Yemeni issue likely to sorely test Gulf reconciliation

A broad and influential current within the Yemeni government is expected to push for normalisation of relations with Qatar.
Wednesday 06/01/2021
A 2018 file photo shows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi (C) in the coastal city of Jeddah.  (AFP)
A 2018 file photo shows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi (C) in the coastal city of Jeddah. (AFP)

ADEN - Political sources see the Yemeni file as being the most serious test of Doha's seriousness about Gulf reconciliation, given Qatar's record of fuelling tension in the country even before the outbreak of the war, in which the Qataris initially backed Arab coalition forces.

Yemeni observers wonder about the Yemeni government's position on reconciliation, and whether it would back any agreement to that end.

In the wake of the crisis that erupted between Qatar and four boycotting Arab countries, the Yemeni government withdrew its ambassador from Doha, following in the footsteps of Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Cairo and Manama.

Announcing the first official Yemeni position, the internationally recognised government on Tuesday welcomed what it described as "sincere efforts to restore unity between brothers in the GCC countries."

The foreign ministry issued a statement saying: "The Republic of Yemen looks forward to the summit (...) to address the outstanding issues and restore Gulf relations to their normal course, in order to fulfil the aspirations of the leaders and peoples of the region."

Yemeni political sources told The Arab Weekly that a broad and influential current in the government, in addition to the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, are expected to push for the normalisation of Yemeni-Qatari relations even if the Yemeni government is unlikely to receive any guarantees that Qatar will halt its support for the Houthis and the Muslim Brotherhood or stop disrupting the work of the “legitimacy” government as it has done over the last three years.

Qatar has dealt with the Yemeni file differently than other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries in the past, engaging in mediation efforts between the government and the Houthis and allegedly supporting the Houthis financially, logistically and in media activities.

Qatar withdrew from the Gulf initiative under which power was transferred in Yemen from former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to current President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Media reports indicated at the time that Qatar fuelled protests that threatened the country with civil war.

The Yemeni file was among the top considerations that prompted Qatar to be excluded in mid-2017 from the Arab coalition supporting the “legitimacy” government. The Saudi-led coalition justified its decision by pointing to Qatar’s practices, alleged support for terrorist organisations in Yemen and ties with the Houthis.

Qatar's role in Yemen grew after it left the coalition, as it worked, according to Yemeni sources, to divide the ranks of the “legitimacy” camp, diverting the conflict’s direction to other anti-Houthi protagonists.

It also supported the establishment of militias affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and played a role in supporting the Houthis politically, financially, logistically and in the media.

Najeeb Ghallab, undersecretary of Yemen's information ministry, called on Qatar to prove it is serious about Gulf reconciliation by ending its ties to what he described as the "fifth column" in the "legitimacy" camp which has worked to disrupt work by the coalition and the Yemeni government in recent years.

Ghallab said in a statement to The Arab Weekly that if Qatar deferred to the leadership of the Arab coalition on all matters related to confronting the Iranian project in Yemen, it would greatly contribute to ending the Houthis' hostile activities and besieging Iran's militias in Yemen.