Can the UN General Assembly save Yemen?

If there is one thing Yemenis will not be expecting from the UN General Assembly (UNGA), it is a positive outcome to the conflict raging in their country. With more than 10,000 killed, according to the UN, there is no end in sight or confidence in the organization’s ability to bring peace to Yemen. The UN was able to provide international legitimacy to Operation Decisive Storm, but it is helpless in bringing an end to the war.

The organization has lost credibility with Yemen’s internationally recognized government, as well as with the rebel alliance that took power forcefully almost two years ago. The UN envoy has been accused by all the warring parties of bias, and his statements evoke little confidence from key stakeholders in Yemen and the region.

There is nothing new here. Almost half a million Syrians have been killed while the UN has watched helplessly. One cannot blame its leaders or mediators, but rather the way it operates, and the paralyzing constraints of the great powers.


Yemen’s conflict has reached a stalemate. As far as Yemenis are concerned, it is no longer about legitimacy, but about old regional and tribal powers trying to retain lost authority, and new ones carving themselves a place in the country.

The UN can provide a space for negotiations, but sadly it cannot ripen conditions for successful talks. This is one thing only Yemenis can do

Abdullah Hamidaddin

Moreover, Yemen’s social fabric is too intertwined - one cannot speak of two distinct camps, but rather a mosaic of alliances and animosities. A group may be with the legitimate government on one front, but against it on another; with the rebel alliance in Taiz, but against it in Mareb.

Then there is the economy of war. A thriving black market has created a major disincentive to ending the conflict. There is also fear of reprisals. With peace comes accountability for the wanton destruction and loss of lives. For many fighters, war is their best option as it postpones justice. The UN can provide a space for negotiations, but sadly it cannot ripen conditions for successful talks. This is one thing only Yemenis can do.

Perhaps the key obstacle for a solution in Yemen is providing a face-saving formula. The war could go on for years simply because no side wants to lose face. Face-saving can only come via institutions that derive legitimacy from tradition - this is something the UN cannot provide.

There is one international organization that has a foot in both the modern international order and in tradition: the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). It is able to present a formula for ending the war by appealing to Islamic and Arab practices of arbitration and values of compromise, while framing the formula according to the nation-state world order. To save Yemen, the UNGA should engage the OIC and give it a leadership role in ending the conflict.
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
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