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The International Writers Magazine: Middle-East Politics

Yemenis must put heads together for Geneva meeting
• Marwan Asmar 
Yemenis have to put their heads together once and for all and re-establish a state away from violence, confrontation and war.


It's about time Yemen left the Arab Spring woes behind and moved to re-enforce its legitimate government usurped by the Houthis, and which is now the cause of a bleeding civil war in the country.
This is why the Houthis and the exiled government of Abedrabou Mansour Hadi must heed the calls of the United Nations and sit down in Geneva to put an end to an intestine war-weary conflict that has turned the country inside out. The killings now standing at over 5000 deaths and quickly rising, internal displacement of 1.5 million people, and the fact around 80 percent of its 26-million population in desperate need of aid. This is not to mention the hundreds of billions of dollars of destruction to the country's infrastructure.

All this has been extenuated by the bombs and missiles dropped on the country since 26 March by the nine member Arab war coalition lead by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states when the Houthis forced themselves on Sana'a and took the reigns of government, leaving its ministers high and dry, scurrying for their lives. 

It is because of this bloody, chaotic and bungling situation both the Houthis and the government-in-exile in Riyadh must consider when they sit at the upcoming Geneva that is expected to take place very soon to try turn things around and reinstate the government of Mansour Hadi while pushing out the Houthis who took power in a coup in September 2014. 

Whilst this may sound convoluted, and it is truly, because of the intricacies and complication of the situation that came to exist on-the-ground, the bright side is the fact the Houthis, in alliance with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon  they would accept a negotiated settlement based on Security Council Resolution 2216 requiring the rebels to withdraw from all areas they control and lay down their arms captured over the months of fighting and starting a political process for final negotiations.
However their acceptance of UN peace talks, and which is likely to stretch on because of the actual technicalities that should involve Houthi withdrawal from power and which itself needs mechanisms to be set up, is still taking with a pinch of salt and is indeed mind-boggling and suspicious. After all, it was the Houthis that took over the country lock, stock and barrel. Negotiations did take place in the past, whilst meetings in Geneva were held last June and ended in deadlock, which was not altogether too surprising because of the high stakes involved and lack of trust on the part of virtually everyone.

Just as in the past, confidence-building measures need to be created to bring the warring sides together, but because of the political and military way things developed in the country, this is easier said than done. Whilst the efforts of UN special envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Shaikh Ahmad, has to be commended for bringing the sides together, constantly shuttling between Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Sana'a, Aden and New York, the "touch-and-go" aspect of the conflict is very real. There is continuing recriminations and deep mistrust, especially between the local Yemeni parties and their backers, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on the one hand which supports the return of the legitimate Hadi government and Iran which backs the Shiite Houthis. The pressing need for political settlement has become more urgent because of the characteristics of the war being termed as "un-winnable", a "dead-end dynamic" and a "bloody stalemate" where one side would win one day and the other, the next and whose only losers are the ordinary people and the devastation of the country.

While this is true to a large extent, complicated by the fact terror organizations like Al Qaedah and Daesh are appearing in places like Aden and the Hadramout region in the east if the country, and inflicting heavy blows here and there, the situation on the ground is no longer fluid with pro-Hadi forces, reconstituted from the Yemeni army and the popular resistance rolling back the Houthis. Last July for instance, they managed to start forcing a Houthi retreat taking back Aden and three other southern provinces and tipping the military equasion. 

Although the long aim has been to recapture the Yemeni capital Sana'a, the fighting has reached to the oil-rich fields of Maarib and the eventual onslaught on the capital with a "hoped-to-be" very quick" recapture. They want to do that before the start of any agreement, ceasefire and political negotiations in Geneva, so Hadi and the coalition appear as victors and strengthen their hand in literally emasculating the Houthis and Saleh at the table. Both sides however, appear to want to negotiate under the barrel of the gun as the continuing fighting in Taiz and other places suggest. 

Many are hoping that Sana's would be spared devastation before the start of the UN Geneva meetings. But there is very little optimism of that because of the "upper-hand and victor scenario" which means the Yemeni capital could still get a greater bloody battering from both the coalition and the "retreating" Houthis and their allies, if that is of course they do lay-down their arms. This would be a shame for Hadi as well because his presidential palace so far intact, would almost certainly be vandalized, bombed and cratered like the rest of the city, an ironical, dramatic bloody end to a political settlement.

But for the Houthis, all this may appear in the realm of conjecture and slight wishful thinking despite the willingness to negotiate. For one thing Houthi rebels are making it clear that there has not been a 'defeat' from the southern provinces but that their withdraw was a "tactical" one, they want to consolidate what they have in Sana'a and the northern provinces, all the way up to Saada, the north-western place where they are traditionally from. According to their thinking it would be nice if they can continue to control this part of the country by some miracle involving the secession of the southern part of Yemen again, just like it was before 1990 when Yemen was two states     

Another fanciful view, because although the southerners may have been disconnected with Sana'a and the north in the past, it doesn't mean they would throw their lot with the Houthis and Saleh now; plus the fact that the situation on the ground is for Hadi and the coalition. Regardless, their acceptance of the UN option may still be a negotiating option, playing for more time, just to see what more they can get. Probably, the situation for them maybe going more badly than we think because after all, what would happen to them in the eventuality of a political settlement they are forced to accept. They will definitely want guarantees they will be safe, and maybe even part of a political framework that includes all government political parties and factions. As of now time awaits to that blessed UN meeting.
© Marwan Asmar - November 2015

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