Saudis in a Rush? Making Sense of Yemen Peace Talks

There is an emerging glimmer of hope at the horizon of a nation dwelled in an eight-year-long bloody conflict. As the Saudis and the Houthis shake hands, the peace card is finally in action in Yemen. The ceasefire talks have given the Yemenis a sigh of relief, however, the prospects of the future are not vivid yet. Thus, there are two questions that we should ask. Will these talks end the conflict? Or the Saudis are in a rush?

First, let us have a quick recap of the conflict in Yemen. Yemen has been in a state of turmoil since 2014 when the Houthi rebels seized control of Sanaa and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile in Saudi Arabia. Subsequently, the clash has escalated into a devastating armed conflict, exacerbating Yemen’s pre-existing dire humanitarian distress.

The Houthis are considered the de facto governing body in the northern region of Yemen. The Political Leadership Council (PLC), which was formed with the backing of Saudi Arabia in the preceding year, presently serves as the governing body that has garnered global acknowledgement and has taken over from Yemen’s deposed president. The ongoing conflict is widely regarded as a manifestation of one of several proxy wars between the dominant regional powers of Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The prolonged hostilities between the opposing factions were further intensified by the involvement of third-party actors, leading to a proxy conflict that ultimately contributed to the significant loss of life, with casualties exceeding 350,000. The protracted clashes between Saudi Arabia, the most affluent country in the Middle East, and Yemen, the most destitute, have led to the demise of nearly 85,000 Yemeni children below the age of 5 years old as a result of malnutrition. 

The Yemeni conflict has witnessed a phase of comparative tranquilly in recent times, despite the cessation of a truce in October 2022. The peace negotiations were facilitated by the neighboring Oman. But there have been efforts made previously to install peace in the region. So, what is different this time?

This time, China has played a significant role in facilitating the recent diplomatic reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which had occurred after a prolonged period of proxy conflicts in the Middle East. The recent advancement has provided a sense of relief to Iran, presently grappling with domestic unrest and a faltering economy as a result of stringent sanctions.

If the collaboration is effectively established, Saudi Arabia has the potential to gain substantial benefits. The agreement possesses the capability to mitigate the regional animosities that have triggered armed confrontations, provoked controversial media spats, and led to the use of missiles and drones across the peninsula.

The imperative goal for Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) is to address the resolution of conflicts that have resulted in the depletion of the Saudi government’s budget, the tarnishing of its reputation, and the discouragement of potential investors. This aligns with his endeavors to reform the economy and society of the traditional Islamic state, with the objective of positioning it as a global hub for business and cultural exchange.

MBS is driven to portray the kingdom as an unbiased intermediary in a worldwide setting that has become polarized as a result of Russia’s encroachment into Ukraine. Last month, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia undertook a diplomatic endeavor to Ukraine and Russia, wherein he dispensed humanitarian aid and proffered assistance in mediating conflict resolution. It is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia is currently maintaining the United States as its primary security provider, as the majority of the nation’s armaments and security apparatus are supplied by the United States.

Whilst Yemenis may express a desire for a resolution, it is unlikely that the ongoing negotiations will culminate in the attainment of sustained peace and prosperity. Yemeni analysts posit that the attainment of a political resolution in Yemen is reliant on genuine backing from the Yemeni citizenry. The Yemeni populace is presently grappling with intricate challenges, including overt physical aggression resulting from the ongoing conflict, as well as economic turmoil and systemic violence that emanate from corruption, fragmented social groups, and the existence of multiple armed factions vying for dominance. The existence of fundamental institutions, such as central banks that operate with distinct currencies, may give rise to conflicts that prompt questions concerning the remuneration of public officials and the banknotes that would be employed for such transactions.

Ahmad Nagi, a senior analyst at International Crisis Group, has aptly summed up the situation as, “It seems the Saudis are in a rush to reach a deal without giving much time to discuss the quintessential details, which could create significant divisions later on.”

[Photo by FII institute]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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