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A Year of De-escalation in Yemen and the Beginning of the End

A Year of De-escalation in Yemen and the Beginning of the End

The Riyadh Agreement challenged pessimism and proved that there can be a solution regardless of the size of disagreement
Friday, 27 December, 2019 - 13:00
Saudi-led coalition spokesman, Colonel Turki al-Malki, speaks during a news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 20, 2019. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Since the beginning of the crisis in Yemen, a magic question has been repeated: When and how will the crisis end? The answers were as complicated as the crisis.


Starting from understanding its content and the conflicts that were not merely, as Western intellectual and media institutions claim and to which some Yemenis have objected, a Sunni-Shiite conflict or a proxy war, disregarding the particular Yemeni concern. It is also not only an internal bipolar crisis. The events in Sanaa in 2017 between the Houthis and their partner Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president, as they were in August 2019 between two allies. The difference between the two internal crises is that the Houthis killed Saleh to end the crisis. At the same time, Saudi Arabia sponsored an agreement between the Southern Transitional Council and the legitimate Yemeni government with the higher aim of liberating the country from the Iranian proxy and the Yemeni nightmare of a Houthi coup.


A disagreement over the solution

Again: How and when will the crisis end? Examining the answers by the Yemeni government and its allies in decision-making, it boils down to the golden rule: Houthis do not understand any other language but that of power.


It justifies that only power liberated the vast areas of the country. Others, on the other hand, including the Americans, find that military pressure is the most effective way. In this, they agree with the alliance for legitimacy in Yemen that seems in its media discourse that it put military pressure on the Houthis and forced them to sit on the table to discuss a solution as their only option.


Another opinion, close to that of the UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and European powers, thinks that the humane aspect is the entry point into a peaceful solution and dialogue. Many Yemenis disagree with this for two reasons; first, never have Houthi conflicts (six wars since 2004) ended with a humane entry point followed by a political solution. Second, Houthis are not a group of old fighters that do not leave their caves and mountains, but have power over government facilities and are supported by foreign powers such as Iran and Hezbollah, with money, equipment, arms, and political, military, and media consultations.


Therefore, they will not compromise as easily as some may naively think.


Saudi Reconstruction as the Star of the Year

Five years since the crisis in Yemen began in September 2014, when the Houthis carried out a coup against the government and took over power with the aid of Ali Abdullah Saleh, before he turned against them at the end of 2017 and the conflict between them ended with him being killed and his sons and relatives imprisoned, with some later being released.


Almost 85% of areas that were taken over by Houthis have been liberated, and a Yemeni government has been formed under circumstances that no government in the world would wish. That government then faced several changes and conflicts, beginning with its president, to its cabinet members and high officials in the economic sector such as the Minister of Finance and the heads of the economic committee and the governors of the central bank. At the end of the year, it faced military events and a disagreement with the Southern Transitional Council, whose leaders were former members and high officials in the same government.


This year Griffiths clearly expressed that there were people, he included, that think that it was possible to do better, according to what the UN website published.


Griffith mentioned to Asharq al-Awsat in an article published on 31 October 2019 that five indicators call for optimism. He said, "there are tangible indicators that call for hope in Yemen... We've seen in the last period a massive recession in violence in the North, the release of several prisoners and captives, and that the oil tankers were allowed to enter. Aid agencies were also allowed to provide aid to people in need in Ad-draihmi, in addition to serious talks being successfully conducted on the South (Riyadh Agreement), reaching an agreement that represents the first step towards a permanent peace process in the country. Accordingly, all of these indicators call for hope and reflect the good intentions of the parties involved, leading to tangible changes and real progress on the ground.


Riyadh Agreement

It seems that the events of a year were going to be disappointing, but some steps such as the Riyadh Agreement have changed that. The Agreement gave hope and revived optimism in the despair that dominated the most influential people in this issue, the Yemenis.


The conflict in Aden at the beginning of August was a shock, and everyone was following very tensely until Riyadh pushed for an agreement.


The Riyadh Agreement told Yemenis that dialogue and Agreement were still possible in the future, that it only needed a strong will, a sense of responsibility, and self-control. This is how the Yemeni government behaved during the events. The Southern Transitional Council also showed maturity when it took the political path to reach agreements and aims that give them the least of what they desire.


It is worth noting that Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, the deputy prime minister and the minister of defense, described the day the Riyadh Agreement was signed on 5 November 2019, as a glorious day. He said: "Every day the Yemenis come together is a day of joy for the Kingdom that has since the era of the founding King Abdulaziz and will always be cautious for Yemeni stability and its prosperity, believing that the wisdom of its people is above any challenge."


Houthi Violations and Terrorist Behavior

It was not an average year. Many civilians were killed, and the Houthis escalated their repression and their clinging onto any idea that would loot whatever money is left for people in areas under their control. The Khomeini undertones that the pro-coup forces imposed on Yemeni culture have not changed. They have reached the illegitimate parliament in Sanaa, and even those parliament members who had not escaped the Houthi hell have started to complain about it, just like the Yemenis in areas under militia control are complaining about not being paid their salaries for 3 years.


In 2019, drone attacks came to the scene. Saudi Arabia prevented around 500 ballistic attacks by drones since the beginning of the crisis. Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack on the oil facilities in October, but Colonel Turki al-Maliki, the Arab Coalition spokesperson, said in a press conference that: "Saudi Arabia has evidence that the attack was not launched from Yemen as Iran's proxies have claimed," and that the Aramco attack did not target Saudi Arabia alone but also the international community and energy security.


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