As the two-month truce in Yemen that entered into force at the beginning of Ramadan nears the midpoint of its second month, hopes are dwindling regarding the prospects of its being renewed.
The political forces in Yemen claim that the UN-brokered truce has not been productive, and the belligerents accuse each other of violating it. The reported level of violations has led some to maintain that it was not effectively implemented inside Yemen. Skirmishes have been reported on all fronts in the northern part of the country.
While the truce at the external level has remained largely intact, the Houthi rebels have come under criticism for their response to a unilateral Saudi Arabian initiative to release 163 prisoners, the majority of whom were Yemenis.
The Houthis said that most of the released were not affiliated with them. They have also given indications that they do not intend to renew the truce with the Arab Coalition in Yemen and that they might re-escalate the conflict against Saudi Arabia.
Houthi Defence Minister Mohamed Al-Atefi warned members of the Saudi-led Arab Coalition of a “surprise response” after the Houthis downed a Saudi drone, hinting at the possibility of renewed escalation. He charged that the coalition was “not interested” in making peace.
According to reports from Yemeni sources, the Houthis have set up offensive missile platforms near the Saudi border in the provinces of Hajjah, Saada, and Al-Jawf. They have also objected to recent security developments in the Red Sea region after the US announced the creation of a naval task force under the command of its Fifth Fleet to secure navigation routes.
The area is crucial to Houthi military supply lines. A US maritime security contingent working in collaboration with other regional forces eager to secure international navigation routes in the Red Sea will hamper Iranian designs to establish Tehran’s presence in Yemen.
Whether or not the truce has reduced military confrontation domestically, it has certainly not created an atmosphere conducive to peace overtures between the Houthis and the new Presidential Council formed during the Yemeni National Dialogue in Riyadh.
However, this was not unexpected, as the main belligerents in Yemen never signed onto the UN-brokered truce face-to-face, even though the government of former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Presidential Council that succeeded him have said they support it.
The Houthis perceive the Presidential Council that emerged from a national dialogue they did not attend as part of a hostile alliance. They have therefore taken advantage of the Arab Coalition’s commitment to the truce to sustain offences in Mareb, Taizz, and Dalie. According to Yemeni reports, Houthi recruitment and mobilisation drives are in full swing.
Despite the UN’s inability to build on the current truce, UN Envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg has met with Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Nayef Al-Hajraf to discuss efforts to end the conflict, according to a GCC statement.
It is believed that Riyadh sees the truce as a step towards withdrawing from the conflict, regardless of whether a settlement is reached with the Houthis. According to a recent military communique issued by the Saudi-led Coalition, Riyadh is bolstering its military capacities along the Saudi border with Yemen on the basis that a military solution to the crisis in Yemen is unlikely in the foreseeable future.
However, if the truce is not renewed, it is difficult to imagine that the Houthis will sustain calm on the Saudi front, especially in the light of the remarks by the Houthi defence minister after Houthi forces intercepted the drone from the direction of Saudi Arabia.
The drone was a “reconnaissance” drone, according to some sources, which makes sense since Riyadh is keen to monitor the situation at the border after reports in the Houthi media that Houthi militias have placed missile-launching platforms along the border with Saudi Arabia.
As part of their mobilisation strategy, the Houthis have notched up their sectarian ideological indoctrination, instructing imams to adhere strictly to their creed and establishing religious summer camps for students.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are worried by such phenomena, which they see as a sign of a Houthi attempt to impose their sectarian project by force as a means to revive the Mutawakkilite Imamate in Yemen.
They also show that the Houthis do not identify with the modern civil state and the restoration of the nation-state in Yemen that was established in the 1960s. Such concerns were raised during the Yemeni National Dialogue in Riyadh, with many present holding that the Houthis were not able to enter into dialogue on the basis of accepting a return to the previous political order because they want to impose a system akin to the mullah system in Iran.
Many observers in Yemen hold out little hope for a political breakthrough and fear their country may be headed for even worse than has been experienced during the past seven years. The newly appointed Yemeni government has yet to unveil a plan to stimulate the economy and reform deteriorating public services, despite meetings held in Aden towards this end.
It had been hoped that the government would be more effective if the presidency carried out its duties inside Yemen. The fact that the Hadi government had been based outside the country in Riyadh was a major weak point, but according to sources in Aden, the current seat of government inside Yemen, the situation has not changed much.
According to sources familiar with recent developments, the new authority is still preoccupied with its structure, and it is likely that the change in government will extend beyond the presidency to include a cabinet reshuffle or even more sweeping structural changes.
However, the new government does not have time on its side. It needs to begin to set dramatic and widespread changes in motion in a country where over 80 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.