Transitions in Focus: Yemen

The end of Saleh-Houthi alliance marks a new chapter in Yemen’s intractable conflict. Two weeks after Saleh’s death, warring parties intensified their military escalation, increasing an already abominable human cost. Despite Saleh’s legacy of subversive tactics and coercion, his death undermines efforts to resolve the conflict. The Houthis, an irrational movement lacking in political experience, make for a highly emotional and unreliable party at the negotiating table. With the passing of Saleh, the ultimate pragmatist with longstanding political and diplomatic ties both locally and internationally, an opportunity has passed with him. In a post-Saleh Yemen, the question remains: is a political solution still feasible?
The death of Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, at the hands of his former Houthi allies will weaken the Iranian-backed rebels, according to Nabeel Khoury, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“The demise of Saleh now actually weakens the Houthis' military and makes them less acceptable politically inside Yemen,” said Khoury, adding, “it was not a very wise move on [the Houthis’] part.” Khoury served as deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Yemen from 2004 to 2007.
It has become blatantly obvious that the Yemen tragedy will not end unless Riyadh decides to unilaterally cease fire and call for a peace roundtable, preferably in a neutral location such as Muscat or even Geneva. Washington could be a catalyst by prodding Saudi Arabia to put diplomacy first and becoming fully engaged in the effort. The prospects of that happening, however, are not good. It may be time for the Yemeni warring parties to take the initiative and, ignoring all regional and international chatter, launch an independent peace initiative to end the conflict once and for all. Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi could make himself the unlikely national leader by making such a call or continue on his current path of total irrelevance.
To say that Yemen is facing a humanitarian crisis is an understatement. Numerous agencies are struggling to provide aid to a population in desperate need, but aid can only be as effective as the willingness to protect Yemen’s civilian population. That willingness has been lacking on all sides of this multi-sided war. Without civilian protection, building trust between the belligerent parties to reach even a cessation of hostilities, much less a long term, sustainable peace, is impossible.

Anti-corruption crackdown targets princes, wealthy businessmen

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has unleashed an unprecedented crackdown on corruption that has, so far, resulted in the detention of more than two hundred people, including almost a dozen princes.

The most significant targets are former crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, whose assets have been frozen; Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men and a critic of US President Donald J. Trump; and Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the chief of the National Guard—the only security service not under the crown prince’s control—who was removed from his post. The detainees are not exactly roughing it out during their detention in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton.  

There are two prevailing views on the crackdown. One, that it is an attempt by the ambitious thirty-two-year-old crown prince to consolidate power, and two, that he is removing potential obstacles—read: conservative rivals—to his plans for social, religious, and economic reform in the ultraconservative kingdom.
The Arab world is in a sorry state. The spat between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Qatar is but the latest symptom of an enduring serious rot in governance and a destructive power struggle in the wake of the Arab Spring. This situation is compounded by a lack of constructive dialogue on addressing the challenges that face most countries of the region.

Qatar’s excommunication from the GCC is the latest schism to hit what has seemed, at least since 2011, to be a stable and unified bloc. On June 5, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt broke diplomatic ties with Qatar and cut off air, land, and sea transportation links. On the surface, it appeared that Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism was at the heart of the dispute. Certainly, US President Donald J. Trump’s tweet, sympathizing with the action taken against Qatar, implied that this was his understanding. It took reminders from the Pentagon and the US State Department of US national interests in Qatar and its strategic interest in Gulf stability to get Trump to pull back on his original impulse to take sides and instead advise Saudi King Salman to seek unity and harmony within the GCC rather than allow a dangerous escalation in rancor.