Yemen should not become another failed state

It is necessary to address the shift in the US position regarding the Yemeni crisis.
Sunday 09/12/2018
Uncertain future.  A Yemeni boy looks on from a roof in the old city of Sana’a. (AFP)
Uncertain future. A Yemeni boy looks on from a roof in the old city of Sana’a. (AFP)

What do we want for Yemen? What do Yemenis want for Yemen? Who should be entrusted with the process of political transition in Yemen?

These are questions that must be dealt with objectively, not politically, to avoid the legacy of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s deep state.

Even more than Yemenis themselves, the sponsors of the Stockholm conference on peace in the country must demonstrate political determination, first by refusing to have the meetings used for political gains. The bleakness of the political scene in the Middle East could do without the addition of another model of a dysfunctional country to the host of failed states in the region. There is no need to mention examples because they are many.

However, it is necessary to address the shift in the US position regarding the Yemeni crisis. South Yemen was frequently mentioned in US Secretary of Defence James Mattis’s speech at the US Peace Council in November and UN Envoy Martin Griffiths’s recent briefing about Yemen to the UN Security Council.

This prompted speculation about the United States’ wish to transform the crisis in Yemen from a two-dimensional conflict (opposing the legitimate government and the Houthis) to a tri-dimensional one (between the South, the Houthis and the legitimate government). The United States’ withdrawal of support for the ceasefire and its request to postpone it until after the Stockholm talks, confirm this shift.

Speculating about motives behind the US shift regarding those two issues, one wonders if this is due to an alignment of the American perspective with that of its regional allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in that Yemen is “too important” regionally to let it become a failed state once more and that it is “too big” to let it be centrally managed along the lines of the deep state model.

Then again, perhaps the file of South Yemen could turn out to be the missing catalyst to bring the rival parties in Yemen to the negotiation table. Furthermore, the decision to postpone the ceasefire might convey the same message to both the Houthis and Iran.

With respect to the secret behind returning to the option of the Stockholm meeting after announcing that it had been postponed once, then postponing it once again, it may be due to the lack of consensus in US President Donald Trump’s administration concerning how to best use the Jamal Khashoggi case as pressure on Riyadh, not only as it pertains to Hodeidah but several other issues as well.

If Hodeidah falls into the hands of the legitimate government forces, it will lead to a shift in the balance of power just before the Stockholm talks and deprive the Trump administration of a diplomatic victory in the Yemen file.

In addition, because of the stereotypical view of the engines of conflict in a politically fragile Middle East since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Trump administration could not afford to be seen as supporting a Sunni side against a Shia side.

What needs to be clarified and agreed upon is the role and importance of the Yemen Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and the United Kingdom — in the specifics and the broad outlines of the transitional process.

Should it assume a consultative and funding role only or should the quartet assume a transitional caretaker role to ensure that Yemen does not tumble back into failed statehood?

The latter role can result from either a consensus of all the Yemeni parties or through authorisation from the UN Security Council. Yemen’s stability is vital to restoring regional stability in the Middle East and to the security of maritime navigation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.