The Gulf’s first initiative on Yemen in 2011 aimed to facilitate the transfer of government from the regime of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to a newly elected authority. Some 25 political parties and numerous political figures, including Saleh, took part in the initiative, which resulted in the election of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in February 2012.
The initiative also aimed to produce a new constitution for Yemen, but it did not last long enough to produce a new political order. Instead, the new government was forced to engage in crisis management as after returning from a hospital stay in the United States, Saleh withdrew his support for the transition and stepped down. allied with the Ansarullah (Houthi) movement.
As tensions escalated, the newly elected president fled to Saudi Arabia and the Houthis marched on the capital Sanaa. Following Saleh’s assassination in December 2017, the Houthis embarked on a full-scale effort to take control of the rest of the northern provinces, particularly Mareb, a goal that still eludes them.
It is important to keep this context in mind in light of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) call for a new initiative to end the war in Yemen. He invited all Yemeni parties to participate, including the Houthis, but they not only declined the invitation, but also stepped up strikes against vital economic and civilian targets in Riyadh.
Their message is clear: they are not interested in a project that would end the war and lay the foundations for peace. They also clarified that if talks are to take place, certain conditions must first be met. The Saudi-led coalition is expected to lift the restrictions it imposed on the Houthis and the venue should be moved to any other Gulf capital except Riyadh.
The GCC said the initiative will continue as planned from March 29 to April 7. Turki Al-Maliki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition in support of the internationally recognized Yemeni government, said the coalition reserves the right to respond to strikes, adding that Saudi Arabia wants the initiative succeed while the Houthis tried to undermine it. .
A boycott by the Houthis will not prevent the new Gulf initiative from continuing, which could draw on the precedent of the first initiative. Six months after the beginning of it, Saleh was forced to accept it to resolve the Yemeni crisis.
Just as this process gathered consensus and offered a way out of the crisis, the new GCC initiative could also show Yemenis a way out of the grueling war that has entered its eighth year and has brought three-quarters of the population to the brink. from the abyss. famine.
A Yemeni source speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly from Riyadh said certain political forces dominate decision-making in the internationally recognized government, especially the Al-Islah (Reform) party. By giving a voice to all participating parties, the GCC initiative would breathe new life into the government’s legitimacy, he said.
The Yemeni armed forces must also be restructured to deal with the Houthis. This will allow the coalition to oversee all military efforts and support them politically after its unilateral withdrawal from the war, thereby strengthening its members’ own defenses.
Another main facet of the war concerns the Southern Movement with its secessionist ambitions. Efforts under the GCC initiative will focus on enlisting the Southern Transitional Council (STC), the movement’s dominant faction.
It is hoped that the failure to implement the Riyadh agreement signed by the STC and the government in November 2019 will be resolved, as according to some, the longer this failure continues, the greater the distrust between the STC and the government. allowed to fester, the greater the momentum gained by the Southern Movement, the greater the chances that the South will secede in the long term.
The UN is also working to promote the new Gulf initiative. The UN special envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, has met extensively with the country’s political forces in recent weeks and has proposed a humanitarian truce for Ramadan and the resumption of relief efforts that had stalled due to the war and the lack of international financing, on the scale against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.
According to UN emergency relief coordinator Martin Griffiths, 23.4 million Yemenis are now in need of assistance. Of these, 19 million will starve to death in the coming months, an increase of nearly 20% from 2021, while more than 160,000 will face starvation-like conditions. Only a third of the $4.3 billion aid agencies are seeking for Yemen this year has been raised so far.
International support is crucial to ending the war in Yemen, and the US ambassador to the UN highlighted this dimension in her remarks to the UN in mid-March, saying her country welcomed the Grundberg launching a consultation process and calling for unified support for his efforts. .
GCC and UN efforts can also be part of a broader international campaign to end other wars in the Middle East. In Libya, the United States and other international and regional powers involved in this crisis are working to prevent a return to armed conflict. In Syria, international efforts are being made to persuade the regime to accommodate the opposition. The common denominator of all these conflicts is foreign involvement, especially from non-Arab parties such as Iran and Turkey.
Tehran appears unwilling to abandon its proxy war strategy to expand its regional influence, and it refuses to link its policies in negotiations to renew the 2015 nuclear deal. But there may be other ways to counter the Iranian influence in Syria. An Arab rapprochement with Damascus could go a long way towards reducing Syria’s dependence on Iran, and the recent Emirati initiative to invite the Syrian president to the United Arab Emirates, as well as the efforts of other Arab governments to promote the return of Syria to the Arab League, could work towards this end.
International developments related to the Ukrainian crisis, combined with international pressure to salvage the political process in Libya, could compel Turkey to abandon its militarization of the Libyan crisis. Guarantees of its economic interests in the country could offer Ankara new incentives.
While it is assumed that boycotting the GCC initiative would seriously weaken the Houthis, the initiative could also throw them a lifeline. Demonstrations have begun to increase in Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen, with demonstrations being driven by economic hardship, tax hikes, deteriorating public services and fuel and gas shortages. Civil service salaries have not been paid for years, while the Houthi elites are amassing fortunes.
While the main impetus behind an impending “march of the hungry” against the Houthi regime is economic, there are also signs that it could take on political and ideological dimensions.
A number of Zaidi imams have reportedly distanced themselves from the Houthi project, suggesting that the movement may be gradually losing its religious base. It is also difficult to imagine that the Houthi leaders will be able to resist the combination of economic and popular pressures and simultaneously continue to cling to their military option, thinking that this will force their opponents to give in to their demands.
The new GCC initiative may be their last chance to survive, but this time as part of a larger political project for Yemen and not as one that wants to impose itself on the whole country.
*A version of this article appeared in the March 24, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly