Karen Dabrowska

Originally published: 18th March 2021

by Friends of South Yemen

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International zoom conferences discuss Yemen’s problems
but offer few solutions

South Yemen Update provides an insight into a number of international zoom conferences which analyzed the country’s seemingly intractable problems as the momentum towards peace increases.

Apart from the Next Century Foundation, which endorsed the plan for the federalization of Yemen put forward by the National Dialogue Conference, few solutions for ending the continuing war and securing a lasting peace were put forward. Friends of South Yemen (FOSY) has written to the recently appointed US Special Envoy on Yemen, Tim Lenderking, proposing two constitutionally recognized autonomous regions: the northern region and the southern region, each with its own parliament, political parties, elections, executive, ministries, legislative and judicial powers, budget, judicial system, internal security forces and police. A central transitional administration headed by President Hadi could be responsible for defence, foreign policy and the allocation of an equitable share of national revenue. (See South Yemen Update Issue 8 for the full text of the letter.)

Three hundred and thirty organizations from 18 countries took part in a global day of action organized by the UK-based Stop the War Coalition to protest against the war. But the protestors focused solely on the coalition’s bombing of the infrastructure and killing of civilians and totally ignored the Houthis who are armed and supported by Iran.

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Arab Centre, Washington (ACW)
Yemen Policy under Biden: Opportunities and Challenges
18th February

Abdulwahab al-Kebsi

ABDULWAHAB AL-KEBSI MANAGING DIRECTOR FOR PROGRAMS AT THE US CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL AND PRIVATE ENTERPRISE: Yemen is now a top foreign policy priority for the USA. There have been back-channel talks with the Houthis. The USA is finally not looking at Yemen through a Saudi prism but from a US foreign policy objectives prism. Yemen is a very complex issue so just getting people round the table in Geneva to shake hands and sign a piece of paper is not enough. A lot of people do not want the war to end as they benefit from it. Global terrorism has an epicentre in Yemen and that has to be addressed. Without the right to self determination of the southern people of Yemen nothing will be solved. This issue has to be part of any solution. Just drawing a line between North and South Yemen will no longer take care of the problem. What will happen to Hadhramawt? People think it is a matter of President Hadi’s government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) against the Houthis. There were ideological differences between Hadi’s government and the STC that boiled out into open warfare. There are tribal affiliations of Abyan and Shabwa on the one hand and Radfan and Dala on the other. It is not just the north against the south. The south-south issues are also very complex. The Saudis will not allow a Hezbollah-like organization fully armed on its border. The Houthis will not accept to lay down their arms because they feel they will be massacred. So there has to be an investment zone in the north that was spoken about in 2000. Instead of depopulating border areas, populating them will create jobs and will build trust between between the Saudis and the Houthis.

Sama'a al-Hamdani

SAMA’A AL-HAMDANI FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE YEMEN CULTURAL INSTITUTE WASHINGTON: The US is not doing enough. It can remove the involvement of the UAE and Saudi Arabia but to engage in real peace all the Yemeni parties have to be engaged. The way that the various actors look at Yemen is quite different. For Iran, Yemen is a way of hurting Saudi Arabia and advancing in the region. To Saudi Arabia it is a security threat from a neighbour. For the US it is a key to resolving the Saudi-Iranian proxy war and resolving the tensions between Iran and the US. The role of Oman needs to be activated. It is a place where Yemenis can meet and talk with each other. For a lasting peace the Yemenis have to sign into the peace process but the ground for that to happen has not been set. Any peace settlement that does not include Yemenis is likely to fail and trap Yemen in a cycle of wars where it is going to be a country with no regional involvement and no commitment from Saudi Arabia or the UAE to continue helping with the aid situation but with continuous turmoil within.

Nadwa al-Dawsari

NADWA AL-DAWSARI NON-RESIDENT SCHOLAR AT THE WASHINGTON BASED MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: The current peace process by the UN Envoy Martin Griffiths is deeply flawed, because it is fixated on a political settlement between the Houthis and Hadi’s government. A political settlement is not going to end the war or mitigate the humanitarian situation. Griffiths has been pushing for a ceasefire for years with no success. The Stockholm Agreement was used by the Houthis to regroup and expand militarily and now they are threatening Marib, the last stronghold of the Yemeni government. The same thing will happen if a political settlement is forced down the throats of Yemenis in the name of peace. The Houthis are not going to descalate. They define this war as a war between them and the Saudis. If they take Marib they will move south. If they take Yemen they will push inside Saudi Arabia.

It is very important that the Houthis are pushed far from Marib. Yemen is not ready for a political settlement. The effects of the war on civilians have to be mitigated through open roads and seaports, salaries paid on time and the local economy improved. Hopefully over time there will be trust between the different parties. The Yemeni conflict will end but it will be on Yemeni terms. Only Yemenis will decide when peace will happen and there are not enough incentives for the parties to end the conflict. A political settlement under the current circumstances will most likely reinforce the current power dynamics and lock Yemen into a cycle of perpetual war bringing 30 million Yemenis closer to famine and pushing the country further away from peace.

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Next Century Foundation (NCF)
The future governance of Yemen (side meeting to 46th session of the UNHRC)
1st March 2021

NCF SECRETARY GENERAL WILLIAM MORRIS opened the meeting of London-based NCF by summarizing the main points made in the NCF’s written statement, which expressed concern that the Tehama region which contains 23 per cent of Yemen’s population is not represented in the new government. For the first time in 20 years there are no women in the government. The NCF supports the National Dialogue Conference’s proposal to divide Yemen into six regions and some form of regional governance.

Abdul Galil Shaif

ABDUL GALIL SHAIF CHAIRMAN FRIENDS OF SOUTH YEMEN: There needs to be an international body that can help the UN Special Envoy on Yemen Martin Griffiths to look at the economic situation in Yemen as a whole, the north and the south. The new Yemeni government has now been in place for almost two months and they do not have an economic programme or a political programme. “An international body needs to support the new government with all its deficiencies. The focus should now be on economic development rather than donor conferences. Yemen has enough resources if those resources were managed properly. There are 350,000 oil barrels a day, sufficient gas to export, fisheries and substantial customs and tax revenues. Yemen can sustain its own development.

If the economic problems are sorted out, a solution to the political problems will come eventually. An international body is a much better proposition than the current corrupt administration.

A two-region solution may be a temporary solution. With the Houthis controlling almost 80 per cent of the north it is impossible to talk about Yemeni unity which in reality does not exist. The Houthis control of one part of the country and the STC and other players in the south control the other part. So a two region solution similar to Kurdistan may provide a temporary political solution. There are different political Southern players including supporters of the President of the internationally government who are also Southerners. The South also has a problem now with Shabwa and Hadramawt governorates but these could be dealt with in reconciliation between the different parties. The Southern Transitional Council or any other group should not rule the South on its own because the environment is conducive to democratic elections to decide on the leaders. The South is not driven by conflicts of tribes, it is driven by conflicts of politics and political intransigence. If we can resolve that we can have a state in the South. That is the best weapon to get rid of the Houthis. If our Northern brothers and sisters see a functioning state in the South where people get paid and services are delivered they will get rid of the Houthis. The Houthis cannot be dislodged by an armed struggle. They have been through six wars with the Yemeni state before this war and with tribal and Iranian backing are very powerful. With regard to stopping arms sales we should go for an international embargo on arms sales to those countries that are involved in the war including Iran. If weapons cannot be bought from the British they will be bought from the Chinese or the Russians. An international agreement is required to stop sales of weapons on all sides.

We as Yemenis, all of us want this war to end as quickly as possible. I have every faith that Yemenis will come to a political solution. They have come to political solutions before, they are strong people, with a strong culture and civilization and they are able to resolve their own problems eventually. Many of Yemen’s problems are caused by foreign interference. The less of that we get the better we can become as Yemenis.

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Foreign Policy Centre & SEPAD (Sectarianism, Proxies and De-sectarianisation Project) at Richardson Institute for Peace, Lancaster University
Building a lasting peace? Power sharing and sectarian identities in Yemen
2nd March 2021

Kate Nevens

KATE NEVENS NON-RESIDENT CONSULTANT WITH THE YEMEN POLICY CENTER: Religious and sectarian differences are not playing any role driving local conflicts. Unrest in most communities is caused by the lack of availability of fuel, food and medicine, a lack of jobs and housing. The social divisions are also affecting civil society which is one of the cornerstones to building peace in Yemen. It is increasingly difficult for civil society actors to move around the country to meet with other activists. It is incredibly difficult to do any work without being labelled as serving the agenda of a particular conflict actor. We are seeing a massively restricted space for civic activism particularly for young people and for women. Despite this community groups, youth groups and women’s groups are continuing to come together, particularly at a local level and finding ways and spaces of working towards peace. They are spearheading local humanitarian interventions in spaces that international organizations cannot reach. They provide education centres, health centres and distribute food and water. A lot of women’s groups provide psycho-social support for vulnerable children and adults. It is at this level of community engagement where a great deal of the opportunities lie for laying the groundwork for peace.

Me and my colleagues have been talking to artists and peace lovers in lots of different areas of Yemen and we are seeing that some of the greatest opportunities for peace building and rebuilding social cohesion is about recognizing the different types of activities that ultimately contribute to this. Creative arts are a really important part of this. They are actually better placed than formal processes to deal with the complexities of the conflict and also the emotional content of conflicts that is not often talked about. Painting, writing, story telling, theatre, music and comedy help us to broaden our thinking about what peace building efforts can do away from the traditional focus on institution building. They provide a space that is much more inclusive.

We have found all sorts of cultural activities are happening in Yemen despite all the difficulties around freedom of expression. There are pop stars making music and videos about tolerance and not using sectarian language. There are women’s organizations in places like Marib using traditional forms of poetry to campaign against child recruitment. Theatre and comedy performances in Taiz and Mukallah are bringing communities together in a kind of jolly manner. Young women are being brought together to learn the violin and while they are not going to be able to perform publicly right now there is a real sense that taking part in these activities are what they want the Yemeni future to be.

Dealing with violent conflict is essentially about dealing with the brokenness of society, community and individuals. This is seldom talked about when formal arrangements to bring the men with the guns to the table are made. Arts and culture are ready to provide that kind of essential space for society to reconcile.