Kuwait and the end of the Yemeni nightmare

Sunday 17/04/2016

Yemeni peace talks in Kuwait are very important, particu­larly as they will reveal if there is any real impetus to push for a new political formula in Yemen.
To put it another way, the Ku­wait talks will show whether the parties have had their fill of war and whether the Houthis, who have benefited from an alliance with forces loyal to former presi­dent Ali Abdullah Saleh, under­stand that they no longer have any chance of achieving their objec­tives through force of arms.
The Houthis captured the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, in April 2014 and since then have been seeking to take control of the rest of the country. This, however, is something that they were not able to achieve, thanks, first, to Yemeni domestic resistance and then the arrival of the Saudi-led Gulf coalition.
In Sana’a, the Houthis revealed their true face, not least through the so-called Peace and Partnership Agreement that they proposed and that was given cover by Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and UN envoy Jamal Benomar. Houthi leader Abdul­malik al-Houthi said that a new system had emerged in Yemen, based on what he dubbed “revolu­tionary legitimacy”. This system, he said, replaced the Republic of Yemen, which had been in place since 1962.
From this standpoint, this round of negotiations in Kuwait is crucial. Kuwait has always been a place that has helped others reach compromises and it is one of the few regional states that can help the Yemenis at this critical juncture. This is based on Kuwait’s historic relations with Yemen as well as the lack of any Kuwaiti agenda regarding the southern Arabian peninsula state.
Indeed, this is not the first time that Kuwait was the site of Yemeni peace talks. After the Yemen civil war broke out in 1979, Kuwait also hosted negotiations.
Yemen needs to restore the foundations of its state, particu­larly after all that has happened in the last few years, not least the Muslim Brotherhood hijacking the youth-led “Arab spring” for its own purposes.
In Yemen, there was the as­sassination attempt on former president Ali Abdullah Saleh on June 3, 2011, and his decision to step down from power in February 2012 as part of a Gulf initiative that left control in the hands of Hadi, Saleh’s deputy.
One thing is clear, the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm has sounded the death knell for Iran’s project in Yemen. What is impor­tant now is to move from a stage of conflict to one in which all parties can work together to discuss the new political formula for the coun­try. This formula must include a determination that there is no room to return to the past. The main question, though, remains: Are the Houthis prepared to reach a settlement?
Yemen’s new vice-president, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, has played a role in every Yemeni war with the Houthis since 2004. He is a well-respected figure in the north with close family ties to Saleh, in addition to being co-founder of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Islah party. His appointment represents a major development but will his presence help the Yemeni sides reach an agreement that can over­come the past?
Much will depend on the will­ingness, of both sides, to think outside the box and avoid political deadlock, particularly over the issue of Yemeni unity. For many Yemenis, such unity simply does not exist.
Given this division and disunity, will the two sides be able to reach common ground in Kuwait? What about the continuing hope among many southerners for secession? What does the future hold for Saleh, particularly given that many Yemenis in the capital support him?
Will the two sides be able to reach an agreement to end the conflict or will the Yemeni night­mare continue? The world is wait­ing for the results of the Kuwaiti negotiations to find out.