Yemen Peace Process Moves Forward Despite Complications

yemen war
(Photo Credit: Reuters/Stringer)

This past June the Yemeni peace process was billed as “doomed” and “falling apart” due to the inability of the central government and the Houthi rebels to maintain a ceasefire agreement while they brokered a peace settlement. Almost 5 months later, the two factions have agreed to begin negotiations in Muscat, Oman to bring an end to the conflict that has caused more than 5,000 deaths. With the help of the United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Houthis and Yemeni government adopted the United Nation Security Council Resolution 2216, issued by the UNSC in April, which calls for an end to violence in Yemen and further peace dialogues between all involved factions.  The Houthi rebels, who have been under increasingly heavy Saudi and coalition airstrikes, acceded to the UN plan in early October, claiming it was an “important and fundamental… step towards the resumption of the political process.”

Recently, the Muscat Principles were drafted to outline a comprehensive strategy for a halt to the fighting that would allow the Hadi government to re-enter the capital of Sanaa. While the agreement states that rebel militias must withdraw from Sanaa and return all government property, President Hadi is pushing to have this order expanded to include the entire country.  The real challenge, as BBC Chief Correspondent Lyse Doucet points out, will be in the plan’s implementation: “Which armed groups will withdraw from the cities, [and] which government members will return?”  Several smaller factions present in the country may try to sabotage the Hadi-Houthi agreement, namely the supporters of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the local Islamic State affiliate.  The former is engaged in a “highly opportunistic” alliance with the Houthis, and the latter has claimed responsibility for attacks in Aden.

Chatham House’s Peter Salisbury asserts that the current peace process, while making encouraging strides, may fail just as the previous attempts have, due to numerous external influences as well as the presence of a “divided collection of local and identity-based armed groups with clashing agendas.” This may cause a situation in which the “new negotiated process could all too easily repeat the mistakes of the past, with the international backers of the transition focused on the political balance between competing elite groups rather than meaningful change, ignoring the elite’s self-interested behavior until it is too late.”