Commentary

Is Peace Coming to Yemen?

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

A ceasefire has been agreed in Yemen, bringing along with it the hope that the military conflict between the Houthis and the government — as well as their respective backers — may soon come to an end. Arab countries have welcomed the proposals put forward by the United Nations mediator, more convinced than ever that the year-long Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen has borne fruit. Other observers caution, however, that the Yemen conflict will only truly end with a political compromise supplemented by robust economic aid on the part of the international community.

According to Asharq Alawsat’s Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, much of the credit for the current ceasefire and forward looking plan lies with the “United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, [who] deserves appreciation for planning an integrated project to end the war in Yemen. The plan will start with a ceasefire on the 10th of April. Ould Cheikh has laid down a roadmap for the three committees of the parties involved and has set the foundation for dialogue among warring factions based on Security Council Resolution 2216.... Of course, no one can guarantee that things will work out exactly as per the detailed plan, which was developed by the international mediator. However, it is clear that Ould Cheikh has reached out to all Yemeni parties and then announced his plan in New York. He has also received support from various powers, including the United States and Russia....Ould Cheikh’s plan is based on the re-adoption of the GCC initiative, based on which Saleh signed his resignation and gave Houthis the chance to participate in the government. If parties in Yemen travel to Kuwait next month and agree on the essentials, I think they will come up with reasonable solutions that can end the war and restore legitimacy. Yemeni people would then reconstruct the country and resume normal life. At least that is our hope.”

It is important to note that the UN diplomatic push comes after a much discussed and controversial Gulf Arab military intervention, which reached the one year mark last month. In a recent editorial on the matter, the National’s editorial reemphasizes the importance of the military involvement: “Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council allies, including the UAE, realized that the security of Yemen was critical for the Arabian Peninsula at large and that a military operation would be required. Iran, which has a history of meddling in regional affairs, has been backing the Shiite Houthi group to fulfil its own nefarious agenda of expanding its footprint in the Middle East. Quite simply, unless we had taken firm action, our security would have been at risk. This has come at a great cost, including the lives of more than 80 UAE martyrs....Of course, the ultimate goal is a political solution that restores the legitimate government. Joining a military campaign is never an easy decision to make, but in this case it was a necessary one.”

The Arab News editorial presents a decidedly upbeat picture of the intervention, arguing that the Saudi-led coalition “shows the way to fight terror…. It is now a year since the Kingdom led the military coalition of Gulf states to save Yemen. Operation Decisive Storm surprised a watching world....Yemen was on the brink of chaos. It had the potential to become another Afghanistan. The regional instability brought on by such a collapse would have been extremely serious. Twelve months on and the position has been dramatically reversed....It will not be long before all of Yemen will have been restored to the legitimate government. At that point the task of rebuilding can begin in earnest. As the happy crowds all over the country demonstrated, hope is once again rising in people’s hearts. Yemen is no longer a country of despair.”

That doesn’t mean that the Saudi involvement has not been subject to criticism. Michel Abu Najm alludes to those criticisms in an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, where he points out some of the differences that exist between the Saudi and U.S. visions for Yemen and the region: “Official Saudi sources confirmed that the ultimate solution to the Yemeni crisis ‘enjoins ending the presence of militias’ in the country and stressed that the recent changes on the ground will provide an opportunity for a ‘real’ ceasefire on the 10th of April and will also ‘create opportunities’ for negotiations which are supposed to begin in Kuwait on the 18th of April....On the other hand, the sources said that Riyadh’s relations with Washington are ‘strategic and historical’. However, they did not deny the existence of discrepancies and differences of opinion that ‘will be discussed’ during President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks.”

In fact, the Khaleej Times’s editorial reserves some words of caution for the United States, urging Washington to take a more active and constructive role in the region: “Washington is widely criticised by its allies for taking a backseat, as the region is in a meltdown at the hands of terrorists and unscrupulous elements. President Barack Obama's failure to act in Syria, and allow Iraq go down the drain, as Daesh marched across its territory, is being seen as a sign of weakness. In such a scenario, America's renewed involvement in Yemen has raised many eye-brows. Russia's proactive involvement in the region has negated the traditional role that Washington had played in the Middle East and Asia. Pentagon should specifically take care that its action is soundly backed by intelligence, and doesn't come to bleed the civilians, as it did in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is no room for collateral damage, anymore. It goes without saying that the US has to lead from the front in taking out the extremist network, and at the same time reengage itself constructively in the region.”

Most of the criticism, however, has been reserved for Iran and its involvement in the conflict, with this recent Khaleej Times editorial calling for the international community to do what is right for the Yemenis rather than their neighbors: “A détente is in the making in Yemen. The good point is that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and the Houthi rebels are in talks. They have reportedly swapped prisoners ahead of their scheduled formal talks next month....This is a promising development, and warring parties must give peace a chance. The most important aspect is that extra-territorial forces should take a back seat, and let the people of Yemen overcome the crisis in a responsible manner by exhibiting nationalistic tendencies. Yemen for long has been a battleground for non-state actors, especially Al Qaeda and now Daesh is also in it. The talks should primarily focus on converting the ceasefire into permanent peace, and rebuilding the country.”

The Peninsula’s Saad bin Teflah Al Ajmi makes similar jabs at Iran by recasting the conflict as one that Arab countries should solve on their own: “In the middle of next month- April, delegates from the Houthis of Yemen and representative from the Arab alliance led by Saudi Arabia are to meet in Kuwait for peace talks to end the conflict which started a year ago. The choice of Kuwait as a venue for these talks is not random, but rather carefully studied and well-calculated. Kuwait had a successful track-record in bringing about warring factions in Yemen before.... Talks in Kuwait, come mid-April, should be decisive in bringing about an end to the conflict in Yemen in light of the UN resolution 2216. Consequently, we in the Arabian Gulf must realize that Yemen had become our problem and that we must not leave it prey to civil wars, conflicts, poverty and Iran. A Gulf “Marshal” plan is much needed for Yemen for the sake of the people of Yemen and, equally important, for the well-being and security of the Gulf countries. One hope is that lessons from the war in Yemen have been learned and that the ongoing conflict will be the last in war torn Yemen.”

Rhetoric aside, it is clear to everyone that the right solution will be a combination of political reform followed by a sizeable financial investment: “A Saudi-led coalition of Sunni forces began a military campaign to reinstall the government of Hadi and prevent Houthi rebels and forces loyal to  ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking control of the entire country. The Saudi-led campaign has been successful and the Houthi rebels were thwarted in their attempts to take control of the country. A solution to the Yemen conflict lies only in the restoration of Hadi government. Houthis must withdraw from the territories they have captured and pave the way for the restoration of the Hadi government because Houthis’ expansion is illegal and against the international laws. A political solution to the conflict will not be easy and will be time-consuming, but the ceasefire will give a huge relief to people who are trapped in the war. But there is a sense of hope about the peace process.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.