Can Yemen’s Ceasefire Lead to Lasting Peace?

Published April 21st, 2022 - 06:39 GMT
Could Yemen’s Ceasefire Lead to Lasting Peace?
Forces loyal to Yemen's Huthi rebels take part in a military parade marking the seventh anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition's intervention in their country, in the capital Sanaa, on March 31, 2022. (Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

Yemen’s newly formed Presidential Council was officially sworn into office this Tuesday. The eight-member council, led by former minister Rashad al-Alimi, took this largely symbolic step in a tightly secured Aden, which has served as the de facto capital for the ousted government.

The event comes off the back of a two-month ceasefire agreement that has seen a drop in violence between Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed coalition forces and the Yemeni government. 

Ex-president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi handed over power during a televised address on 7 April. The new Presidential Council has been tasked with ending the seven years war that has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the immiseration of millions of Yemenis. The UN has called the situation “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

Conflict began in late 2014 when Houthi rebels took over the capital Sanaa. Hadi later moved to Aden, which he later declared to be Yemen’s temporary capital, before eventually fleeing to Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led coalition, supported and armed by the West, then began attacks on Yemen. Iranian support for the Houthis has drawn the conflict into a wider regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

The historic UN-brokered ceasefire announced this month has led to a break in the conflict. Announcing the agreement, UN special envoy Hans Grundberg said, “the parties agreed to halt all offensive military, air, ground and maritime operations inside Yemen and across its borders.” 

“This Truce is a first and long overdue step,” he said. “All Yemeni women, men and children that have suffered immensely through over seven years of war, expect nothing less than an end to this war. The parties must deliver nothing less.”

The Houthis have rejected the authority of the newly-formed Presidential Council, arguing that Hadi had no legitimacy to bestow on the new council. Nevertheless, the ceasefire has been maintained. In the short-term it means much-needed fuel will arrive to a poverty stricken country after the Saudi-led coalition said it will allow 18 fuel ships to dock in the Houthi controlled Hodeidah governorate. A limited number of commercial flights are also being resumed. There was also an agreement to discuss opening roads to the effectively besieged city of Taiz. 

In the longer-term, the newly structured government in Aden could allow room for Houthis to form part of a wider Yemeni government. Ahmed Nagi, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, said last week: “The Presidential Council and its subsidiary committees and bodies were formed in a flexible way to absorb more members in the future, if a political compromise is achieved with the Houthis. In other words, the council’s structure prepares the ground for any possible understanding among the actors in the Yemeni conflict.”

“It should be pointed out that after the Houthis carried out their military coup and dissolved parliament in February 2015, they suggested forming a five-member presidential council. Therefore, the new council can be seen as a positive signal to the Houthis, as there is a place for them if they decide to join.”  

 

However, there is a sense amongst some analysts, particularly in the U.S., that the Houthis may not be pushing for peace. The influx of funds and military technology from Iran has created a formidable fighting force in Sanaa. Recently, Houthi fighters have launched attacks on targets in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, pushing the conflict beyond the borders of Yemen. 

Nevertheless, the humanitarian situation in the country is worsening by the day and this could force the hands of the warring parties. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made things even worse. Yemen imports almost 50% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Russia’s invasion has all but destroyed Ukrainian exports as production facilities have been destroyed and the Black Sea is mined and blocked for shipping. Between February and March this year, Russian and Ukrainian global wheat exports dropped by 3 million and 4 million tonnes respectively. 

In a recent article, Erica Garson, senior policy advisor at the United Nations University Center for Policy Research, notes how the thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and Yemen is all the more significant because it comes off the back of the designation of the Houthis as a “terrorist group” by the U.N Security Council. That the Saudis are willing to negotiate with a group so recently designated as “terrorists” suggests there could be strong promise for a peace deal. 

But the drawing down of recent conflicts, from Syria to Afghanistan, suggests military victory often ends conflict. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia and its partner the United Arab Emirate have been seeking a way out of the conflict for a while. Whether political will can win over military might remains to be seen. Meanwhile, millions in Yemen continue to suffer.

 


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