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Yemen in the Grips of Optimism

Yemen in the Grips of Optimism

Saturday, 23 April, 2022 - 07:15
The head of Yemen's new presidential council Rashad al-Alimi stands during a session of the Yemeni parliament during which he and members of the presidential council took the oath in Aden, Yemen April 19, 2022. (Reuters)

It may be naive to speak of optimism seven years since the coup by the Iran-backed Houthi militias and the consequent eruption of the war. The recent changes however, have led to optimism because they have allowed the Yemenis to draw up scenarios that may have been impossible up until a few weeks ago.

The Yemenis came together for consultations in Riyadh in late March and early April. This was the first time hundreds of Yemenis meet since the 2012-2013 national dialogue.

The consultations inspired Yemen and the Saudi-led Arab coalition to declare a unilateral ceasefire, which was followed by a nationwide truce sponsored by the United Nations.

The Riyadh talks culminated in several agreements and decisions, capped with the formation of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) that will pave a new path for Yemen's future that would hopefully be marked by consensus.

The PLC proved a breakthrough in numerous issues that had been tied down by the previous narrow view of how to deal with the crisis. The former team, which is being replaced by the council, had used up a lot of time and means and exhausted its options in how to handle the crisis. Its policies had only led to more problems and crises, consolidating the state of failure and ineptitude.

Asharq Al-Awsat met with several Yemeni and western experts to discuss the challenges and visions in store for Yemen.

Zaed al-Thari had taken part in the political track of the Riyadh consultations. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the PLC could be viewed as a new beginning "that is more aware of Yemen's diversity."

He said high hopes are pinned on the council and it has been tasked with heavy responsibilities.

Adam Baron, a writer and political analyst, said the Gulf mediation has a "long history" in Yemen. The Riyadh consultations could be seen as being based on the 2011 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative.

The PLC, he continued, could be viewed as a peace council, should negotiations be held with the Houthis. It could also turn into a war council, if the conflict escalates.

Only time will tell which path it will take, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.


Kamel al-Khodani, member of the national resistance's politburo, said the PLC will have to deal with many challenges.

A main challenge is how to activate state institutions and revive their duties in the interim capital, Aden, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

It is also tasked with achieving political, security and economic stability, improving the living conditions of the people and stopping the collapse of the currency, manipulation of prices of commodities and oil derivatives.

The PLC can take advantage of the popular, Gulf, regional and international support to overcome these challenges and meet the aspirations of the people in reclaiming the state and peace, added al-Khodani.

Another challenge is for the council to actually work from inside Yemen, specifically Aden.

Huda al-Sarari, a human rights lawyer, noted that the presidential council, government, lawmakers and Shura Council had all returned to Aden for the swearing in of the PLC.

She hoped that they would remain and that they would continue their duties in the liberated areas so that the people would have renewed confidence in them. This will also help in providing services and addressing the economic crisis.

Another challenge facing the PLC is merging the armed forces and implementing the military and security aspects of the Riyadh Agreement, remarked al-Sarari.

The council would also be tasked with mobilizing all fronts against the Houhis if the militias fail to agree to peace and opted to violate the truce, she noted.

"We have grown accustomed to the Houthi violations of truces and agreements," she went on to say.

In fact, the militias' joining of a truce is only a ploy so that they could regroup and reorganize their ranks, she remarked, citing their ongoing desperate attacks in the Marib and Taiz provinces.

Adel Shamsan, a political analyst, told Asharq Al-Awsat that a main challenge facing the PLC is the "unification of the political front."

Once political views are united, then the military fronts will follow, he explained.

Sarah al-Ariqi, a member of the Yemeni Coalition of Independent Women, said the PLC has many challenges to overcome, chief of which is reaching urgent solutions that would allow the unification of the military and security institutions.

Other pressing issues are the organized and regular payment of employee salaries and achieving peace and stability in liberated areas.

None of these goals can be accomplished without the cooperation of all political forces and the support of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and international community, said al-Ariqi.

Gulf mediation

On whether the Gulf mediation will lead to a final solution in Yemen, GCC Ambassador to Yemen Sarhan Al-Minaikher told Asharq Al-Awsat that the council "will always support the choices of the Yemeni people as they seek to end their crisis through the political solution."

"Once all Yemeni parties agree to join negotiations over the comprehensive solution, then they will find all the support from the GCC, which will be keen on hosting those talks," he added, citing consultations that were held for 110 days in Kuwait in 2016.

Al-Khodani stressed that the Yemenis believe that there can be no solution to the crisis "without the brothers in the Gulf."

"All parties know this, including the Houthis," he said.

He noted the positive atmosphere that prevailed during the intra-Yemeni consultations in Riyadh that were sponsored by the GCC.

The consultations confirmed that Yemen is part of the Gulf and that the Yemenis see in the Gulf an extension of their Arab identity, he stated.

Thari said: "It goes without saying that Yemen is part of its Arab Gulf environment and it is an integral part of it."

"The Gulf states, starting with Saudi Arabia, have always supported development and stability in Yemen," he noted.

"The change in the political leadership and establishment of the PLC provides a serious opportunity to overcome some of the main causes of the internal crisis," he continued.

He hoped that that would pave the way for Yemen's return to the Gulf fold and for Gulf-sponsored peace negotiations and national dialogue to be held.

Future scenarios

Asked about what the future has in store for Yemen, Shamsan replied: "The coming days will be full of hope and the rapid developments confirm this."

He also hailed the GCC for declaring its continued support to Yemen as it embarks on a new path towards peace and ending the war.

Sarari painted a less optimistic vision, hoping first that the new government would set aside its usual disputes over shares and instead focus on uniting ranks and ending the Houthi coup, either through peaceful means or through the military solution.

The PLC will then be able to carry out economic reforms, provide services to the people, pay salaries throughout the country and create sustainable solutions through reaping oil revenues, she added.

The military aspect of the Riyadh Agreement could then be implemented. The judiciary would then be revived. Active efforts to fight corruption would kick off. Audit agencies would be activated in order to boost transparency and sound governance. She also stressed the need to fight terrorism and secure international marine navigation.

Al-Khodani believes that the scenarios for the solution will be limited to two options.

The first would see the Houthis succumbing to calls to end the war. They would sit at the negotiations table, abandon pro-Iran slogans and agree to hold elections.

The second scenario would see the continuation of the war to liberate Sanaa and other regions from the Houthis.

Al-Ariqi said either scenario will end the suffering of the Yemeni people, a need that the international community believes in.

Journalist Faisal al-Shabibi remarked: "The best scenario is the political solution that everyone wants in order to stop the bloodshed and preserve what remains of the state."

Unfortunately, the solution remains out of reach "given the Houthis' intransigence and ideology that is alien to Yemen and detached from reality."

The militias want to impose their views on the Yemenis by force, he added, while also citing previous governments' miserable experience with the Houthis, who have always reneged on any signed agreement, since the eruption of the first war in June 2004 and to this very day.

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