In the Name of Security: A Critique of the Disruptive Force of Foreign Intervention in Yemen

By Waleed Mahdi
Submitted to Session P5994 (Narratives in Conflict: Articulations of Identity Politics in Yemen's War, 2020 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
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The imbalance in the vision for a “new Yemen” following the 2011 revolution was, in a sense, a result of a contradictory reality in which youth aspirations and elitist ambitions clashed and yielded to foreign interventions and inorganic dictations of state-building. The most mobilizing factor for such foreign interventions was similar to the one guiding the Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign since 2015, i.e., a sense of urgency to intervene in Yemeni politics and save the country from violence and chaos. Diplomatic and militarized interventions compromised Yemeni sovereignty for the promise of local, regional, and even global security. This compromise was predicated on the presumption that security was contingent on a perception of peace beholden to the fragile nature of state power. The prospect of a deeply fractured state through military division, sectarian unrest, tribal conflict, regional disunity, and partisan polarization seemed too chaotic and destabilizing. And so interventions were justified in the name of rescuing the “failing state” of Yemen with a promise of security and development.

This paper examines the paradox of urgency and intervention in Yemen, which has compromised the country’s sovereignty for security and, ironically, has contributed to conditions that have disrupted both (i.e., sovereignty and security), ever more violently since 2015. The paper locates this paradox at the crossroads of a post-9/11 US-led “war-on-terror” campaign in Yemen and post-2011 competing narratives surrounding Yemenis’ future at the interplay of domestic needs and foreign plans. While the post-9/11 context provided the grounds for developing a narrative of concern about Yemen’s instability and a security fetish carried through the US’s drone program, I argue, the post-2011 context capitalized on such a narrative more disruptively in a post-Arab Spring context of struggle to shape a new Middle East regional order. The outcome in both contexts is a Yemeni society whose struggle to attain a sense of sovereignty has been constantly checked by a morally justified discourse of intervention that has further entrenched the country into violence and chaos. Equally important, the paper contrasts this intervention discourse with Yemeni modes of resistance, further complicating narrations of Yemeni national identity. The paper’s analysis will draw from mediated statements and protests around its area of inquiry. The significance of this study lies in its synthesis of 9/11, 2011, and 2015 as the backdrop of a continuum of Yemeni struggle for a national sense of identity, constantly challenged by a disruptive foreign intervention discourse.