new recruits who are being fed with imported ideas. Moreover, they were isolated from their communities within secret training camps and sectarian education centers.

Furthermore, the Houthis coerce all employees in all the state institutions and sectors within the areas under their control to attend courses. They have recently reached the level of forcing all the state employees to sign and abide by the so-called "code of conduct". The latter is job regulations which oblige the employees to pledge allegiance to the Houthi leader and to recognize the principle of guardianship and showing absolute submission to it. They have also coerced them to follow the Houthi ideology and approach as well as sticking to the Houthi leader's lectures and the writings of the group's founder Hussein Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi.

The civil, security and military employees in the Houthi-controlled areas are subjected to what is like a full scraping process regarding their ideas as well as their national, religious and intellectual identity to replace them with the Houthi teachings and understandings. This has reached the extent of criminalizing the national chanting "long live the Republic of Yemen" secretly to be replaced by the group's slogan or the so-called "Houthi chant". Moreover, the Houthis abolished the constitutional military oath which is common in the military law and used to be performed by the graduates from security and military academies. Instead, they imposed an oath to pledge allegiance to the Houthi group.

Actually, the Houthis made changes which included regulations, systems and laws. The broad changes have reached the level of educational curricula, religious rituals and Friday sermons. Additionally, they imposed materials with sectarian and doctrinal nature in universities, institutions, civil faculties and private schools. Moreover, the Houthis have been given the priorities in these institutions and bodies were to subdue the people and to gradually make this as a basic part of the mainstream culture among a large percentage of the population, top of whom are the civil and military employees.

This paved the way for serious doctrinal, cultural and intellectual divisions in the communities, the Yemeni elites and tribes. Furthermore, what has been done by the Houthis is like engaging in a battle parallel to the ones in the fronts. This has been attained through harnessing the huge capabilities for these activities and transforming them to basic plans they have constantly stuck to over the past 8 years. It is the most important investment from their part to prolong the time of their soft and hard battles.

Between the possible and the impossible 

Certainly, any coming or future peace process requires building a qualitative army saturated militarily and nationally. It would represent the guarantor power and the safety valve of peace trajectory as well as implementing the settlements. All its members will have to abide by absolute loyalty to the nation and not to take sides towards any party or body or component or group. This may be possible with efforts and plans implemented in the short, middle and long term. This is in case of reaching settlements among the politically fighting forces whose conflicts and congestion vanish with the end of their causes.

In case of a conflict with a sectarian and religious nature, the implementation of such solutions or settlements becomes impossible. We have similar and practical examples of this form of conflict in Lebanon and Iraq in which efforts to integrate Shiite sectarian forces into the national armies failed. They include armies and sectarian armed forces parallel to the official army and more powerful and influential than it. This is despite the political settlements in which all forces with different orientations engaged whether in Iraq or Lebanon. For example, despite the decades that has passed since the Lebanese parties signed the Taif Agreement on September 30th 1989 in which all Lebanese forces and sects were committed to integrate into a unified Lebanese national state, the armed and unofficial wing of Lebanese Hezbollah is still unilateral and parallel to the official Lebanese army.

Likewise in Iraq, the Popular Mobilization Forces, Badr Organization, the Mahdi Army, Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq, Iraqi Hezbollah and Liwa Abu Al-Fadhal al-Abbas still retain their forces and structures. Despite the decision by the former Iraqi Prime Minister "Adel Abdul-Mahdi" on July 1st 2019 to integrate these Shiite-oriented factions with the Iraqi security forces and army, they just apply the financial integration in a way that allows them to receive the salaries and allocations from Iraqi Defense Ministry while they are still separated from it at both operational and leadership levels. They obey the decisions of the Shiite "Maraji” who are affiliated with Iran.

Preparation and rehabilitation requirements

In face of this intractable condition of intellectual, cultural and doctrinal disharmony as well as the discrepancy of understandings and labels among the warring parties, the safe transit to an accepted stage of security and peace requires outright Houthi recognition of what they have caused at all levels over all the past phases reviewed in this paper. Subsequently, they should recognize the importance of achieving the principle of citizenship equality and criminalizing racial, religious, sectarian, or ethnic arrogance. They have to abide by rehabilitating their leaders and supporters as well as removing the extremist beliefs and understandings from their mind and taming their radical concepts. This won't be achieved without a broad and long-term rehabilitation process led and supervised by local, Arab and foreign experts specialized in humanitarian development in a way that achieves the needed configuration to merge these elements and formations after discarding extremism and removing extraneous and doctrinal beliefs and ideas.

However, there are a lot of controversies accompanied with several complexities and barriers which prevent the group from admitting what they caused. In the face of this inflexibility, all scenarios related to unifying and merging the forces in the proper way are like miracles. Thus, the international and regional players of the Yemeni file rely upon building fragile scenarios in this direction hoping to achieve any possible breakthrough. They believe that these scenarios will derive the factors of cohesion, resilience and durability in an ascending way accompanied with the implementation of the series of their future steps. However, all data and indications underscore that we are facing an intractable process. In any case, these scenarios are expected to collapse soon which may be experienced by the actors of the Yemeni file over the next few periods.

Accordingly, establishing a military doctrine for any future army requires reaching a consensus by all parties about the identity of a supposed enemy. While some components see that Iran should be the enemy, the Houthis see Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Arab Coalition as the enemy. They go further by describing KSA in their speeches as being the historical enemy of the Yemenis. Furthermore, there has been a division between those who consider what happened in Yemen in 2014 and seizing control over the state institutions as a Houthi coup against the legitimate government and the Houthis who believe that what happened has been a Saudi invasion of Yemen. They try to enhance this name in the curricula of history and the generational awareness.

Ultimately, all of these are considered contradictions among the components which are supposed to constitute the mixture of the state leaders after reaching the assumed peace. This reveals a deep division which paves the way for more violence and conflict. This will be the case If peace was adopted in an impromptu manner which ignores such contexts that represent a simple part of forked details which would hinder the building of state institutions in any upcoming peace process.

Waddah Al-Oubali

Non-resident Fellow at South24 Center for News and Studies. Expert and Military Analyst for a number of Yemeni and Arabic media outlets.

Houthi militiaHouthisYemeni armyYemeni forcesSouth YemenNorth YemenSouthern forcesSaudi Arabia