Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Tue, Sep 11th, 2018

Talking about Peace

One thing seems clear after over three years of an unwinnable war in Yemen that has created the worst humanitarian disaster in the world: it is past time to find a way out for all sides. The UN envoy Martin Griffiths hoped to bring the warring sides together in Geneva earlier this week, but the delegation from the Huthis, who call themselves Ansar Allah, claimed they did not have assurance of safety to leave Yemen and return.

Griffiths is still optimistic in his endless shuttle diplomacy between the Saudi coalition, Hadi’s government in exile and the Huthis, who control the bulk of Yemen’s population. In an attempt to salvage his mission, he admitted ““There was an effort on the part of the Ansar Allah to come here. They wanted to be here. We just did not make it. It’s not the first time that we have difficulties in a Yemeni context. Criticizing one or the other doesn’t help Yemen. Things happen.” 

Things, clearly a euphemism for what most of us really think he means, do indeed happen. And these things have been hitting the fan, so to speak, for far too long.  There are quite a few things going on. One thing for certain is that this is not, nor has it ever been, a simple civil war between Yemeni factions trying to control a state. The fall of the regime of Ali Abdullah Salih was supposedly fixed by a GCC-sponsored agreement that put a puppet leader into an interim position and reflected the interests of the GCC and other Gulf States rather than the Yemeni people. 

The resulting National Dialogue Conference (NDC) was rightly praised as a step in the right direction, since it brought together most of the competing factions, minus the terrorists of al-Qaeda and ISIS. The findings of this conference, while not perfect, did provide a way forward, but this was soon blocked by the incompetence and blatant corruption of Hadi and the behind-the-scenes manipulations of Salih, who remained in Yemen. So there was a coup, not unlike what had been happening in other Arab Spring states, in which an alliance of the Huthis, northern tribes and troops loyal to Salih entered the capital and eventually forced Hadi out and created a new government. 

The Huthi-led forces, in a Faustian bargain with the man who had assassinated their founder, were against al-Qaeda and ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood Islah group and the Salafism imported from Saudi Arabia. Had they been able to take control of the country, there still would have been the intense southern resentment of the way the northern regime of Salih had treated the former PDRY. But in all probability there would have been negotiations and a new government based on the NDC might have had a chance. At least the Yemeni people would have had a chance to decide their own fate.

Then an unfortunate thing happened. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Bin Salman, and the young Emir of the UAE decided to interfere and create a state they could control. Hoarding a military arsenal that would seemingly grant them a quick victory, the Saudi/Emirati coalition launched a bombing campaign in March, 2015. They quickly achieved total control of the air, but attempts to oust the Huthi alliance on the ground quickly faltered. Over three years later there is no victory in sight for any side. The Saudis have learned that thousands upon thousands of air raids have only worked to spread destruction and misery to a population that now has every reason to hate them for a long time to come. If indeed, Bin Salman has said that he wants to target civilians to make the Yemenis have total fear of him, then he has utterly failed to learn a lesson from history. Claiming that an attack on a school bus full of children is a legitimate military target shows the Saudi side has no shame.

Here is the important thing to remember. This war has been a total disaster from the start. Thousands (far more than the official figure of 10,000 that news reports continue to present) of civilians have died as well as countless Yemeni fighters on all sides. Each side has committed war crimes and atrocities. Each side broadcasts propaganda with little basis in reality. There is little security anywhere that is not provided by whoever has local control. Terrorist attacks continue, especially in the south. The destruction has been so massive and so damaging to the economy that it will takes years to return to the sad state Yemen was in before the war. 

Meanwhile the talk about peace continues. By now it is clear that each side wants to maximize the pieces of Yemen it can conquer and control. No side has been willing to come to the negotiating table for the good of Yemen’s people; each only wants to impose their will. The mission of envoy Griffiths offers a chance to begin solving the crisis. We can only hope that his efforts will make “things happen” for the better as soon as possible.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.