Could the Riyadh agreement end Yemen's crisis?

Reviving the Riyadh agreement: Cause for hope or a new chapter in Yemen's crisis?
4 min read
17 July, 2020
Analysis: Efforts to revive the Riyadh agreement are unlikely to end Yemen's multi-faceted conflict.
Yemen urgently needs a cessation of hostilities as a humanitarian crisis escalates. [Getty]

Saudi Arabia hosted talks last month between Yemen's UN-recognised government and southern separatists, who recently seized Socotra island and pledged to take over the entire south. 

As southern Yemen has slid further into tensions and conflict over the last three months, Saudi Arabia has started pushing the two sides to reach an agreement and form a government. The south is unstable and prone to military escalation, but Saudi Arabia is not blameless. 

Last month, Yemeni government officials and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) members arrived in Riyadh at the request of Saudi Arabia, a move aimed at implementating a power-sharing deal signed in November last year. 

The Riyadh agreement proposed the formation of a split 50-50 government and addressed military and security concerns in the south. Seven months have passed since the two sides inked the peace deal, and so far its implementation has failed. 

In April this year, the STC declared self-rule in the south and continues to assert its struggle to secede from Yemen's north to establish an independent country analogous to the pre-unity period.

Despite attempts to revive the Riyadh agreement, there are countless points of friction between the government and separatists. In fact, the formation of any new government could actually open a new chapter of political uncertainty and erode the legitimacy of the Yemeni government. 

Despite attempts to revive the Riyadh agreement, there are countless points of friction between the government and separatists

"Implementing the political part of the Riyadh agreement without the security and military parts means dismantling the national state and replacing it with a state formed on the basis of regional grounds," Adel Dashela, a Yemeni researcher and writer, told The New Arab

"The Houthis will also demand participation in any coming government - if a peace agreement with them is reached - and they will maintain control of their arms," he added. 

"Here lies the danger, and Yemen will duplicate the scenario in Iraq and Lebanon while the federal state project will evaporate." 

Read more: A house divided: The battle for Yemen's south

Saudi Arabia wants to implement the Riyadh agreement to preserve its own interests, Dashela says, but it will fail as long as the STC refuses to disarm. "The STC will attempt to force government officials to implement its agenda and it may use force to carry out that plan," he said. 

Since its establishment in 2017, the STC has received enormous financial and military support from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the separatists would not have their present political clout without Emirati backing. The formation of a new government would only strengthen Emirati leverage in Yemen's south, according to Dashela. 

Foreign intervention in Yemen's war has played a critical role in political and military developments since 2015. Even if a new Yemeni government is formed as a result of the Riyadh agreement, it will not act on its own or make its own decisions.

Khalil Muthna Al-Omary, the editor-in-chief of Raialyemen news website, says that Yemen needs a strong government to extend its control over all territory in the country.

"The problem does not lie in power sharing between the south and the north. President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi is from the south and the majority of the local authorities and the military leadership are controlled by southern figures," he told The New Arab.

The formation of a new government will not be a panacea for the country's multi-faceted plight

According to Omary, the STC will not stop demanding secession even if it participates in the government, and will not change its position unless it stops following Emirati instructions.

"The UAE's desire for dividing Yemen has not vanished, and the separatists continue to receive funding and weapons in patent defiance of the Yemeni government." 

Focusing on the political component of the Riyadh agreement while ignoring military considerations is a faulty approach, Omary says. "It is a big mistake if the separatist militias are not integrated into the government's defence and security agencies as stipulated in the agreement."

Read more: The takeover of Socotra exposes Saudi Arabia's
divide and rule strategy in Yemen

Yemen urgently needs a cessation of hostilities as a humanitarian crisis in the country escalates. Earlier this month, the country's UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Lise Grande, warned that the country was on the brink of famine as donor funds dry up

The Covid-19 crisis has only made a difficult situation worse. "Whilst the criteria to declare a famine have not been met, there is widespread and serious malnutrition, and children are continuing to die on a daily basis," UNICEF Yemen's Chief of Communications Bismarck Swangin said last week.

Despite the growing crisis, Yemeni civilians still hope for consensus among political elites and an end to the five-year conflict. But the implementation of the Riyadh agreement and the formation of a new government will not be a panacea for the country's multi-faceted plight.

The writer is a Yemeni journalist, reporting from Yemen, whose identity we are protecting for their security.

Join the conversation: @The_NewArab