Political Analysis

Yemen: Five Years of Revolution, One Year of War

National Yemen
Written by Fakhri Al-Arashi

On February 9, 2016, The Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut organized a panel on commemoration with the fifth anniversary of  Yemen youth revolution and the one year of war. The discussion focused on the common concern of all conflicted parties including the war proxies and the international players who are seeking an end of  the war in Yemen with special arrangement.

The entitled, Yemen: Is Peace Possible? Was the key component  of the discussion for the guest of honors, April Longley Alley, Farea Al-Muslimi, and Mustapha Noman  who both discussed  the current situation in Yemen with Carnegie moderate Maha Yahya.

The Yemen ambassador to Lebanon Ali al-Dailami, Lebanese former ambassador to Yemen, politicians, Yemeni activists, journalists, researchers and representatives of the Yemeni journalists association have attended the panel with an interest to understand the latest featuring update within Yemen situation in ground.

The panel also featured the launch of the International Crisis Group’s latest report on Yemen, which analyzes the domestic and regional drivers of conflict in Yemen’s civil war and offers policy prescriptions for reducing violence and charting a way back to a Yemeni political process.

April Longley Alley a senior Arabian peninsula analyst for the International Crisis Group gave a comprehensive glance of  Yemen conflicted parties. April said, ending the war in Yemen requires very careful negotiations leading to an interim settlement that must include security arrangements providing for militia withdrawal from cities, a return to the political process pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 2216 and agreement on a transitional leadership.

Also, she continued to describe certain matters for Yemeni parties to decide during UN-sponsored negotiations, Saudi Arabia’s buy-in will be essential, spooked as the kingdom is by what it perceives as an Iranian hand behind the Houthis and their attacks on Saudi territory.

Reaching agreement will take time, a luxury Yemenis do not have. “The immediate priority thus should be to secure agreement on delivering humanitarian aid and commercial goods to war-torn, besieged areas” April Said.

The descent into civil war has its roots in a post-2011 political transition that was overtaken by old-regime elite infighting, high-level corruption and inability of the National Dialogue Conference (a cornerstone of the 2011 transition roadmap) to produce consensus on power sharing and state structure, especially the status of south Yemen, where desire for independence is strong. The Houthis, a Zaydi (Shia) revivalist movement turned militia, thrived by framing itself as an uncorrupted outsider. They struck an opportunistic alliance with their old enemy, Saleh, against common domestic foes, including the Sunni Islamist party, Islah, the powerful Ahmar family and General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar (no relation to the family), all of whom had turned against Saleh during the 2011 uprising. When the Houthis captured Sana’a, on a wave of popular resentment against the Hadi government in September 2014, a majority of Yemenis were already disillusioned with the transition. Yet, the Houthis overstretched: trying to forcibly expand their writ over the entire country, they alienated new supporters and confirmed critics’ worst fears.

The President Hadi’s key supporter Saudi Arabia views the Houthis as part of an expanding Iranian threat in the region.

In her long paper work, April continues to say that each side’s commitment to UN-led peace talks is lukewarm, but neither is defeated or exhausted; both believe they can make additional military gains; and neither has been willing to make the compromises required to end the violence. The structure of talks, too, is problematic, with Saudi Arabia, a core belligerent, conspicuously absent. Prospects for a ceasefire and productive Yemeni talks would be helped by direct high-level consultations between the Houthi/Saleh bloc and Saudi Arabia over sensitive issues such as the border and the Houthis’ relationship with Iran. Moreover, to succeed, UN-led negotiations must be made more inclusive, expanding as soon as possible beyond the Yemeni government and Houthi/Saleh delegations to incorporate other Yemeni stakeholders.

The immediate future looks bleak. The war has devastated an already weak infrastructure, opened vast opportunities for AQAP and IS to expand and widened intra-Yemeni political, regional and confessional divides. The UN estimates that at least 6,000 people have been killed, including over 2,800 civilians, the majority by Saudi-led airstrikes. Even if the UN can broker an agreement to end major combat, the road to lasting peace will be long and difficult. The country is broken to a degree that requires significant time, resources and new political agreements to overcome. Without a breakthrough, it will continue descent into state disintegration, territorial fragmentation and sectarian violence. That trajectory would have calamitous consequences for Yemen’s population and severely undermine Gulf security, particularly Saudi Arabia’s, by fomenting a new refugee crisis and feeding radicalisation in the region to the benefit of violent jihadi groups.

At the end of her presentation, April presented special recommendations for all conflicted parties, war proxies and UN-leading peace in Yemen that may help them to obtain general ceasefire and return to a Yemeni political process. part of these recommendations to all belligerents to Abide by the law of war, refrain from media campaigns that label opponents in sectarian terms or as agents of foreign states and express support for and actively work toward a ceasefire and negotiations leading to a durable settlement.

To the  Saudi Arabia, the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party (GPC):

  1. Open immediate high-level consultations on priority issues, such as de-escalating tensions on the border and the Huthis’ relationship with Iran, that could facilitate a UN-brokered ceasefire and meaningful intra-Yemeni talks.

To the government of Yemen, the Houthis and Saleh’s GPC:

  1. Participate without delay or preconditions in the next round of UN-brokered negotiations on an agenda specified by the UN special envoy.

To the Saudi-led coalition, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE):

  1. Encourage government support for the UN special envoy’s negotiating agenda, including implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2216 and compromises needed to implement it and revive the Yemeni political process.

To the UN Security Council permanent members, especially the U.S., UK and France:

  1. Back the UN special envoy, including by supporting a follow-up Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire by all sides and an inclusive political compromise.
  2. Condition the supply of weapon systems and ammunition to Saudi-led coalition members on their support for an immediate ceasefire and inclusive political negotiations.
  3. Encourage high-level, direct consultations between Saudi Arabia and the Huthi/Saleh bloc.

To improve the chances of a durable political settlement

To the UN special envoy:

  1. Improve the negotiating framework by:
  2. a) Integrating regional security concerns and economic reconstruction into negotiations by supporting high-level official consultations and unofficial Track II discussions between Saudi Arabia and Yemeni stakeholders, particularly the Huthis and Saleh’s GPC, that are separate from but inform the intra-Yemeni negotiations.
  3. b) Expanding negotiations to include, as soon as possible, additional Yemeni stakeholders, among them the Sunni Islamist party Islah, Salafi groups and the Southern Resistance, so as to ensure a durable ceasefire; to be followed by inclusion of civil-society groups, political parties and women’s organisations, to help resolve outstanding political challenges; and
  4. c) Prioritising three political challenges: i) agreement on a broadly acceptable executive leadership and more inclusive government until elections; ii) a mechanism for resolving the future status of the south and other regions seeking greater devolution; and iii) accountability and national reconciliation.

To Ansar Allah (the Huthis):

  1. De-escalate the conflict and build confidence by: releasing political prisoners; allowing unhindered humanitarian and commercial access to civilians in Taiz; and suspending hostilities on the Saudi border for a specified period to show capacity to do so and goodwill ahead of UN talks.

To Saleh and the GPC:

  1. Work with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemeni stakeholders to agree on the former president’s departure from Yemen for a set period of time as part of the larger political settlement, ideally along with General Ali Mohsen and President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

To President Hadi and the Yemeni government:

  1. De-escalate the conflict and support compromise by: refraining from calling for the military “liberation” of Sanaa and other cities; facilitating unhindered humanitarian and commercial access to all parts of Yemen, including Huthi-controlled areas; and recognising publicly the need for political reconciliation and a revived Yemeni political process.

To Yemeni parties and organisations currently left out of the UN negotiating framework, except groups that reject politics:

  1. Lobby for inclusion in the negotiations and accept an invitation, if offered, to participate in them, as well as in Track II discussions, without preconditions.
  2. Select representatives for negotiations and prepare proposals for elements of a political settlement, especially on sensitive issues such as state structure, national power sharing and militia disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR).

To the kingdom of Saudi Arabia:

  1. Communicate specific security requirements and political concerns, especially regarding the border, disarmament issues, and the Huthis’ relationship with Iran, directly to all Yemeni stakeholders involved in negotiations and the UN special envoy.
  2. Participate, if requested by the UN special envoy, in official consultations and unofficial Track II discussions supporting Yemeni negotiations; make specific proposals for reconstruction, including in the north, and work toward incorporating Yemen into the Gulf Cooperation Council.
  3. Suspend military action in the capital, Sanaa, for a specified period of time to show goodwill ahead of UN negotiations.

To the UAE:

  1. Assist in political resolution of the southern issue by helping the Southern Resistance select its representation for future talks.

To the Islamic Republic of Iran:

  1. Approach the Yemen crisis as a low-cost, high-value opportunity to reduce tensions with Saudi Arabia by:
  2. a) Ending inflammatory rhetoric that stokes fears of Iranian intent to use Yemen to threaten the security of Saudi Arabia;
  3. b) Encouraging the Huthis to participate constructively in both UN negotiations and direct discussions with Saudi Arabia on resolving the conflict; and
  4. c) Discussing directly with Saudi Arabia ways of de-escalating tensions in the region, including through actions in Yemen that could start with ending any existing military support to the Huthis.

From his part, Farea Al-Muslimi , the visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, referred to the historical conflicting  scene of today  in Yemen with three  elements . The first one was developed and reshaped by the start of the youth revolution in 2011,  the second  mistake  appears over the period of the National dialogue 2013-2014 which focused in pushing political parties to unsatisfactory end. Finally, the Houthi militants who stormed the capital Sana’a by September 2014.

All these three factors were the major cultivation that ends to the state collapse.  Al-Muslimi, continued to say that the chance for peace requires a serious attitudes from the local and regional parties to obtain pace gradually . He considered the problem of water as the most threating part for the people in Yemen more than terrorism or any other militants.

Mustapha Noman, Yemen’s former deputy foreign minister, talked about the third power influence in Yemen.  He referred to the transitional process as it failed to apply the GCC initiative, taking into consideration the slow response of the legitimacy government. He again insisted on applying the mechanism of the SC of the united nation decree 2216, as one part to end Yemen war.

A side of the Attendees