Turkey seen planning more active role in war-ravaged Yemen

Political sources told The Arab Weekly that pro-Muslim Brotherhood media outlets’ jubilation at the departure of Yemeni preacher and prominent leader in the Reform Party Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani from Saudi Arabia and his arrival to Turkey portends new escalation in the Yemeni conflict.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the Muslim Brotherhood and its backers Qatar and Turkey are planning to rekindle tensions on the Yemeni scene by using their proxies in the war-ravaged country.

Zindani’s arrival to Turkey comes amid an exodus of Pro-Brotherhood Islah party leaders. In recent months many prominent leaders of the Yemeni Brotherhood have moved to Turkey from Saudi Arabia, including the party leader, Muhammad al-Yadumi.

According to the sources, the departure of Zindani, whom Washington has placed on its terror list, is especially important given his influence, not only within the Islah party, but within the international organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Zindani is one of the group’s most prominent theorists and leaders, and also heads the Yemeni Scholars’ Association founded by the Muslim Brotherhood. He is also the former head of the Shura Council of the Yemeni Islah Party.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s media platforms and websites, as well as the group’s leaders’ accounts on social media, have mobilised to depict Zindani’s departure from Saudi Arabia as a political victory, claiming that he had been under house arrest there since he moved after the Houthi coup in September 2015.

Yemeni sources close to Zindani, however, denied that he had been subjected to any form of restriction during his stay in the city of Mecca, during which he freely commuted to the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Zindani’s decision to leave Saudi Arabia to Turkey was expected, as his family had previously moved there.

In recent years, Istanbul has become the favoured destination of most leaders of the Yemeni Islah party.

In recent months, Zindani has remained silent about the war between the Iran-backed Houthis and a Saudi-led Arab coalition. In a [2016?] video recording, he appeared after the attempted coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, crying over what he described as a conspiracy against the Islamic project in Turkey.

Zindani’s last media appearance was at the end of October on a live Facebook broadcast on a page run by a Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood group residing in Malaysia, during which he talked about the scientific miracles of the Quran.

Sources close to Zindani told The Arab Weekly that Qatar had prepared his residence in a suburb of Istanbul, Turkey, noting that he will appear in the coming days on Qatar’s Al-Jazeera channel to criticise the Arab coalition’s activities in Yemen.

The Arab Weekly previously revealed that leaders of low-level members of Islah, as well as Islamist media figures, had moved to Turkey. It was also revealed that a number of human rights activists had moved to European capitals ahead of a new phase of escalation by Islamists against the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

In an indication of a potential change in the Yemeni Brotherhood’s media discourse, Islah party head Muhammad al-Yadumi announced in a tweet from Turkey that his party refused to form a new government before the military and security parts of the Riyadh Agreement are implemented. Such preconditions, according to observers, hurt the Arab coalition’s efforts to speed up implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.

The timing of the statement by Yadumi, who is known to largely avoid media appearances, indicates that the Muslim Brotherhood is gearing up for escalation after many of its leaders moved to Turkey.

“Here we are more than a year after the signing of the Riyadh Agreement, and more than three months after attempts to renew it by implementing what was delayed and postponed. The delay came under the pretext of a keenness to implement the Riyadh Agreement once the legitimacy – represented by the President – responds to a number of demands,” Yadumi wrote on Twitter.

He added, “Failure to implement what has been agreed upon regarding the implementation of the military and security aspects will make the birth of the government difficult and inexcusable, especially if the excuses are meaningless and in no one’s interest,” he added.

The Brotherhood’s move to escalate tensions comes amid information of Houthi advances in some areas of Marib and their capture of the Maas strategic camp, as well as signals of growing international efforts to end the Yemeni war.

Yemeni political sources indicate that the Muslim Brotherhood fears losing its control over governorates in southern Yemen, such as Shabwa, which is rich in oil and gas, in the event that a coalition government is announced in a political decision they do not control.

Yemeni media sources have revealed the list of candidates that have been selected to fill portfolios in the next government (defence, internal, financial, and foreign). The list is dominated by loyalists of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatari-backed camp within the Yemeni government.

The Muslim Brotherhood is reportedly desperate to control the next government, and eventually provide political cover for a possible Turkish intervention in Yemen.

In an article entitled “Turkey’s view of Yemen in light of its experience in Libya, Azerbaijan and Somalia,” Yassin Aktay, an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, referred to Turkey’s vision of intervening in Yemen.

In the article, published in the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, Aktay attacked the Arab coalition, saying, “(Despite) their intervention in Yemen more than 5 years ago, their mission was far from finding a solution to that crisis, and they did not succeed in doing anything but further deepen the crisis and to bring it to a point that makes it unsolvable.”

Aktay compared his country’s role in Libya, Syria, and Azerbaijan, and that of the Arab coalition in Yemen, noting that the involvement of his country was more effective.

The Arab Weekly previously published information on the Turkish foreign ministry opening communication channels with various Yemeni political components confirming that Ankara is increasingly interested in Yemen.

The latest developments indicate that Turkey is possibly waiting for the right moment to announce a direct intervention.

Sources told The Arab Weekly that Turkey has launched new efforts to open up to various forces and political components, after communication was previously limited to the Brotherhood’s Islah Party.

Turkish contacts with Yemeni forces include leaders in the General People’s Congress Party and the Southern Transitional Council, as well as other active political components that are usually classified as hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatar-Turkey axis.

The sources considered an increase in Turkish activity in Yemen to indicate Ankara’s desire to play a more active role in the Yemeni conflict. Turkey has traditionally limited its involvement to providing media and logistical support to the Muslim Brotherhood and providing intelligence about military movements under the cover of humanitarian and relief work.