Yemen: Despite a failed ceasefire diplomatic efforts continue

Friday 17/07/2015
Smoke billows following air strikes on a weapons depot in Sanaa

LONDON - With the latest UN-brokered humani­tarian ceasefire failing to hold, speculation is ram­pant on what the future holds for the crisis in Yemen, particularly in terms of an elusive political solu­tion that would end the military conflict.

An Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia has been bombing Iranian-allied Houthis and army forces loy­al to the former president, Ali Ab­dullah Saleh, since late March. The aim of the campaign was to restore the legitimate Yemeni govern­ment, currently in exile in Riyadh.

But with the conflict continu­ing, the sense of urgency tied to finding a permanent political so­lution has intensified in recent weeks, with the United Nations designating the situation in Yemen a Level 3 humanitarian emergency, the highest on its scale.

Despite the bleak state of af­fairs, analysts contacted by The Arab Weekly said efforts continued towards a possible solution, but that sticking points exist.

According to Adam Baron, an expert on Yemen and a visiting fellow at the European Council for Foreign Relations, the issue in­volves getting key parties to make concessions.

“Until recently, attempts at ne­gotiations have been nothing but political theatre, so how do you move to something more substan­tial? And from what I’ve been told there have been some positive de­velopments particularly through Omani negotiations,” Baron said.

He went on to say that would require negotiations among Saleh and the General People’s Congress (GPC), the Houthis and the Saudis to reach an acceptable solution. It would mean an end to fighting along the Saudi border and a more sustainable ceasefire, specifically in the southern city of Aden and the central city of Taiz.

“You would then have President (Abd Rabbo Mansour) Hadi take a step back, with current Vice-Pres­ident Khaled Bahah emerging as president or acting president as a consensus candidate,” Baron said. “Some sort of consensus govern­ment should be formed with a new transitional process leading the way to parliamentary and presi­dential elections. The key is getting things back to politics as usual.”

However, some analysts see the engagement of Saleh as a non-starter.

“I don’t think there’s a chance of any kind of satisfactory resolu­tion with Ali Abdullah Saleh still pulling strings in Yemen,” Manuel Almeida, a former Asharq Al-Awsat editor and expert on Yemen, said. “He still has too much influence, funds and the loyalty of the Re­publican Guard and various army units.

“One of the key aspects to un­derstand the present crisis is that the Houthis would not have been able to take Sana’a, let alone half of Yemen, without the crucial sup­port of the pro-Saleh military and tribal forces. In fact, I think the Houthis are the weaker side in this alliance.”

Almeida also said there had been significant diplomatic ma­noeuvring on various fronts to­wards a political solution, with the United States, the United Nations, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Gulf Cooper­ation Council states, the Houthis, members of the GPC still loyal to Saleh, even Iran, to varying de­grees involved in talks concerning the crisis.

“For Oman, there are at least two major concerns regarding Yemen. One is to avoid the total collapse of its neighbour, which can have very negative repercus­sions within Oman. The other is to maintain its general position of neutrality on regional conflicts and in relation to the strategic rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” Almeida said.

Another obstacle to a resolu­tion, according to Almeida, is that the Houthis have violated agree­ments they made since the crisis started. “So they now have a repu­tation of being quite unreliable.

Then there is Iran, prepared to do with the Houthis what they have done with Hezbollah in Leba­non,” he said.

With both sides of the crisis echoing their resolve to see the conflict through, what would sat­isfy both sides?

“Obviously this has not been the quick spectacular victory the Saudis were hoping for. However, if things go a certain way it would be very easy for them to spin it the way they want.” Baron said.

Baron highlighted that Riyadh was never particularly happy with Hadi and see Bahah as someone they can work with.

Additionally the bombing cam­paign stopped the Houthis from taking complete control of the country and Riyadh is in a position to broker a deal that could bring Yemen back into its sphere of influ­ence, while playing a deterrent role against Iran getting more deeply involved in Yemen.

“It would not be very hard for Saudi Arabia to call it a success for them,” he said. “It’s going to be one of those situations where the Sau­dis are going to claim success and the Houthis are going to claim suc­cess and to some extent both sides are right.”