Commentary

Yemen Crisis Worsens as UN-Brokered Peace Process Teeters

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

In Yemen, the Houthi rebels and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have announced their intention to create a “supreme council” to rule the beleaguered Gulf state. The announcement threatens to derail the three-month-old UN-backed peace talks in Kuwait and comes after increased violence in the country, where the Houthis have been fighting the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. The “supreme council” announcement has caught many by surprise, though some commentators say the signs were there all along, accusing Saleh and the Houthis of using the peace talks to buy time. These developments have been condemned by Yemeni officials and many members of the international community, who had hoped to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The Houthis may yet return to the negotiation table, but many will wonder if they will act in good faith.

As Gulf News reports, after months of UN-backed negotiations, it appears that talks have been derailed by the decision of the Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to create a “supreme council”: “Yemen’s rebels and their allies on Thursday formed a 10-member ‘supreme council’ to run Yemen, in the latest sign of the failure of UN-brokered peace talks with the government. Al Houthi rebels and the General People’s Congress of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have agreed to ‘form a supreme political council of 10 members,’ according to a statement carried by a rebel-run news agency....The move comes as UN-sponsored peace talks now underway in Kuwait show no signs of producing an agreement to end Yemen’s civil war. The conflict has drawn in a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia....UN-sponsored talks between the rebels and representatives of Hadi’s government, which began in April, have failed to make headway. The indirect negotiations being held in Kuwait were launched after the United Nations secured an agreement on a ceasefire in the war-torn country.”

Asharq Alawsat’s Abdul Habtoor and others have characterized the creation of the council as yet another blow against the UN-backed peace process: “Once again, Yemeni insurgents have violated Yemen’s constitution and international resolutions by announcing a unilateral agreement....Farhan Haq, spokesman of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the ‘unilateral’ decision obstructs the peace process and endangers the substantial progress made during the Kuwait talks. He also described it as a clear violation of the Yemeni constitution and the provisions of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s initiative and its implementation mechanism....[For] his part, Abdulmalik Al-Mekhlafi, Yemeni Foreign minister and head of the legitimate authority to Kuwait’s peace talks...added that Houthis and Saleh have successfully convinced the world that they are against peace and are responsible for the failure of the talks. He pointed that everyone knows who has waged war in the country and sought to destroy it despite the constant peace efforts showed by the legitimate authority.”

It was only last week that Iranian media, including Press TV, reported that the Houthis intended to continue talks, calling for an extension of the negotiations. Even then, though, there were hints in the statements of Houthi officials that they were unhappy with the negotiations: “Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement has called for an extension of the peace talks with the Saudi-backed former regime officials in Kuwait, saying the planned two-week time for the negotiations is quite insufficient to reach a comprehensive solution....Ansarullah’s top negotiator insisted on the necessity of establishing a presidency council, which would be followed by the formation of a national coalition government, comprising all parties and groups in Yemen. He said according to Ansarullah, a political solution to Yemen’s crisis would require a transitional period of 18 months or even two years, which, in turn, would lead to holding general elections and forming a government.”

In fact, this latest episode of Saleh-Houthi intransigence was not entirely unexpected. As Arab Times’s Ahmed Al-Jarallah indicates, there were already suspicions that the Houthis and the former president were playing for time: “The Yemeni peace talks are still swinging on the same spot as a result of the inability to build trust after more than three months of negotiations. It seems the coup plotters wanted this scenario to improve their positions through thousands of ceasefire breaches. This is what the deposed leader clearly expressed in a politically arrogant manner when he said that he is ready for 10 or 12 years of war as the peace talks deadline draws nearer. If it approaches without finding a solution, this will mean the Yemenis have thrown away the last chance for rebuilding the country and restoring stability. Undoubtedly, the suffering of Yemenis intensifies as each day passes by without reaching an agreement.”

Meanwhile, the Houthis have been accused of being behind attacks on Saudi Arabian positions along the Saudi-Yemeni border, with the Saudi Gazette pointing out that, only a few days ago, “Yemeni President Abdrabbou Mansour Hadi lashed out at the Houthi rebels for their repeated attacks on Saudi border regions, describing the aggression as a flagrant violation of the truce reached in April between the two Yemeni sides in the Yemeni conflict, the Saudi Press Agency reported. At a meeting with his close aides in Riyadh on Wednesday, Hadi said the violations by the Houthi troops and forces loyal to deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh are surging on all fronts, and they continue targeting civilians through their siege of residential neighborhoods.”

The “supreme council” announcement has aggravated a security situation that, as Taufiq Rahim notes in an op-ed for The National, was already tenuous and teetering on the brink of disaster: “Yemen has three million individuals who have fled conflict, and are displaced both within the country and outside of its borders. Creating the right conditions for their return home is both a humanitarian imperative and critical to regional and global security....In Yemen, addressing sectarian, regional, and tribal divisions and tensions will require finding ways to allow all groups to make their interests heard during negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction. Exclusion from governance structures could lead to a quick deterioration of the agreements ending the conflict and to a lack of trust on the part of displaced persons in their future in Yemen, which could lead to more far-reaching consequences.”

Regardless of the political and military setbacks, it remains clear that, as this recent Khaleej Times editorial points out, Yemen is in serious need of a peace deal that will bring stability and solve the worsening refugee crisis: “A political consensus is badly needed on this front, which should take into account the fluid regional situation. Such an aspect, nonetheless, seems to be around as intensive talks have been held in Sanaa, Riyadh and Muscat, setting the tone for a possible deal in Kuwait. This is from where the feuding sides should pick up the momentum in an attempt to end the year-and-half-old civil war. The inset of Daesh is one of the biggest security threats to its integrity. That can only be ward off through a durable political solution to the dispute. The delegates are in the spotlight and it is expected of them that they would come out with an amicable deal in the mandated two-week duration. Yemenis cannot wait any further for heaving a sigh of relief.”


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