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Yemen: Peace deal now or full civil war Open in fullscreen

Azmi Bishara

Yemen: Peace deal now or full civil war

President Hadi must address the nation, says Azmi Bishara [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 March, 2015

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Like Libya, Yemen stands at the crossroads between war and peace. But which path will its warring leaders choose?

Yemen and Libya are both large countries where the nation-state is fragile but popular, and local structures are robust.

In a civil war, the nation-state is susceptible to fragmentation, but local social structures can endure and even thrive.

Both Yemen and Libya are on the verge of full-scale civil war. My previous article tackled the situation in Libya, where the conflicting parties must choose between compromise or war. Today's article tackles a similar situation in Yemen.

I have written before in this column about how the Houthis can never rule Yemen, even after their expansion from Saada to Sanaa and Hudayda, and argued that they don't represent Yemen's Zaydi population.

To be sure, Zaydis are affiliated to parties all over the political spectrum, including Islah, and are not followers of any one regional bloc.

The Houthis' problem became apparent when the legitimate president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, escaped from their grip and fled to Aden. After that, all that the Houthis were left with was naked force, standing against legitimacy.

Meanwhile, few Yemen-watchers noticed that the principal outcome of Hadi's departure to Aden was that the secession of the south was averted with regional support.

     Secession would have almost certainly occurred if the Houthis continued to rule

Secession would have almost certainly occurred if the Houthis continued to rule without a legitimate alternative.

Though we have stressed that the Houthis cannot rule Yemen, we must also stress in the course of warning against civil war the fact that the Houthis have become a major military force in Yemen.

This is one of the country's new irrevocable and irreversible facts. It is a state of affairs that necessitates a settlement, since the Houthis can neither be defeated militarily nor can they continue to rule Yemen alone.

Catalogue of blunders

The Houthis accumulated power as others accumulated blunders. The parties that ruled Yemen during the transitional phase made grave mistakes.

The same can also be said of the Gulf states too, which dealt with the government of the Joint Meeting of Parties (JMP) and the Congress Party as though it was led by the Muslim Brotherhood, and subsequently suspended their support for it.

Some even wagered on Ali Abdullah Saleh to sabotage the transition. In effect, Saleh thwarted the Gulf Initiative by remaining the chairman of a ruling party in Yemen, a position that allowed him to continue to wield great power.

Internally, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi tried to modify his interim status and make his position permanent. It seems he believed that weakening his allies would make him stronger.

There is no other explanation for his conduct, as it quickly transpired that he had left Islah and the Houthis to battle it out without intervening.

This was most evident in the town of Amran in the north west, where the Houthis attacked Islah and the army units there loyal to them. After this, under pressure from the Gulf states, President Hadi expelled 23 army officers loyal to Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, a major-general and business tycoon who helped found the Islah party, exposing him to further attacks.

Saleh thought that, by allying himself with the Houthis, he could undermine both the JMP and President Hadi. As a result of these gambits, the Houthis only got stronger, taking even themselves by surprise.

Moreover, this situaiton induced tribal leaders in the North and officers formerly loyal to Saleh to come over to their side.

Saleh's miscalculations played right into the Houthis' hands, and they eventually overran everything bar a few bases belonging to special forces loyal to the former president - even these are under siege by the Houthis, although they have not entered them.

In Aden, President Hadi has not found the time to address the Yemeni people, even after all that has happened. Yet he seems very happy to be receiving ambassadors and the recognition of Gulf states which neglected him when he was president in Sanaa.

     President Hadi has not found the time to address the Yemeni people, even after all that has happened

This is not enough. He must address the Yemeni people. He has no clear popular base, even in Aden. His base is in Abyan to the east, in the remainder of the militias formed in 2012 to fight al-Qaeda.

He must see that his role now is to behave as a legitimate president, who addresses the Yemeni people in general and who leads them towards a settlement.

Victory over the Houthis cannot be achieved by betting on the tribesmen roaming Riyadh and Jeddah, looking for support to form tribal militias.

Nor can the Houthis continue to rule in the same way. But they can't be excluded, either, from any settlement now, as was done in the past. They are an established and organised force in the country. But they must behave like a national force and accept pluralism rather than trying to impose themselves and their will.

The most important strategic card against the Houthis at the moment is the renewal of popular protests in the areas they control.

This is a real socio-political force that is directly linked to the demands of the Yemeni revolution, whose legitimacy the Houthis are trying to rely on. These protests are in favour of the legitimate government.

The other forces are factional and disorganised. They change their allegiance according to circumstances. They are in no position to proffer any comprehensive solution for the country, but they are in a position to drag it into full-scale civil war. Therefore, bringing them into a settlement is the only way to prevent the deterioration of the conflict.

Yemen is on the verge of civil war and unbridled chaos.

Negotiations among all parties to reach a settlement are an urgent necessity. And in effect, the foundations of a settlement are there; the parties themselves have already agreed to many of them in the National Dialogue.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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