Saudis on social media are revelling in glorification of their country’s leadership role in the airstrike campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen. At the same time, some Yemenis are making a cry for peace. Facebook comments from a range of Arabs suggest they are watching with perplexity.
A Saudi-led coalition of nine Arab countries, and possibly Pakistan, launched Operation Decisive Storm with its declared aim being to bring the Yemeni president, ousted by Houthi rebels, back to power.
The long tentacles of the conservative Gulf monarchies can be felt in almost all Arab Spring countries, including Yemen, with Decisive Storm being the climax of the counter-revolution they are thought to have led or orchestrated in a number of these countries.
“The war drum is beating and we are ready for it [war],” the newspaper Sabq tweeted this comment purportedly made by Saudi foreign minister Saud Al Faisal, announcing the launch of the operation.
Decisive Storm has served to bolster a sense of nationalism among Saudis, elated to see their country launch a military operation in its backyard without foreign help, a far cry from the 1991 Operation Desert Storm, launched by a US-led global coalition to force Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.
The Arabic hashtag #Decisivestorm has attracted a torrent of exultant tweets, mostly by Saudi and Gulf nationals, and comments that could be interpreted as patronising towards impoverished Yemen.
"Decisive Storm will lead to a political victory for the Yemeni people; as king Salman said, the Gulf Cooperation Council will host dialogue,” tweeted a Saudi.
SaudiNews50 tweeted a statement supposedly by Saudi Border Guard: “We received requests from retired officers and soldiers wanting to be on the frontline to join Operation Decisive Storm”.
A confident Saudi tweeted: “King Salman’s ambassador to Washington says: we will protect Yemen’s territory, government and people with all means”.
“May God protect king Salman who, with Decisive Storm, turned love and close ties between Yemen and Saudi Arabia into acts,” tweeted another Saudi.
Saudi media propaganda reverberates on Twitter, boasting Saudi high-tech weaponry.
“The tank-plane threatens Houthi militias with hellish rockets,” boasted the Saudi edition of the daily Al-Hayat talking about the AH-64E Apache helicopter.
In a tweet, Lebanese journalist Iyad Abu-Shakra widened the debate by urging Turkey “to take the initiative to protect the safe haven northwest of Syria. We want a de-facto initiative on Syria like Decisive Storm in Yemen”.
Other tweets reflected escalating regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran and the soaring Sunni-Shiite animosity.
“It is not a war on Yemen but for Yemen against Persian interference, which draws strength from [Yemen’s] former deep state and a sectarian minority,” tweeted Saudi religious scholar Salman al-Odah.
“Operation Decisive Storm coincides with the advance of Syrian rebels in the town of Idlib and other areas. It is a good omen and a sign that the era of Iranian conceit is coming to an end,” tweeted Qatari academic, Mohamed al-Mokhtar al-Shanqiti, in reference to Iran’s backing for the Syrian regime.
“Iran is a racist country with nationalistic, sectarian objectives, rejected and criminalised by International Law,” Algerian writer Anwar Malik wrote.
Some Yemenis on social media, gripped by fear for their country’s future, called for an end to war with the hashtag #KefayaWar.
Apart from euphoria and grief, other Arabs have been confused and surprised by the Saudi campaign with many of their comments revealing the volatile mix in Yemen and the dearth of understanding of the current turmoil sweeping the Middle East.
Lebanese-Iraqi blogger Karl Sharro summed up the complexity and absurdity of alliances that currently exist in the conflict-ridden Middle East in the following diagram.
“Iran and Saudi Arabia are at loggerheads in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are quarrelling in Egypt and I don’t know which countries are in dispute in Libya,” Egyptian journalist Tamer Wageeh wrote on Facebook.
On the paradox of which regional country is backing which uprising in the Middle East, Wageeh wrote: “Iran is backing the revolution in Bahrain, while Saudi Arabia is supporting the Syrian revolution and fighting the revolution in Egypt. Iran, on the other hand, is against the Syrian revolution. This is not a paradox because neither of them supports revolutions in the first place but each is endorsing those sides that could serve its interests and add to its influence in the region.”
Some tried to untangle the paradox to find some reasonable explanation of what is happening in the Middle East.
Mohammad Fadel, a University of Toronto professor wrote on Facebook: