Will Yemen’s peace initiative succeed?
The government is still in exile and its return to Aden remains incomplete as the country remains at war
As I expected, the initiative which Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, proposed to resolve the Yemeni crisis has gained the support of various parties and it’s now undergoing its first test through the recent 48-hour truce.
I still think it’s a good initiative despite the critical statements made against it by major powers in the legitimate government and others. However, I doubt it will succeed, not because Yemeni President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi’s men criticized it, but because the rebels will thwart it.
The initiative confirms the legitimacy of the regime and its authorities. It calls on the rebels to hand over their heavy weapons, to exit the capital and major cities and hand them over to the legitimate government. In exchange, a moderate vice president with whom everyone agrees on is appointed, and most of the president’s jurisdictions would be transferred to him.
The rebels backed down on most of their major demands in the initiative. Before that, they wanted a new regime in which they had the upper hand, and they wanted to eliminate Hadi, keep their weapons and militias as part of the state and maintain their presence in the areas they seized. All these demands were rejected.
However, what they gained from the initiative is that their presence continues to be acknowledged and does not lead to the confiscation of their light weapons, considering most Yemenis were armed before the war broke out. They were also promised they would be able to participate in the government – which they were allowed to do before the coup.
I think President Hadi’s team rejected the peace bid for two reasons. The first one was because US Secretary of State John Kerry made a mistake when he did not directly communicate with him but counted on delivering messages through others. Kerry has apologized for that. As for the other reason, I think it’s because Hadi viewed granting the vice president most of his jurisdictions as a move that bypasses him.
Truth be told, Hadi – before anyone else – knows Yemen’s various parties and the coalition held on to him during very difficult times, and engaged in a war to protect the state’s entity and the governance formula which was approved by Yemenis and was directly sponsored by the UN.
Hadi’s presidency is temporary and it was set for two years only until elections were held – but this election was thwarted by the rebels. Ever since they carried out the coup, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi rebels have made compromises to remove him, but everyone adhered to his presence as a symbol for legitimacy. According to the new initiative, he remains the president.
If it hadn’t been for military intervention, Yemen would have been put in the Iranian orbit and the country would have turned into a hotbed for chronic struggles on the tribal and regional levelsAbdulrahman al-Rashed
A government in exile
When it comes to jurisdictions, we know they are few because the government is only partially present in all cases. The government is still in exile and its return to Aden remains incomplete as the country remains at war and state institutions’ work and the provision of services is still disrupted.
Jurisdictions will remain few even after the war ends; that is if the initiative succeeds, bloodshed is put to an end and peace reigns. There will only be an efficient government after writing a constitution and holding elections. Therefore, President Hadi will not lose many of his jurisdictions even after some are transferred to a VP. The fact that he stays in power actually thwarts the rebels’ first condition of removing him from power.
Civil wars usually end in reconciliations. The other scenario is that warring parties continue to fight until they tire and tear their country apart. Take Afghanistan which resembles Yemen a lot in its terrains and social fabric as an example. The war there has been on for more than 15 years.
The US, which has been fighting the Taliban there, has not been able to end the war despite the efforts it made, and despite the help it received from the expanded military alliance which is fighting along its side. It did not fail because it could not annihilate its opponents, but because what’s required is to subjugate all powers to the central authority. The Americans have not yet succeeded at that despite the negotiations and the ongoing fighting against the Taliban.
The war in Yemen has been ongoing for less than two years now and it’s been difficult on everyone. However, Yemen was saved from the rebels who seized the entire country. If it hadn’t been for military intervention, Yemen would have been put in the Iranian orbit and the country would have turned into a hotbed for chronic struggles on the tribal and regional levels.
The coalition insisted on maintaining legitimacy although it was no longer present in Yemen at all as the legitimate government fled to Saudi Arabia which provided global diplomatic support for it and launched a massive war for its sake. More than half of Yemeni territories were thus liberated and the legitimate authority was mended.
It’s actually possible that the two parties in Yemen could continue fighting for the next 15 years, but why? The rebels tried their luck at governing all by themselves – but failed. Before they staged their attempted coup, they were part of the government. But now, accepting the initiative means handing over their heavy weapons, exiting cities and working in the government under Hadi’s rule. This means that they lost the bet of arms.
Some object to allowing the Houthis and Saleh’s supporters participate in governance and view this as a betrayal after all that’s been sacrificed but they are wrong. There’s never been a promise to deprive rivals of political participation.
This was not the war’s aim. The aim was to restore the legitimate government and secure its return, and both, the Houthis and Saleh’s supporters, were part of this government and they’ve paid a high price for staging this coup which has also impacted the Yemeni people.
The aim of the war is to achieve peace and not eliminate others. Hopefully the initiative will succeed and halt the bloodshed and restore stability to Yemen.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 18, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.