Yemen's Deadly New Normal

Yemeni mourners stand next to the coffin of late Yemeni parliament member Abdul Karim Jadban (portrait) during his funeral in Sanaa on November 26, 2013.(MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images) Yemeni mourners stand next to the coffin of late Yemeni parliament member Abdulkareem Jadban (portrait) during his funeral in Sana'a on November 26, 2013.(MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Yemeni mourners stand next to the coffin of late Yemeni parliament member Abdulkareem Jadban (portrait) during his funeral in Sana'a on November 26, 2013.(MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s a familiar scenario: a man, usually a political, security or military figure, emerges from a location he regularly frequents—home, mosque, work, supermarket—and is promptly shot down by gunmen, or turns on his car’s ignition only for it to explode. Said gunmen will then promptly escape, most likely on a motorcycle—or, in the case of a car bomb, watch, satisfied, from afar.

Yemen is now at a stage where some assassinations, especially of low-ranking security or military figures, are barely news any more.

However, one assassination has rocked Yemen recently, that of the Houthi MP and National Dialogue Conference (NDC) member Abdulkareem Jadban. Jadban was killed by gunmen on November 22 as he emerged from the Shawkani Mosque in the capital, Sana’a. He was the first member of the seemingly never-ending NDC to be killed.

Jadban’s assassination has been condemned by all parties in Yemen, including the Houthis’ political (and sometimes military) opponents, the Al-Islah Party, and the Salafist Al-Rashad Party. Nonetheless, some grassroots Islah supporters and Salafists are not mourning the loss of the man the Islah party chiefs called a “martyr.”

The MP’s death comes at a time when fighting is raging in Dammaj, in the heart of the Houthi-controlled Saada governorate. The Houthis are taking on Salafists who are based at the Salafist Dar Al-Hadith seminary in Dammaj and are allied with some local tribes. In this context, some observers have been quick to point the finger for Jadban’s assassination at the Salafists, either through a coordinated action from the top, or as a result of fatwas that were seen to encourage the killing of Houthis in retaliation for the violence in Dammaj.

There are other theories. Some blame Islah and its associates. Others say it is the “old regime”—former President Saleh and his associates—seeking to further destabilize the country and drag it into a deadly sectarian civil war. Still others whisper that it might be an inside job: Allegedly, Jadban led a faction of the Houthis who disagreed with the leadership on certain religious tenets and the narrowing gap between the Houthi version of Zaidi Islam and Twelver Shi’a Islam.

Jadban was also not the only person assassinated in November. A few days after his death, on November 26, two Belarusian nationals believed to be working for the Yemeni army as military advisers were shot by gunmen as they left the hotel they had been living in for the past two years. One survived; the other was killed.

The death of the Belarusian highlights the common problem with assassinations in Yemen: there is very little response from the security forces. In this case, an eyewitness told the Yemen Times that a military vehicle passed by only moments after the shooting and its occupants were told that the attackers were close by, and yet they did not do anything. This echoes the killing in October of a German national who worked at his country’s embassy as a bodyguard, while he was shopping at an upscale supermarket in Sana’a. The supermarket has a permanent armed police presence, and yet they stood idly by as the killers acted.

So, who is to blame for all this violence? And why is it happening?

The uptick in violence in recent months has been credited by some as a byproduct of the NDC. The conference is apparently nearing its end (after overrunning its scheduled deadline by more than seventy days), and the argument goes that there are “saboteurs” who seek to hinder it, with pointing their fingers at Saleh and his henchmen.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi seems to favor this explanation, saying that those who are hindering the NDC include “people from the former regime” who fear their interests are being threatened. Hadi went on to say that those behind the assassinations do not want security and stability for Yemen.

Of course, the finger is also often pointed at the ultimate bogeyman: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Many security and military officials have been assassinated, especially in the southern governorates where AQAP is active, and the blame is usually placed on AQAP. However, in these instances, two theories can be spun into one, with many on the street arguing that AQAP have been facilitated by shady figures in the defense and military establishment. This has allowed AQAP (or so the theory goes) to carry out the attacks to support their ultimate goal, making the country unstable and creating an opportunity for a return of the old guard.

In the great, impossible game that is Yemeni politics, assassinations are just another tool for taking out opponents and destabilizing the country. The question now is whether they have peaked, or if the sight of bloody faces on the front pages of Yemen’s newspapers is going to become a more common sight.

All views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Majalla magazine.

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