Yesterday evening, the official Twitter account of Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi, the leader of Yemen’s Ansar Allah movement (aka the Houthis), issued a call for a resumption of national dialogue in preparation for new Yemen wide elections.
نحن مع العودة لطاولة الحواروتشكيل لجنة مصالحةوطنيه والاحتكام لصندوق الانتخابات لانتخاب رئيس وبرلمان يمثل كل القوى باليمن ووضع ضمانات دوليةببدءإعادة الاعمار ومنع اي اعتداء من دول اجنبية على اليمن وجبر الضرر وإعلان عفو عام وإطلاق المعتقلين لكل طرف ووضع اي ملف مختلف عليه للاستفتاء
— محمد علي الحوثي (@Moh_Alhouthi) January 31, 2018
Key points of the Tweet include the following
-A Return to the negotiation table
-The construction of a national reconciliation commission
-The Election of a president and a parliament that represent all political parties in Yemen
-Providing guarantees at the international level for a post-conflict reconstruction program
-Preventing any aggression from any foreign power
-Issuing a national amnesty law
-Releasing prisoners from all disputing parties
-Conducting referendums on sensitive issues
Taken at face value, it would appear that this online statement indicates a willingness on the part of the Houthi movement to engage in the kind of multi-party dialogue that is currently taking place in respect of Syrian factions in Sochi.
While the Syrian conflict is a straightforward battle between a modern, enlightened, progressive, pluralistic, Arab Republic versus Takfiri barbarians, radical ethno-nationalists and foreign occupying regimes, the conflict in Yemen is much more nuanced and complex. In Yemen, there is effectively a four way conflict between Houthi rebels who have some claim to be the most ‘morally righteous’ and most geopolitical uncompromising faction, tentatively Houthi allied General People’s Council of the slain former President Saleh who have a claim to restoring a once strong and unifying political dynasty to Yemen’s tribal society, the Saudi backed Hadi government that has a claim to widespread international recognition and the Southern Transitional Council/Southern Movement that has a claim to representing a genuine popular movement in the south–just as the Houthis do in the north.
Because of this, a genuine dialogue may lead to something in Yemen, where in Syria, the purpose of such a dialogue is more strategic than it is designed to attain its own stated goals. That being said, the timing of the Houthi olive branch is both perfect and too late to achieve its stated goals.
In one sense, the Houthi olive branch is designed to exploit the apparent Saudi/UAE tensions regarding the effective takeover of Aden by the Southern Transitional Council, who appear close to achieving their goal of re-creating South Yemen along the lines of its pre-1990 borders. The apparent political and military impotence of the security forces loyal to the Saudi backed Hadi government in Aden, has already been something of an embarrassment for Riyadh, which only compounds the wider embarrassment of Saudi’s failure to militarily subdue the Houthis who have material support from the outside world. Iran’s political support for the Houthis cannot amount to much as the Saudi naval blockade prohibits them from being resupplied by Iran or anyone else.
While Saudi Arabia and the UAE are still technically allies in Yemen, the Houthis are clearly trying to take advantage of the fact that many in Abu Dhabi may be willing to seek some sort of compromise peace solution in order to guarantee the safety of a would-be reconstituted Southern Yemen whose genuine popular forces are happy to politically sever themselves from a Houthi dominated “North”. If such an agreement were reached between the popular forces of the Southern Transitional Council and the popular forces backing the Houthis–Yemen could well be peacefully re-divided.
That being said, Saudi Arabia would never allow a “new North” to flourish, not least because this would mean having an Iranian ally on its border. Because of this, the Houthi statement talks about reuniting the country, rather than peacefully re-dividing it.
In this sense, the Houthis may be gradually pushing for a federal solution that was discussed widely by geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko just months ago. Under such a scenario, the Southern Transitional Council would govern from Aden, the Houthis could govern from Sana’s and a unity President could be elected to represent the entire country before the international community. Such a President would likely not be Hadi who is now equally discredited among the Houthis, Saleh loyalists and the Southern Transitional Council.
A potential “unity candidate” could be Ahmed Ali Saleh. While Ahmed Ali understandably declared a personal “war” on the Houthis who killed his father, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, if Riyadh and the UAE were to agree to a federal solution, the Saleh political dynasty could bring a measure of legitimacy and historical continuity to a state (and two states prior to 1990) which historically had a surprisingly high degree of geopolitical independence in spite of being the poorest state in the Arab world.
Because of the fractious nature of Yemen’s conflict and Saudi Arabia’s apparent intractability in respect of making any concessions to the Houthi forces controlling Sana’a, any solution to the conflict is a tall order. That being said, now that the Houthis have extended an olive branch and the events on the ground in Aden represent a possible conclusion to that side of the conflict, a federal/cooperative solution could be in the best interests of all parties to the conflict. Whether Saudi Arabia accept this or not, remains the biggest question mark hanging over the besieged country.