Coalitions sound great at first blush. Groups of like-minded states tackling an issue of regional or international importance. And in the Middle East there is no shortage of such issues. But, just as with any wedding or birthday gift, one should not be distracted by the shiny wrapping. We should pay attention to what's inside the box. The so-called 'coalition of the willing' that invaded Iraq, for example, was certainly willing, but it only contained four countries.
Which brings us to the issue of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. The Saudis have put together a coalition they say is designed to reinstate the legitimate government under President Hadi, whose continued existence in internal exile in Aden was coming under threat from a coalition of Zaydi Houthi fighters and troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh (the Saudis and pretty well every other Sunni Arab country would have you believe that Iran is a member of this coalition too, but the evidence is pretty thin).
Washington has said that it is providing unspecified support to the Saudi-led coalition, which sounds fair enough given Riyadh has, until now at least, enjoyed a special relationship with the US. But once we have a look at the rest of the Saudi-led coalition, some concerns start to appear.
To begin with, the Sudanese government is listed as one of the contributors to the coalition, even though its leader remains indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide. The thought of someone indicted for genocide helping to restore someone else's 'legitimate government' while being assisted by the US is richly ironic, even by the Middle East's high standards.
Then there is the contribution by Bahrain, whose discrimination against its own Shi'a majority population has been documented by the US State Department and led to the military intervention in the island kingdom by Saudi and Emirati forces.
Furthermore, one could argue that, in the time-honoured tradition of 'As ye sow, so shall ye reap', Saudi Arabia's predilection for seeking to spread its intolerant Wahhabist brand of Islam led to the Zaydi revivalist movement we refer to as the Houthis. Rather than being seen as agents of Tehran, as some commentators would have us believe, the Houthis could more accurately be described as a creation of Riyadh (or at least Saudi actions decades ago).
Yep, coalitions sure sound impressive, but they often disappoint on closer inspection.
Photo by Flickr user Khaled AlQubeli.