Image Credit: Natanael Ginting – www.freepik.com
By Team MEB
Yemen spiraled into a state of civil war in 2014 when the Houthi insurgents- a Shiite movement with links to Iran and a history of rising up against the Sunni government- took control of Yemen’s capital and largest city, Sana’a, demanding lower fuel prices and a new government. Following failed negotiations, the Houthis took over the presidential palace in 2015 leading to president Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi resigning and going to exile in Saudi Arabia. The Iran-backed Houthi takeover of Sana’a was deemed as a security and strategic threat by Saudi Arabia prompting an intervention by a Saudi led coalition, effectively turning the civil war into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and Iran. In its seventh year now, the war has made Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
With all the previous ceasefires being ineffective, Yemen has witnessed continuous conflict, blocking of ports including Hodeida, and shortages of food and water. A national truce ahead of peace talks in April 2016 was violated almost immediately, and the 2018 Stockholm agreement to cease hostilities around the Hodeida port -a lifeline for the Arab world’s poorest country- was also largely ignored. This makes the current truce which was brokered by the United Nations in April 2022 at the peace talks hosted by Riyadh and has recently been extended by the warring parties, the longest-lasting ceasefire in Yemen’s seven-year war.
Following the truce, there has been a significant reduction in civilian casualties and no confirmed air strikes or cross-border attacks. After a six-year closure, there has also been a renewal of commercial flights from Sana’a airport to Jordan and Egypt and a steady flow of fuel from the Hodeida port. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the disruption of global food and energy supplies can be seen as a major factor behind the current truce. The prolonged hostilities in Ukraine and the stalemate in on-ground fighting in Yemen are creating a greater urgency to end the Yemen war. The Houthis’ progress has significantly been hampered by their losses in the battles of Shabwa and Marib- the former being an oil-rich governorate in Southern Yemen that pro-government forces managed to seize earlier this year and the latter being the region whose capital city holds the government’s last northern stronghold towards which Houthi advances have persistently failed- this means that with financial losses and disrupted supplies maintaining the truce is the most feasible path for the Houthis and the coalition alike.
Given Yemen’s history of failed ceasefires, there have been questions regarding how sustainable this truce is. While there has been no major fighting, the UN has still continued to receive reports of alleged violations from both parties including shelling, drone attacks, reconnaissance overflights, and the redeployment of forces. On the other hand, Yemen’s exiled president, AbdRabbuh Mansour Hadi has stepped down from his position and passed on power to a presidential council. The council will run the government and lead all conflict resolution efforts including talks with Houthi rebels in the ‘transitional period’ of the country. With prisoner swapping also on the table, these actions can be seen as effective confidence-building measures towards a peace process. With the ceasefire in place, it’s also easier for humanitarian aid to get to Yemen, and UAE and Saudi Arabia have promised a new financial aid package of $3 billion. Out of this, $2 billion will be injected into the Central Bank of Yemen, while the rest will be used for developmental projects. The Saudi crown prince has even met with the new presidential council’s members. All these measures can be seen as a ray of hope for many people. Moreover, with the Hodeida port fully operational now there’s a steady delivery of fuel which has taken the pressure off vital services, significantly decreased queues at petrol stations that dominated Sana’a’s streets, and has allowed Yemenis to travel more easily throughout the country.
However, for many people the truce hasn’t changed much, Yemen’s humanitarian crisis remains as severe today as it was before the truce. Yemenis are being squeezed by soaring food prices stemming from Russia’s war in Ukraine, and currency depreciation has made the situation worse, while huge gaps persist in services such as water, health, and education. More than four million Yemenis have been uprooted, including over 7,000 who fled in the past two months. With the opening of roads to Taiz and other governates being an outstanding issue still, the majority of internally displaced civilians aren’t able to return to their homes.
With this truce being the longest in Yemen’s seven-year war and a move toward negotiations, this can be seen as a positive step forward however effective change still depends on the peace talks. Yemen can finally move towards socio-economic and political stability if both sides are able to successfully carry on the peace process.