The Revival of the Riyadh Agreement: Will it Bring the Solution?


Tue, 08-06-2021 01:39 PM, Aden

Farida Ahmed (South24)

After more than a year and a half since signing the Riyadh Agreement on November 5, 2019, the conflicting parties gather again in Riyadh at the invitation of Saudi Arabia in order to resume consultations about its pending items including the “military and security” aspects.The agreement resulted in the formation of a 50-50 government on December 18, 2020, between North and South consisting of 24 ministries distributed as 13 for the Southerners, of which 5 portfolios belong to the Southern Transitional Council (STC) while the share of the North is 11 ministries, in addition to the position of prime minister.

The 50-50 government was formed as a result of a more difficult second round of negotiations after military confrontations between the two parties in May 2020 in Abyan Governorate east of Aden.

In the eyes of Saudi Arabia, which wants to assert its influence in Yemen, the Riyadh Agreement may have made an achievement on the political level between the two main allies who oppose the Houthis by forming at least a 50-50 government. However, it failed in implementing the other items related to the military and security aspects though the military confrontations between the two parties became relatively less severe.

As for the Yemeni legitimacy represented by President Hadi, Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and the Islah Party, the agreement failed, especially, that the STC has not merged its forces within both Interior and Defense Ministries. Moreover, the National Army forces, which are fully controlled by Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the strategic ally to Al-Islah Party, refused to withdraw ignoring the items of the agreement.

In contrast, the STC conceives the Riyadh Agreement as an important and advanced step making it an active and key partner in the internationally recognized government. This as interim success enabling STC to enter the official scene as a legal party within a legal 50-50 government giving it the opportunity to enter comprehensive solution negotiations to formally put an end to the Yemeni war while retaining its political, security and military gains.

"Finally, the Riyadh Agreement may act as the first step that paves the way for a solution"

Therefore, it is believed that its negotiating points in obtaining political benefits, regarding the situation in South, will be higher in contrast to the points of legitimacy whose influence has begun to diminish with the Houthis’ control of large parts of Marib governorate and the survival of a small area under its grip in Taizz.

Concurrently with resuming of consultations to complete the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, intense diplomatic moves on Yemen have been conducted, through the meetings held by the American and UN envoys with the crisis parties.

The latest of which was the meeting of Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed bin Mubarak with the United States Special Envoy Tim Lenderking, in support of the peace process in Yemen and discussing  the importance of continued support for the Yemeni government and the completion of the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.

Moreover, the Houthis met with UN envoy Martin Griffiths, after many weeks of refusal. It seems, here, that the international pressures and US sanctions imposed by Washington on two Houthi military leaders, namely: Muhammad Abdul Karim Al-Ghamari and Youssef Al-Madani, for their role in leading the military escalation on Marib and attacks targeting civilians and the displaced. That have prompted the Houthis to finally meet with the UN envoy in Muscat and Sana'a, though they are still failing to seek a ceasefire or to take steps toward resolving the conflict, according to a recent US State Department statement.

Recently, there was a new development represented in the arrival of an Omani delegation to Sana’a for the first time to meet the leader of the Houthis and convince the group to ceasefire or pave the way to start consultations for a comprehensive solution, which the UN envoy is preparing.

Therefore, such a development confirms the seriousness of regional and international intentions and efforts to stop the war that has raged for more than 6 years in Yemen.

Public anger towards the parity government

On the ground, specifically in South, Aden, the interim capital of the government, has witnessed, during the past months, a wave of angry public protests, due to the poor living conditions and the deterioration of basic services, especially "electricity", at a time when differences were escalating between the Southern Transitional Council and the Yemeni government. 

This happened before the return of the President of the STC, Aidarus al-Zubaidi to Aden, after a long absence applied also to some members of the government amid questions about who bears responsibility if everyone is stuck between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

This is not the first time, according to observers, in which there are indications that parties in the Yemeni legitimacy are trying to exploit the services file in the context of the raging political conflict between the government and the Southern Transitional Council. There are many outstanding and accumulated files even before the formation of the 50-50 government.

Economic observers have concluded that the corruption networks with regard to the oil derivatives, banking, real estate, electricity sectors, and the military payroll, are one of the reasons for the deterioration of the humanitarian and economic conditions in Yemen as well as the continuing military operations.

Moreover, the poor performances of the government as well as the failure of the Cabinet to convene on a regular weekly basis were due to the absence of government members in Aden. In normal circumstances, the Cabinet holds its sessions every Wednesday on a weekly basis but this is not the case now with such exceptional situations and difficult economic and humanitarian challenges.

Additionally, Defense Minister Muhammad al-Maqdashi has not been in Aden since the formation of the government and his swearing procedures in Riyadh. He did not even  attend any of the government meetings held in the Saudi capital, even if he happened to be there, which reflexes  of the independence of the Ministry of Defense from the authority of the government, which has become increasingly far from the military scene, and the National Army, run by the Minister of Defense under the direct supervision of the Vice President.

Similarly, there were documents that had been leaked revealing accusations from the pro-STC Minister of Public Works, Mane bin Yemeen, to the head of the Road Maintenance Fund, Maeen al-Mas.

The accusations list includes withdrawing funds, issuing checks and disposing of them without the knowledge of the Minister, as well as giving the green light to al-Mas signature by directives from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to the Yemen Central Bank, for the continuation of financial procedures without the approval of the Minister of Works.

This may appear to be a manifestation of struggle for influence within ministries among members of the government and centers of influence outside. These conflicts are more evident in the ministries related to the Southern Transitional Council, especially those related to revenue. The legacy of corruption is heavy; this in itself makes the task of the Transitional Council members within the government difficult.

In relation to a level of liability in regard to the deterioration of the services, the Southern Transition Council blames the government, under the pretext that the revenues go to the Central Bank though. Although the STC members of the government, can submit proposals to the Council of Ministers related to improving services in Aden and addressing the economic conditions in it and the rest of the liberated governorates in South; In addition to pressure for issuing decisions by the Council or the Prime Minister even in the absence of cabinet sessions.

Seemingly, there were frequent reports of preparations to make the city of Seiyun in the Hadhramaut Governorate as a temporary capital instead of Aden, as a way of promotion and preparation for Seiyun to be a suitable seat for the head of the government, its members and other officials of the three state authorities.

However, this is an unacceptable option for the Southern Transitional Council. This refusal was reflected in the repeated calls by its president, Aidaros al-Zubaidi, for the speedy return of the government to Aden to perform its tasks in order to improve services, and to address shortcomings as well as combating corruption.

It seems that in spite of the transfer of the capital from Aden to Seiyun; It may itself be a reason to motivate the STC to raise the ceiling of its demands in the course of restoring the state and declaring Aden its capital, adhering to its national project in restoring its southern state, which united with North Yemen in 1990.

However, taking Aden as the headquarter of the government is a binding matter according to the Riyadh Agreement aimed at unifying strategic efforts with The Arab coalition in its war against the Houthi. Despite the attempts of the forces in the Yemeni legitimacy to disrupt the agreement and ignite popular anger and spread chaos, which caused the decline in popular support for the government in both parts.

Using Al-Qaida card

There is no exaggeration in saying that the restrictions of the "Riyadh Agreement" for the parties in the Yemeni legitimacy, and the fading military confrontations between the STC and Yemeni forces in Shabwah and Abyan, allowed the activity of AQAP to flourish again. Especially since most of the organization's attacks recently were directed at the per-STC security belt Forces in Abyan, as well the headquarters of the Arab coalition in which the UAE forces are located in the Balhaf facility in Shabwah governorate.

In addition, an attempt to assassinate the Minister of Civil Service Abdel Nasser Al-Wali, one of the most prominent ministers of the STC, as well as the public and explicit incitement of AQAP leader Khaled Batarfi, against the security forces.

Al-Qaeda's activity coincides with an unprecedented media mobilization campaign conducted by parties in the Yemeni legitimacy led by TV channels funded by Islah Party - the branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, and blames STC for the deterioration of living conditions in the capital, Aden, in a path that parallels the operational campaign of Al-Qaeda in Abyan and Shabwah.

"The practical relationship between the Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda is old and overlapping"

Therefore, such a homogeneous equation may show the interdependence between Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Yemen branch, in which it is trying to provide cover for the recent movements of AQAP elements, and recruit them to fight against the southern forces of the STC. 

The practical relationship between the Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda is old and overlapping. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the most influential figure in the army, had previously been associated with an old relationship in the 1980’s with al-Qaeda reflected by his participation in the mobilization campaign for the Afghanistan war and the embracing many Aafghan Arabs by his forces in Sana’a, the “First Armored Division”. It is worth mentioning that some of the Afghan Arabs became within the circle of his closest officers.

It may seem appropriate for the Islah party, which some of its members are associated with the two group, to use this card to disperse the forces of the STC as a result of the refusal of the influential Brotherhood in the National Army to withdraw its forces from the governorates of Abyan and Shabwah and return them to their original camps in Marib in the first place, and also to lift the embarrassment of them in case of a direct confrontation against the  Transitional Council.

What are the negotiations’ hopes and expectations?

The intensified regional and international diplomatic movement is currently adopting two parallel tracks, the first one aims at completing the implementation of the terms of the Riyadh Agreement between the legitimacy and the STC under Saudi auspices.

The second track under the auspices of the United Nations, the United States, and Oman is negotiating with the Houthis over a ceasefire and their involvement in the political process to achieve peace. The outcome of diplomatic efforts may diminish while military confrontations will escalate in case of Houthis’ stubbornness in responding to international peace efforts, especially after the recent missile attack on Marib, which killed 15 civilians, and if other legitimate parties also try to thwart the consultations related to the completion of the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.

As for the government, whose Foreign Minister "Ben Mubarak" visited Muscat recently, it hopes to continue diplomatic efforts to end the war and sit at the negotiating table to bring peace to Yemen, according to its repeated statements, despite some obstacles from influential parties in the legitimacy which made military file and the file of peace consultations confined to limited persons in the Presidency. 

Likewise, Ahmed bin Mubarak portfolio is itself a result of the decision of the Yemeni president, who appointed him among the four sovereign ministries within the government, and thus the representative of the Yemeni presidency within this government.

As for the Southern Transitional Council, it hopes, at the very least, to form a joint negotiating delegation, based on political legitimacy that would allow it to participate within an internationally recognized government, and to complete any steps that would revive the Riyadh Agreement.

In this regard, the STC showed flexibility with the parties in legitimacy and in a positive manner consistent with the essence of the agreement. Otherwise, it is believed that it may move towards other unilateral steps away from the Riyadh Agreement and the pressures of the Arab coalition. In this context, the council had a previous experience in this by declaring the Autonomous Administration, in April 2020, which it later abandoned in accordance with the Saudi acceleration mechanism.

As for the Houthis, They will most likely acquiesce to the international pressures, especially since they have missed many opportunities for peace, which put them in an embarrassing situation   before the international community which in turns sends warning messages accusing them of obstructing peace efforts. Some members of the legitimate government are calling for the Houthis to be reinstated on the international "terror lists", and to prosecute their leaders as "war criminals".

Finally, the Riyadh Agreement may act as the first step that paves the way for a solution. Overcoming the challenges of the agreement, as well as intensifying peace consultations with the Houthis, would find a formula for a final solution to the Yemeni war.

Farida Ahmed
Resident fellow at South24 Center for News and Studies, political affairs researcher

- Photo: After the signing of the Riyadh Agreement, November 5, 2019 (Saudi media) 

STCSouth YemenRiyadh agreementSaudi ArabiaHouthis