RIYADH: For the first time in more than a decade, almost all of Yemen’s feuding leaders came together in one building in Riyadh in a bid to settle their disputes.
The Gulf Cooperation Council last month invited all Yemeni political, tribal and religious leaders, journalists, activists, economists and the heads of nongovernmental organizations to join unprecedented talks in the Saudi capital under its aegis to examine and propose solutions to the country’s problems.
With the exception of the Iran-backed Houthis, who turned down the invitation, hundreds of people engaged in the talks to draw up a road map for bringing peace and stability to war-torn Yemen.
During the discussions, members of the General People’s Congress — the party of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh — exchanged views for hours with supporters of the Islamist Islah party, which led the Arab Spring-inspired protests against Saleh in 2011.
The leaders of the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council discussed ideas with those they fought in Aden in 2018 and 2019.
Sarhan Al-Minaikher, the GCC ambassador to Yemen, said that almost 1,000 people participated in the Yemeni-Yemeni consultations, and that the participants were left in closed rooms to privately, transparently and directly exchange views without any interference from the Gulf bloc or any other country.
The most important outcome of the consultations was the formation of the Presidential Leadership Council, a body of eight people, led by Rashad Al-Alimi and comprising Yemeni leaders representing different parties, including separatists and Saleh’s supporters.
On Thursday, former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi passed powers to the new council and empowered it to run the country and negotiate with the Houthis.
During the closing ceremony, the participants came out with recommendations that called upon the new presidential body to start engaging in talks with the Houthis to end the war, supported boosting and reforming state bodies, and allowed them to function in Yemen.
The participants also called for fighting terrorism, opening roads between Yemeni cities that were closed during the war and seeking an international donor conference for mobilizing funds to the country.
The Riyadh consultations are the latest in a string of initiatives and peace ideas proposed by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf bloc and the UN to bring an end to the violence.
The current fighting in Yemen began in late 2014 when the Houthis, with support from Saleh and Iran, seized control of Sanaa and put Hadi under house arrest.
In February 2015, Hadi managed to escape from Sanaa to the southern city of Aden where he regrouped his forces and vowed to challenge the Houthis.
The UN and many local organizations say that tens of thousands of Yemenis have been killed in the war that has pushed most of the country’s 30 million people to the brink of famine.
Before the Houthi capture of Sanaa, the GCC mediated peace initiatives to end the violence in Yemen.
In late 2011, Saleh signed a peace initiative, known as the GCC initiative, and agreed to pass power to his then deputy, Hadi, to run the country during a transitional period.
Hadi was elected a year later as the new president after winning an uncontested election.
As part of the GCC initiatives, the National Dialogue Conference in 2013 brought together hundreds of Yemenis and recommended ways of achieving peace and prosperity.
In 2014, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states backed the Peace and National Partnership Agreement between the Houthis and the other Yemeni forces. But the Houthis violated the deal and expanded militarily across the country, sparking bloody fighting with government troops and allied forces.
In March 2015, the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, led by the Kingdom, intervened militarily at the request of Saleh and managed to blunt Houthi advances on the ground and helped government forces liberate many provinces.
Thanks to military support from the coalition, the Yemeni government liberated Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, and its neighboring provinces during the first months of the military operations.
Despite supporting the internationally recognized government, Saudi Arabia has sponsored peace talks and supported many peace agreements between the Yemeni factions since the beginning of the war.
Amid international outrage over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the Kingdom in March last year presented an initiative to bring peace to Yemen and alleviate the suffering of its people. That called for an immediate nationwide truce, the opening of Sanaa airport and the lifting of restrictions on the movement of fuel ships into Hodeidah port.
But the Houthis rejected the initiative and continued with their aggressive attacks on government-controlled areas.
When fighting between the former government and south Yemen separatists broke out in Aden in 2019, Saudi Arabia brokered a power-sharing deal known as the Riyadh Agreement.
That led to the formation of a new government, led by Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, and allowed it to resume duties from Aden.
In 2018, the Kingdom deposited $2 billion into the central bank of Yemen in Aden, which helped the government pay salaries, buy vital commodities and stopped the fall of the Yemeni riyal.