Rashad Al-Alimi, Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, and Yemeni officials during the Eid prayer at Maashiq Palace in Aden, April 21, 2023 (STC)

Before the Settlement in Yemen: How Will IRGY Face its Internal Challenges?


Sat, 06-05-2023 03:56 PM, Aden

Accordingly, the IRGY needs to set a clear vision for the mechanism by which it should work in the future.

Farida Ahmed (South24)

A year after the establishment of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) in Yemen, its general performance has not been up to expectations. Although PLC's members attempted to demonstrate a kind of sporadic consensus and harmony every now and then at the political level, tension emerged sometimes, especially between the PLC Chairman Rashad Al-Alimi and his Deputy Aidrous Al-Zubaidi who serves as the Southern Transitional Council (STC) President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Forces that control Aden and other five Southern governorates.

It has been clear that Western countries began to push Yemeni parties towards reaching any form of settlement which would end the conflict that entered its 9th year. Apparently, the Chinese-brokered agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran contributed to paving the political status and creating a space for side understandings with some parties. They include the bilateral understandings between the Saudis and the Houthis which began months ago and between the Saudis and the anti-Houthi Yemeni parties in Riyadh as well as the negotiations among the Yemeni parties in March held in Geneva to release about 900 war prisoners. The warring parties actually implemented the exchange operations during the last days of Ramadan under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Accordingly, the parties pledged to meet again in the middle of May to organize more exchange operations. 

It is important to say that although the Yemeni parties began an initial area of trust under international and regional supervision, starting from dealing with the file of war prisoners, there are intuitive concerns and doubts among them towards positions or surprises that may occur. 

However, achieving the basic regional goal behind the establishment of PLC became clear through ratifying an approach to calm down the tense atmosphere among the local parties and to pave the way for a peace stage through an expanded truce. So far, the truce gradually reduced tension and led to the decline of intensified fighting operations even among the most militarized factions on both sides.

However, there are several internal challenges among the Yemeni anti-Houthi forces, represented in PLC as well as the government and its institutions. The most important of those challenges is the inability to make decisions. During the era of former President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, the authorities didn't absorb the different parties although they made decisions sometimes. However, decision-making has disappeared since everyone engaged in a partnership in the form of one authority. Another matter, no less important than the previous one, is the lack of consensus among PLC members in many political, military and economic files. This dilemma is derived from drastic contradictions in the relationships among PLC members due to the differences in their projects and programs. This disrupted daily life and led to service and economic crises in a way that pushed local communities to manage their own affairs. The danger of such a matter may not be revealed currently unless a big political transformation occurred in the country (political settlement). The big vacuum caused by the current authorities by not being decisive in many files will be one reason behind that.

Over one year after the establishment of PLC, especially in light of the truce that allowed the warring parties to take a breath for a long time, it was expected that Internationally Recognized Government of Yemen (IRGY) will carry out institutional reforms. However, many files were hampered including the neutral files which were supposed to enjoy consensus without complications. For example, this includes restructuring the Central Organization for Control and Auditing, the National Authority for Combating Corruption and transferring the financial resources to the Central Bank in Aden. This undoubtedly denotes the failure by PLC and legitimate organizations to treat the deep imbalances within their structure.

The question which can be consistently raised is how the IRGY with its current form will go to a settlement without arranging its internal cards or without making institutional reforms.

The absence of the project 

If we make a logical comparison among the warring Yemeni parties, we will find that the Houthis have a "sectarian" religious project in addition to their agreement with the political vision adopted by Iran and its supporters in the region. Comparing the Houthi position to the ones adopted by "Yemeni" political forces of the "IRGY", it seems that the latter has not yet absorbed the Houthi project or understood its nature and goal. They failed to create a national project to counter the Houthi project in North. They began to play a functional role rather than one that absorbs the national forces and gathers different parties inside the framework of the IRGY. So far, famous sentences circulated through the official government media (ending the coup, restoring the Yemeni state or the Republic) are mere slogans that have been repeatedly used politically and at the media level. However, working to achieve this purpose is still unlikely. On the contrary, this is in reality met by giving the Houthis one concession after another by the IRGY side except for the latest prisoners’ file that was carried out with international and regional pressure against the two parties. 

However, Southerners, especially the STC, are apparently the only party in the IRGY camp that has a declared political project, given that they adopt the Southern issue. Although other Yemeni parties don’t agree with their approach that reminds them of the failures of unity between the two Northern and Southern states, it is considered a special project related to South Yemen and its political and national future. On the other hand, Southern parties don’t have a project or a vision to face the Houthis. Their main problem with the Houthis is that it is a Northern group and not because it is a one that carries a sectarian and descendant project which can later impact South Yemen and threaten it militarily and at the security level. This is although STC repeatedly stressed its support for Northern forces until liberating Sanaa. 

As for non-Southern political parties, it is clear that the project of the majority of them is to stay as part of the future power regardless of settlement. For example, the forces affiliated with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh engaged with the Houthis in the Supreme Political Council. When the partnership was dissolved and Saleh was killed, the same parties that allied with the Houthis called again for restoring the republic after losing their places in power. This does not represent a real political project but a desire by these parties to be part of power.

Even at the level of the Yemeni parties, inside and outside the current authorities, the latter wasted many opportunities to contain the crisis from the very beginning. This is due to the absence of a national project as some parties paid much attention to issues beyond their limits. Moreover, they were more interested in securing partisan quotas and personal interests. This has weakened the IRGY’s stance against the coherent Houthi position. 

Post-settlement impact

It is important to say that if the institutions of the internationally-recognized government remain in such a fragile and incoherent form without making tangible changes on the ground, they will risk merging into the Houthi institutions in the wake of the settlement. Currently, all the institutions controlled by the Houthis are coherent and have one decision-making authority. The legitimate government cannot agree or issue appointment decisions in the simplest administrative positions, such as directors of districts or governors. Similarly, this applies to diplomatic corps’ decisions which would guarantee 4 more years for the legitimate government before the Houthis become part of the appointment decisions after the settlement.

Obviously, Saudi Arabia pressures the parties not to issue appointment decisions in many institutions. This is apparently an undeclared Houthi condition that would weaken the position of the internationally-recognized government. However, the latter can enforce “fait accompli” in many decisions which can’t be agreed upon. Furthermore, the Houthi militias impose the status quo while trying to open new combatting fronts during the truce. One of the basic turning points after the settlement will be the dissolution of the weak institutions into the strong ones in Sanaa such as the Central Bank, the communication sector and others. This may fuel the conflict between the participating parties in power amid attempts by each of them to strengthen its position on the ground. 

As for South Yemen, the agreement about putting a special negotiation frame for the issue of South Yemen in any coming settlement may be a positive move. However, without including it within a joint vision, it won’t prevent other Yemeni parties in the IRGY from turning against it or aligning with the Houthis to combat it. 

Accordingly, the IRGY needs to set a clear vision for the mechanism by which it should work in the future. A mechanism that guarantees the political and national Southern project as well as enhances the common goals towards the political and military project to combat the Houthis in North Yemen. It also can produce joint formulation and understanding of the reality and its challenges. This would lead to a fair settlement for all away from tussles that led to the failure of their efforts over the past years. 

However, reaching an agreement about some files such as arrangements related to the position of the armed forces and creating the Joint Operation Authority in Aden recently are signs that suggest a consensus to find common formulas which would contribute to the PLC's success. This aims to override the clear position of Southerners who refuse any merger or dissolution of their military forces as being the basic guarantor of their national project.

Farida Ahmed 

Executive Director of South24 Center for News and Studies

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