Yemenis optimistic as sides accept Saudi plan to implement Riyadh Agreement

A view of Yemen's second city of Aden on June 29, 2020. Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014 that pits the government — backed by a Saudi-led military coalition that provides air support — against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control much of the north, including the capital. (AFP)
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Updated 29 July 2020

Yemenis optimistic as sides accept Saudi plan to implement Riyadh Agreement

  • The Yemeni government said it would comply with the Riyadh Agreement and its related implementation mechanism

AL-MUKALLA: Yemenis on Wednesday expressed cautious optimism after the government and separatists accepted a Saudi-brokered proposal to accelerate the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.

Leading figures also praised the Kingdom for its pivotal role in sponsoring and mediating tough talks between the two sides that had led to the formation of a new government and the ending of hostilities in southern Yemen.

In a tweet, Abdulmalik Al-Mekhlafi, Yemen’s former deputy prime minister and an adviser to the country’s president, described the news as representing the start of a “new phase” in bringing peace to the war-torn nation.

Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi issued presidential decrees mandating incumbent Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed to form a new government and for the appointment of a new governor and security director for Aden province.

The separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) reciprocated by abandoning its controversial self-rule declaration and pledging its adherence to the terms of the new proposal, including allowing the new government to resume duties from Aden.

The Yemeni government said it would comply with the Riyadh Agreement and its related implementation mechanism, including halting military operations in Abyan.

“The government appreciates the efforts of brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and their support for the implementation of the agreement that aims at establishing security and stability, preserving the unity of Yemen, and pushing the wheel of development,” said government spokesperson Rajeh Badi in a brief statement carried by the official Saba news agency.

Ali Al-Katheri, a senior STC member who took part in the discussions in Riyadh, told Arab News that the Kingdom’s diplomatic efforts over recent months had paved the way for the success of talks. He said the agreement would help unify military efforts against the Iranian-backed Houthis and return stability to Aden and other southern provinces.

“We look forward to more efforts by brothers in the Kingdom and the UAE to move toward achieving the urgent implementation of the provisions of the Riyadh Agreement and uniting the efforts of all parties in confronting the Houthi militia and terrorist groups,” Al-Katheri added.

Since early 2018, Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, has been the scene of sporadic battles between the two sides that have damaged the city’s infrastructure and paralyzed government bodies.

Aden residents were hopeful that implementation of the Riyadh Agreement would lead to a revival of government institutions, the paying of salaries, and the restoration of public services such as electricity.

“People have been greatly affected, first by the war with the Houthis, and later by the war between the government and the STC,” Fatehi Ben Lazerq, editor of popular Yemeni news site Aden Al-Ghad, told Arab News.

“There is no option other than a political settlement that would bring back the situation to normal. The situation was not that great before the beginning of hostilities between the government and STC, but things got worse after the war between them,” Ben Lazerq said.

When the separatists announced self-rule in April and expelled the government from Aden and other southern provinces, the government mounted a military offensive in Abyan aimed at recapturing Aden. Dozens of people were killed in heavy fighting that blocked the main road linking Abyan with other provinces and damaged power and water lines.

Shouqra and neighboring Sheikh Salem became the main battlegrounds, and residents there on Wednesday expressed delight over the Saudi-brokered peace proposal.

“The first thing they should do is withdraw military forces from Shouqra and fix electricity and water supplies,” said Hassan Salem, a resident of Shouqra. He added that some areas had been without electricity and water since the beginning of the government’s military offensive in May. “I was very happy when I heard the news about the agreement.”

Under the proposal, Yemeni government forces and separatists will pull out of contested areas in Abyan and move military units and equipment from Aden.

In war-battered Syria, pay demands turn football into ‘curse’

Updated 25 September 2020

In war-battered Syria, pay demands turn football into ‘curse’

  • $30,000 Is being demanded by players for a single season

DAMASCUS: Professional football clubs in war-battered Syria are struggling to sign new players, who are demanding raises to counter the decline in the value of their pay packets. 

Nine years into a grinding civil war, Syria’s economy is in tatters, life is increasingly expensive, and the national currency is in freefall on the black market. 

The coronavirus pandemic has compounded economic woes, with footballers forced to play in closed-door stadiums, wiping out turnstile revenues. 

“Professional football has become a curse,” said Eyad Al-Sibaei, president of Homs city’s Wathba club, runners-up in the Syrian league last season. 

“Players who once played with us for reasonable amounts are now demanding astronomical sums. They say it’s because of the devaluation” of the Syrian currency. 

The Syrian league, which has no foreign stars, was suspended for just one month for Covid-19, and it did not stop during the war except at the outset in 2011. 

Players were transferred last year for as little as 35 million Syrian pounds ($17,500 at the current black market rate), but Sibaei said players are now demanding salaries of up to 60 million pounds ($30,000) for a single season. 

“Next season, we’ll need between 400 and 500 million pounds for contracts and other expenses, knowing that the club only has around 160 million in its kitty,” he said. 

He said the club spent around 315 million last year, some of which he had to advance from his own pocket. 

Whereas the average Syrian earns between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds ($25-50) a month, an average professional football player brings home around 1.5 million pounds ($750) on a monthly basis. 

Osama Omri, a player with the Al-Wahda club which finished fifth last season, conceded football players were better off than the average Syrian. 

“The salaries are decent and the purchasing power of some players is good,” said the 28-year-old attacking midfielder with the Damascus club. 

“But it’s not enough to secure their future as a player’s lifespan on the field is short,” he said, as most players retire in their early thirties. 

No foreign player has been recruited since 2012, but today’s record devaluation is making even acquiring Syrian talent tough. 

The pound’s value against the US dollar has plummeted in the past year, from around 430 to 1,250 at the official rate, and from around 600 to 2,000 on the black market. 

The clubs Jaish and Shorta (army and police in English) are funded by the defense and interior ministries, respectively. 

But other clubs say the dual economic-coronavirus crisis has depleted their coffers, and are seeking funds elsewhere to recruit before the new season starts in a month. 

Reigning champions Tishreen, based in the coastal city of Latakia, have signed two new players with funds from sponsors and club board members. 

Ward Al-Salama, 26, who last year scored in Syria’s 1-0 win against the Philippines in World Cup 2022 qualifiers, is moving from Jaish for 50 million pounds ($25,000). 

Kamel Kawaya, 22, signed for Tishreen from Shorta for the same figure. 

Al-Wahda has renewed contracts with all its players, and even made three new signings. 

Its president Maher Al-Sayyed said he had pitched in to help cover some of next year’s ballooning budget. 

“I lent the club 180 million pounds while waiting for conditions to improve,” out of a projected budget of more than 600 million pounds, he said. 

In the northern city of Aleppo, Al-Ittihad are looking at a budget of 500 million pounds — more than twice last year’s. 

Basil Hamwi said they would be counting on fans and expatriates to help make it through the season. 

At Hutteen, another top-flight club from Latakia, coach Hussein Afash said he understood players’ demands. 

“The players are right to be asking for better-paid contracts after the devaluation of the pound as they’re now earning a fourth of what they did,” he said. 

Club president Khaled Tawil said he hoped that wealthy business tycoon Samer Foz would help cover costs. 

“We are counting on Foz, who sponsors our team,” he said.