Yemen: Despite a failed ceasefire diplomatic efforts continue
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.”