United Yemen puts pressure on Houthis to negotiate
The formation of the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council last week came as a result of extensive 10-day intra-Yemeni talks in Riyadh. The talks reached important and sometimes detailed outcomes in each of six tracks: Political, security, economic, social, humanitarian and media.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, which brokered the talks, invited the Houthis to the consultations, but the group did not respond to the invitation, perhaps knowing that its theories of governance would not be accepted by the majority of Yemenis. Indeed, all participants agreed that the Houthis are the main cause of the political, economic and security crises in Yemen.
Several parties were invited to join the consultations and the new presidential council, with its balanced structure designed to overcome the obstacles that have derailed the country throughout the past seven years. The talks completely rearranged the Yemeni scene, giving it a real chance of a brighter and more stable future alongside its Gulf neighbors. However, the only obstacle is the Houthi militia, whose decisions are dependent on Iran’s political say. Therefore, the only way out of this entanglement is to unite and put Yemeni interests above all others.
These talks were attended by envoys from the UN, US, UK, France and other concerned parties. This step came after many previous attempts at negotiating a peaceful solution were unsuccessful. Just last year, the Houthis were offered an opportunity for a long truce, which they rejected, and an invitation to participate in the negotiations in Saudi Arabia, which they also rejected. Riyadh also proposed a peaceful initiative that recognized the Houthis as a Yemeni component participating in governance, but they responded with missiles, proving once again that they are out to serve the interests of an outside, conniving government over the interests of Yemen.
Looking closely at the situation in Yemen, the country went through a revolution followed by a transitional phase, in which the Yemenis agreed to appoint former Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi as acting president ahead of a national dialogue that would eventually shape the future of their nation. The Iranian-backed Houthis, who had waged six wars on the Yemeni state and its people, took advantage of this transitional phase and went against the outcomes of both the Yemeni National Dialogue and the Gulf Initiative.
After the Houthis’ military coup, which aimed to strip Yemen of its Arab roots and bring it closer to Iran, efforts were made to confront its aggression on many fronts, whether by the legitimate government of Yemen or the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen. However, the Houthis always used the political unrest and sometimes ambiguity to their own advantage.
This political unrest was eased by the Riyadh Initiative, which was signed last year, but unfortunately it was not fully implemented, giving the Houthis more room to prevail. Thankfully, the Houthis were not successful in their quest to seize Marib with its precious oil or any of the northern provinces, while the Giants Brigades also liberated Shabwa and its gas infrastructure from the Houthis.
However, the Yemeni crisis needs a political solution if it is to end peacefully. This has been the main goal since the beginning of the war for all parties, except the Houthis, who insist on destabilizing every constructive step toward a stable Yemen. It comes as no surprise that the Houthis, who account for only a small percentage of the population, are not interested in a political solution in Yemen, since that would mean the end of their aggressive streak, as well as Iran’s hold on the Gulf region. Nevertheless, Hadi announced the decision to form a Presidential Leadership Council and a peaceful transition of power took place in accordance with the constitution and the Gulf Initiative, with Hadi’s deputy Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar relieved of his position.
The only obstacle is the Houthi militia, whose decisions are dependent on Iran’s political say.
Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri
The presidential statement points out that the new Presidential Leadership Council will take over political, military and security control of the country throughout this transitional phase.
The council is chaired by Rashad Mohammed Al-Alimi and has seven other members: Sultan Al-Arada, Tariq Saleh, Abdul-Rahman Abu Zara’a, Abdullah Al-Alimi, Othman Majali, Aidarous Al-Zubaidi and Faraj Al-Bahsani. Each member has the rank of deputy chairman, while the chairman “exclusively” has supreme command of the armed forces and can ratify agreements and declare a state of emergency or general mobilization.
The term of the Presidential Leadership Council will end when general elections are held in accordance with the new constitution and a new president is inaugurated.
The new council, according to Hadi’s statement, is in charge of “negotiating with the Houthis for a permanent ceasefire throughout the country and sitting at the negotiating table to reach a final political solution.” This leads us to the issue of whether the Houthis are ready to unchain themselves from the Iranian regime and put their country’s interests first by sitting down for negotiations with the newly appointed council. And would the Houthis stand a chance against this alliance if it chose to continue advocating for Iranian interests over Yemeni ones? One thing we can say for sure is that this is a solidarity that is far from any division the Houthis are accustomed to.
Yemen’s suffering was caused by the Houthi rebel group, which ignited a fierce war and dragged it out for many years, even before the establishment of the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.
As soon as the formation of the new council was announced, it was welcomed regionally and internationally. The UN Security Council welcomed the peaceful transfer of power and Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit considered it “an embodiment of Yemeni legitimacy.” The secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation also welcomed the council’s formation.
The Gulf, Arab, Islamic and international support for this move suggests a real will to restore and stabilize the Yemeni state and stop the bloodshed. On a national level, Yemenis are faced with a real and promising opportunity for a more stable country and it is up to them to counter any outside attempts to derail this process. The Houthi militia is also facing difficult choices, particularly whether to conform or clash with the new and united council, with its full political, economic and military support from the coalition.
In order to ensure the success of this transitional phase in Yemen, Saudi Arabia decided to provide economic support of $2 billion. Riyadh also called for an international conference to support the Yemeni economy, while the UAE provided $1 billion dollars to support Yemeni stability.
Although the Houthi rebels have refused to join the Presidential Leadership Council, its formation is an important step toward uniting Yemenis against the Houthi militia, which is an armed rebel group acting against the united council. The Houthis now have two options: Either enter into negotiations — which will entail giving up their arms and disengaging from the Iranian regime before entering into a political partnership like the rest of the Yemeni parties — or lose a military confrontation with all Yemenis.
- Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri is a political analyst and international relations scholar. Twitter: @drhamsher7