Hope for peace elusive in Yemen?

Mohammad Amjad Hossain | Published: December 04, 2018 21:09:22

The humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, emanated from the Arab spring uprising in 2011 that forced President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a totalitarian leader, to hand over power to his Deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The Gulf Cooperation Council's deal did not work to save Ali Abdullah Saleh. He was the third head of state who had been axed by the Arab spring uprising in 2011, following Egypt and Tunisia.  Mr. Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled Yemen for about 33 years and was killed in December of 2017 in Sana following fighting between his followers and his former allies, the Houthi rebel group. 

Unfortunately, President Hadi failed to deal with numerous problems -- attacks by Al-Qaida which launched separatist movement in the South of Yemen, corruption in the administration, rise of unemployment and food insecurity. President Hadi succeeded to sign a deal with the Houthi group brokered by UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benmar but it was torpedoed by Houthi group claiming more representation in the administration and increased fuel subsidy.  Meanwhile, Houthi tribal group strengthened fight against President Hadi who fled to Aden when the presidential house was attacked and finally to Riyadh to seek help from Saudi Arabia. At the request of President Hadi, the Saudi-led coalition began bombing the Houthi rebels to stop them from advancing.

It is interesting to see why the Saudi-led coalition could not make any headway in defeating the Houthis in Yemen and also why the Saudi coalition got involved in the war in Yemen. Yemen shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, and the country is strategically important because of its location on Babel-Mandab strait. This is a narrow waterway linking the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. Much of world's cargo ships pass through this narrow strait. So, there was the apprehension in Saudi Arabia and Egypt that if the Houthi rebels take over the administration of Yemen, free passage through the strait might get threatened. 

On the other hand, the Houthi, fraction of the Shiites was being patronised by Shiite Iran. Therefore, fratricidal war of Muslims in Yemen has caused devastating effect in Yemen. Initially, President Obama had started supplying weapons and military personnel to the Saudis to quash the rising of Al-Qaida group in Yemen and was successful in killing the leader of Al-Qaida in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, by drone strike. His successor President Donald Trump is continuing supplying weapons and military personnel to support the Saudi regime in bombing the Iranian backed Houthi rebels. As of now, the three and a half year long war in Yemen has killed around 17,000 civilians while a million more Yemenis have been left homeless. Disaster effect of the war has fallen more on the children. Cholera epidemic and starvation have caused more than one million people seriously affected.

In an article in the Atlantic magazine, Conor Friederdorf has commented, "unlawful, unpopular, inhumane is the only way to describe US participation in Saudi Arabia's brutal war in Yemen." The Los Angeles Times in an editorial commented, "America was complicit in a humanitarian disaster of horrific proportions in Yemen".

It is interesting to note that the US congress never gave green signal for US involvement in Yemen but President Donald Trump is adamant to continue to supply arms and weapons to Saudi Arabia in spite of the recent resolution by the Senate on November 28 which was described by the Washinton Post as "historic rebuke of Saudi Arabia and President Trump's handling of fall out over journalist Jamal Khashoggi". The Senate has voted to advance a bill to withdraw military forces using war power act by the President. Senate resolution was adopted following UN resolution in the Security Council on November 26 brought forward by Britain which was vetoed by the US-obviously to  defend the interest of Saudi Arabia and UAE. The Security Council resolution intended to stop the war until dialogue for peace is initiated in Switzerland between the Houthi leaders and supporters of the ousted Hadi group; but the talks did not take place as the Houthis did not turn up. Now, the Houthi rebels have finally agreed to join the UN brokered peace talks in Sweden in the second week of December. Let us hope peace will prevail in Yemen ultimately if goodwill prevails in Saudi Arabia.

Mohammad Amjad Hossain is a retired diplomat.


Share if you like