Are Yemen peace talks an exercise in futility?

The talks in Kuwait have been dragging on slowly since they started on April 21

Abdullah Hamidaddin

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The Yemen peace talks in Kuwait have been dragging on slowly since they started on April 21. First the rebel delegation kept the government delegation waiting for two days. Then the talks stopped due to disagreement over the negotiations framework. At this moment, one cannot say they are moving toward a lasting peace, but they are at least ongoing, even if at a snail’s pace.

After a brief round of negotiations, direct talks were suspended by the Yemen government because of the Houthi militia and Ali Saleh’s seizure of a key military base whose soldiers had stayed neutral during the one year war.

No one who has followed the war for the past year would have seriously expected the talks to go smoothly or conclude swiftly, and since they started more thought they would fail quickly than succeed. There are many reasons to think the talks would fail, if only for the fluid and unpredictable nature of Yemen’s political field. One key hurdle is trust, which is understandable given the war and events leading to it and repeated violation of ceasefire.

The government demands that the rebels surrender their heavy weapons and allow it back toSanaa where, as the legitimate government, it will implement a political process based on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative and the conclusions of the Yemeni National Dialogue. The rebelsdemand that the political process start first, after which they will surrender their heavy weapons.

While I am optimistic about the current talks, I fear Yemen will slip into chaos very soon after

Abdullah Hamidaddin

The government’s demands are based on its legitimacy, and on a heavily-armed militia being a main reason for the breakdown of order in Yemen. On the other hand, the rebels fear reprisals, not necessarily from the government as much as from other key Yemeni actors.

As well as the lack of trust between the government and rebels, one must consider the mistrust within each side. Both comprise a coalition of forces with competing interests and concerns over any outcome that may compromise their position. The divide in the rebel camp is clearest,but similar rivalries exist within the government. In addition, some important political players are left out of the talks,giving them an incentive to see themfail.


While there are many reasons to believe the talks will fail, there are more to show they will succeed. The government showed great commitment to the Kuwait talks, even waiting for the rebel delegates to arrive two days late. On the other hand, the rebels showed signs of concessions, most notably in their acceptance of UN Security Council resolution 2216, even if they have not yet moved toward implementing the UNSC resolution.

Most importantly is Gulf countries’ absolute commitment to the talks, as reflected in official statements by GCC leaders, in Saudi media interviewing with Houthi spokesmen, and most notably in the mediation of Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. Having said that, this is war, and this is Yemen, where little is actually predictable.

Yemen peace talks

The talks themselves – if successful – will not end Yemen’s political problems. Much lays ahead, issues that are more difficult to resolve than the current talks. Yemen was a near-failed state before the war, and is now much worse than ever. While I am optimistic about the current talks, I fear Yemen will slip into chaos very soon after.

The talks remind me of the 1994 accord between former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Vice President Ali Salim al-Beidh. That did not stop a short civil war erupting, and I fear the same could happen after a successful conclusion of the Kuwait talks. However optimistic we should be, there should be serious concern about the aftermath.
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

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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