Since its start, not much was expected from the UN-sponsored peace conference on Yemen which was held in Geneva at the behest of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The talks focused exclusively on negotiations between the Yemeni forces fighting for power while representatives of concerned countries were sidelined. The opposition—that is, the Houthi movement and ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh—considered it an opportunity to gain international legitimacy. Meanwhile, Yemen’s internationally recognized government found itself compelled to remain on good terms with the United Nations since it will need the latter’s help later on.
However, the outcome of the Geneva talks will have no repercussions on the ground in Sana’a and will not halt the collapse of the Yemeni government. This fragmentation comes as the result of the multiplicity of forces and conflicts, the current political vacuum, and the absence of a central government. Yemen is heading toward a civil war augmented by an additional conflict between external powers. This is a similar case to the civil war in Somalia, which broke out in 1991 and continues to rage until now. Back then, some neighboring countries intervened and the United States sent forces, though it failed to secure a resolution to the crisis. In the end, all parties abandoned Somalia and few cared about its people who were left alone to attempt to put out the flames.
Yemen’s situation is going from bad to worse and will not improve if the involved parties do not accept a political solution that will unite them in one system with similar rights. I am here referring to the selfsame Gulf Cooperation Council–European Union proposal that the Houthis accepted three years ago—and then decided to forgo as a result of Iranian instigation.
Despite the apparent infighting, there are several Yemeni factions among whom only a minority engaged completely in the conflict. Alongside the three main players—the Houthis, Saleh, and the legitimate government—there are the Southern separatists Al-Hirak as well as northern tribal forces; and, of course, lurking as always, elements from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who will try to seize territory in Yemen in much the same way that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has done in Syria and Iraq.
The Houthis and Saleh will not be able to govern Yemen because of the ongoing fighting. Each party initially felt it was winning by spoiling the chances of the other, especially the Houthis. They secured many advantages as part of the government that was in place before they launched their coup in February, enjoying influence which exceeds their real political clout. However, their involvement in the current power play and their desire to take over the country has tarnished the whole plan. No one can make any gains in such an atmosphere of chaos. Over time, if Yemen’s different factions fail to reach an agreement, the country’s war will become a forgotten one just like Somalia’s.
Right now the region is drowning in crises. It would be a falsehood to mislead Yemenis into thinking that the world desires a peaceful solution for them: Whoever thinks that Iran, Russia, and the Western powers will remain permanently supportive is engaging in self-delusion. If Yemen’s crisis extends for one or two more years, Yemenis will realize that everyone walked away to deal with other issues and that even the UN secretary-general and his envoy will no longer answer their calls—a repeat, essentially, of the Somalia scenario.
We urge the various Yemeni factions, whether legitimate or not, to consider the long-term future of their country. Fearing a permanent state of collapse, we urge them to seek a political solution that will unite all parties in a viable and sustainable system. Otherwise, if this crisis continues, it will be very difficult to pick up the pieces in future.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.