The Impact of the International Discourse’s Change on South Yemen’s future


Tue, 28-09-2021 01:13 PM, Aden

Eman Zahran (South24) 

 The first speech of the fourth UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg" in front of the UN Security Council constituted a revaluation of the Yemeni file through handling with the participation of South Yemen in the political process. The form and content of the speech carry many indications that are related to new trends for the international community, as it became understandable the importance of redrawing the “comprehensive political solution scene” by the participation of all disputing actors in the UN process. This is an interim step towards reconsidering the weight of the STC and its diplomatic tools in the future peace consultations, as shown in the UN Envoy’s vision that “Peace in Yemen will not be sustained in the long term if southern voices do not play a part in shaping it responsibly” like all previous UN paths.

The Southern cause

The Southern position is one of great importance to the Yemeni affair “as details and specific developments of such a problem add more complexities and interlacement to the Yemeni crisis. In light of the latest interim developments after the STC’s taking power exceeded what traditionally known as "the Southern cause" which emerged as a response against the failure of the merge policy adopted by the former regime. There is extended space as South Yemen became another circle of the Yemeni conflict that could be called "the Southern dilemma" that has intertwined, in some dimensions, with its northern counterpart. Therefore, both of them formed a complete scene of the troubleness and disintegrating state of Yemen.

It is worth noting that “the Southern problem” are paired with many specific problems that could be summarized in what is dubbed as “South Syndrome” which include a number of determinants top of which are: 

- The Problem of identity/bigotry, as when speaking about the “entity of South”, it is important to look at the patterns of social, economic, political and cultural identity which is apparently different from the Northern path. This creates a problem of whether this differentiation should be reflected on the relationship with North within a unified Yemen or two separate states. 

- The problem of the common denominators: as in spite of the clear differentiation between South and North, there are similarities in the crisis’s symptoms on the two sides, against the differentiation highlighted by some Southern as a motif behind the secession scenario, whereas South was an institutional state while North was a tribe in the form of a state. However, the root of that problem is relevant to the Yemeni character’s inclination to bigotry on both sides. 

The flimsiness of former Envoys

The “fragile flexibility” policies adopted by the former UN Envoys to Yemen have passive impact on prolonging the Yemeni conflict as well as the structural division in the Yemeni file, as part of a number of wrong practices, top important of which are as follow: 

- The theses of the UN Envoys depend on the recharacterization of the Houthi reactive status, by shifting from the militia working circle to the political and partisan one, in addition to the mistake of the international mediators in making a negotiating equality between the Houthis and the Yemeni legitimacy as well as ignoring the southern doer. This created an international hesitance in pressuring the Houthis who are still being looked upon as a “political party”.

Although there are many remarks about what has been included in the “three international references” for Yemen’s political solution represented in: the UN Resolution 2016, the Gulf Initiative, and the outcome of the Yemeni National Dialogue, the UN mediators failed to achieve any reliable development in the political settlement including the humanitarian file.

- The deliberations and moves of the UN Envoys reflected the different agendas and the intersecting disagreements among the major and emergent countries in the region as there has been no objective and neutral approach for managing the political settlement file in Yemen.

- There are common mistakes represented in resorting often to the idea of “partial solutions’ ' after the failure in finding an “all out” one for the Yemeni file. For example, the Stockholm Agreement witnessed a full absence of the idea of “the comprehensive solution”, and it focused instead of secondary issues. This strategy, based upon pushing partial and marginal matters, and working on them sequentially parallel to waste time and prolonging the crisis.

The UN misleading reports about the field and operational reality in Yemen created “grey areas” which have been well exploited by Iran, and its Yemeni arm, the Houthis, to besiege the “International Coalition” as this has been reflected on the latter’s moves and mission in the Yemeni file. The UN reports relied on local organizations and institutions affiliated with the militias. Moreover, the UN’s history towards the Yemeni crisis revealed their dependence on unauthenticated and biased sources, paired with a plea of the inability to work in the Houthi-controlled areas.

- One of the most important UN failure was represented in “the spatial distancing” of their work headquarters, which have been based in Sanaa and areas controlled by the Houthis, and not within the liberated areas. Additionally, the UN staff worked much to facilitate the process of bringing in people without diplomatic or relief status through UN planes, a violation of the permission granted by the Arab coalition not to inspect and facilitate the passage of relief planes, which allowed the Houthis to bring in military trainers from Iran and other countries. Things have developed towards blackmailing the United Nations by the Houthis and its departure from the scope of "political neutrality."

Different policies

Although the first briefing delivered by the UN Envoy in front of the Security Council doesn’t usually reflect “his full agenda”, and does not provide certain suggestions, or draws clear paths for the way of ending the war, but Hans Grundberg’s first brief is characterized by vitality and constitutes a very important text that includes a system of clear or implied ideas and perceptions that form a new approach in dealing with the future of “South cause" which is based upon a number of determinants top of which are: 

- Reconsidering efforts for an all-out political settlement by talking about the priority of resuming the process of peaceful and orderly political transition, which has been suspended since 2016, provided that this process includes all parties involved in the Yemeni issue, top of which is South. This comes as that process is rendered to be more complicated due to the long period of the conflict. However, the failure to achieve quick gains is a step in itself less harmful than halting the comprehensive settlement process, because this simply means the continuation of the war indefinitely.

- The comprehensiveness of the negotiating approach: the briefing of the fourth UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg stressed on the necessity to include all parties in the UN approach to end the conflict. He said: “I will spare no efforts in trying to bring together actors across conflict lines” in reference to not limiting the UN’s efforts to end the conflict within the main two parties “the legitimate government and the Houthis”. He believes in the importance of having important roles for all disputing parties and for Yemeni actors from all political points of view and societal components, as well as across the country, North and South - in the phase of ending the conflict and achieving sustainable peace alike. It is worth noting, that it may be the first time that this principle is mentioned in an UN briefing, which puts the parties to the conflict in front of their legal and moral responsibility. Additionally, talking about “the absence of preconditions,” carries specific implications that the parties must abandon their preconditions for negotiations. This is a key issue for the success of efforts to launch the all-out solution consultations.

- The rehabilitation of the Southern institutions: through assuring the existence of Southern institutions which are able to positively act with the international community and dealing with the several barriers put by all actors involved in the Yemeni issue to draw a different picture about the political, security and operational reality in South.

- To legitimize the STC: Although it became an internationally-recognized party as a representative for South since signing the Riyadh Agreement, Hans Grundberg’s briefing pushes for the “the UN legitimization “for the STC with all its units, by stressing on their variable role regarding the political solution away from exclusion and marginalization.

Possible paths:

Based on the international briefing, it is likely that the fourth UN Envoy will start his moves towards “launching comprehensive consultations ”to pave the way for the resumption of the peace process. On the other hand, This move, which comes with no preconditions by any of the disputing parties, such as the Houthi demand to lift siege, or regarding the legitimate government’s demands for a complete cease-fire in Marib, along with moving towards starting the steps of an all-out dialogue, with the involvement of the Southern actor, the STC, may push the fourth Envoy, "Grundberg", towards a number of possible paths, top of which are:

- The partial retreating from the comprehensive perceptions that came at the briefing, and slowly moving away from the political operation path by for example beginning in searching partial solutions for the economic and humanitarian solutions. This would mean that Grundberg reaches the same point as his predecessor, the third UN Envoy about “halting the peace process”. In that case, The main question would become: How long will Grundberg resist pressure with economic and humanitarian cards if the conflict continues in its current state without any breakthrough in the negotiating field? On the other hand, it is unlikely that Grundberg will use any cards to pressure the Houthi group to stop the attacks on Marib. Therefore, it is important at that stage for the new UN Envoy to clarify his position on that file, especially if the attacks on Marib continue without stopping.

- The second path: the return of the synchronicity principle, this would mean, based upon the current circumstances, lifting restrictions imposed on the Sanaa Airport and the Hodeidah Port in conjunction with a truce in the battle zones rather than a full cease-fire deal. Simultaneously, there will be official comprehensive negotiations. For example, in the wake of his briefing, Grundberg meeting with the UN Oman’s representative Mohammed Alhassan has raised speculation that Muscat may already prepared a “synchronized proposal” for the fourth UN Envoy to Yemen including a deal to reopen the Hodeidah Port and the Sanaa Airport in conjunction with the beginning of comprehensive political negotiations between the government and the Houthis, with a secondary discussions about the involvement of the Southerners, especially in light of the engagement of the “Islah Party” in such a point”. This means overlooking the matter of cease-fire or delaying it until the airport and port restrictions are lifted.

Finally, the change in the international discourse towards the fragmented situation in Yemen after many years of war confirms the necessity to involve sun-National groups such as the STC, in any comprehensive settlement to end the conflict. Over the last years, the regional and international diplomats, working on the Yemen issue, avoided the troubled policies in South Yemen. However, this has changed with the change of the UN discourse and the agendas of the fourth UN Envoy who declared rearranging priorities, as well as reconsidering the international references without ignoring the most important challenge, represented in the involvement of all actors in the comprehensive peace consultations, especially the Southern actor.

This is in addition to the organizational and political challenges that continue to emerge when talking in a more professional way about the “future of the Southern cause” like the state of political competition and the regional rift. Therefore, the new UN approach adopted by the fourth Special Envoy constitutes a new test for the Yemeni issue in general, and for the Southern matter in particular which will lead to 2 directions: whether to create a common space among all the disputing parties- in North and South- to pave the way to solve the Yemeni issue, or the failure of “the new approach policies” and the return of the UN moves to achieve the requirements of the political settlement in Yemen to the “the square one”. 

Dr. Eman Zahran

Specializing in International Relations and Regional Security [The opinions expressed in this paper express the opinion of the author]

Photo: Demonstrators celebrate the anniversary of the October 14 revolution, Aden (AFP)

South YemenHansSTCWarHouthisComprehensive Peace