The Scenarios of Ending the Conflict in Yemen


Sun, 30-07-2023 02:14 PM, Aden

There are 3 scenarios for the future of the Yemeni issue based on the different perspectives adopted by the parties involved in the political process toward the future entitlement

Dr. Eman Zahran (South24)

There are a number of changes at all levels which include each party involved in the Yemeni crisis, regionally, internationally, and locally. Despite the variable efforts to achieve the requirements of political settlement and end the ongoing conflict, there are remarkable divisions at the internal level that prevent moving to the United Nations (UN) roadmap. Things are depending on the limits of regional and international compatibility and how it impacts local parties to continue “regional pacification" to effectively move toward ending the conflict and the establishment of peace in Yemen. This is by considering the following points:

Escalating developments 

Past periods witnessed several internal developments given the whole field and political contexts of the Yemeni issue or at regional and international levels.

This includes the following elements:

- At the local/internal level: the internal situation is seen with some degree of caution given the fogginess of the general scene. This comes amid the UN's attempts to penetrate the political operation and move forward toward approving the settlement structure, fulfilling the requirements of democratic transformation, and rebuilding the Yemeni state following the success of extending the truce that ended last October. This is in addition to the Omani-mediated Saudi endeavors to prolong the truce and ceasefire as well as supporting the war prisoners exchange operation and discussing ways of dialogue between the Yemeni components to reach a comprehensive and sustainable political solution in Yemen. [1] On the other hand, the Houthi field activities have returned, especially in South Yemen. For example, the Houthi attacks against the Southern forces between May 1-July 13, 2023, were about 51 in the governorates of Al-Dhalea, Lahj, Abyan, and Shabwa. This is in addition to the attacks in the fronts of Harib district in Marib (North Yemen) which is close to Shabwa where the Giants Brigades have deployed since it was liberated at early 2022. [2]

- At the regional level: A number of changes occurred in the Middle East to make a direct and indirect impact on the Yemeni issue. The first prominent among these changes is the resumption of the Saudi Iranian diplomatic ties via a Chinese mediation. This is accompanied by a consensus among political circles about the centrality of the Yemeni file in the ongoing bilateral understandings. The second one is the variable consequences of the UAE's withdrawal from the Combined Maritime Forces [3] and the subsequent state of security exposure in the face of the Houthis. This would redraw the equation of security interactions in the Red Sea amid the latest Houthi threats, especially toward South Yemen. The third one is the Saudi moves towards structuring a more serious negotiating framework with the Houthis through constructive talks to achieve a number of goals, most notably the possibility of renewing the truce and understandings on the post-truce phase that will pave the way for comprehensive peace and end the war. This is in addition to the arrangements for war prisoners exchange between the two sides, which has been in place since April 2023.

At the international level: The international changes can be summarized in the size of the variable repercussions of the whole ongoing interactions. The first one of which includes moving away from the Middle Eastern issues by the international community, rearranging priorities toward facing negative repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian war, encircling the scenario of a third world war, and undermining the scenario of the international division around eastern and western camps and its impact on the whole security, political and economic fields that intertwine with all sub-regions of the global system including the Middle East which has political and security troubles. The second one is related to the competitive position of the international forces to restore influence over regions and sea lanes that have international important tinctures, foremost of which is the Red Sea region. This moves us to talk about the geopolitical importance of the Yemeni issue for the international decision-maker and the decisiveness scenarios in a way that serves their special agendas in the region. The third one is the results of the critical recovery hypothesis. This includes the impact of untraditional crises, foremost of which are the climate change crisis, water paucity, and epidemics such as "Covid-19" (Coronavirus). These unconventional threats that have a global nature impact all political and social fields of developing countries, especially which have political and security troubles such as the Yemeni case.

Possible scenarios

Given the scale of the aforementioned complicated local, regional, and international changes, it is hard to predict their possible impact on the future of the conflicts and the possible contexts for decisiveness. On the other hand, there are 3 scenarios for the future of the Yemeni issue based on the different perspectives adopted by the parties involved in the political process toward future entitlement. These perspectives can be detailed as below:

Local perspective: The local parties have different visions for managing the political operation (PLC-STC-Houthis) as shown below:

The Presidential Leadership Council (PLC): It seeks to fulfill the requirements of the "international roadmap" according to which the council was formed in April 2022. On the other hand, there are several challenges that could limit the effectiveness of its moves. The most prominent of which is the status of structural conditions, one year after the formation of the PLC. This enhanced internal contrast and increased political projects. During the official truce, forces affiliated with the Islah Party fought the Southern Transitional Council (STC) forces in Shabwa. This was part of a conflict to dominate vital supply lines across South Yemen. Parties have sought to secure these areas to gain the upper hand in the political talks that may end the ongoing conflict [4] and other specific disagreements among the PLC members who failed to override them. This could limit the council's ability to govern in addition to the loss of popular trust in running the political process and the current diplomatic initiatives as well as treating the exacerbated economic conditions.

The STC: The Southern perspective, represented in the STC, is built on the priority of "South Issue" and putting it as a special framework in the political process. Some argue that this contradicts the internationally recognized references which include the UNSC resolutions and the Gulf Initiatives. Moreover, the demonstrations during commemorating the Southern "Homeland Day" on July 7, 2023, revealed the populism of pushing for the Southern agenda and the adherence to the STC as the sole representative to express the will of the Southerners. [5] This is in addition to renouncing any attempts to split ranks through the formation of new entities. It is an indication to rejecting the "Hadramout National Council".

The Houthis: The Houthi vision toward the political process is to mitigate escalation but not to end the ongoing conflict completely. This can justify the recent Houthi-Saudi talks as the militia wants to legitimize its status. Furthermore, the Houthi discourse includes direct and indirect messages to return to armed escalation. For example, the Houthis launched a military escalation against the Southern forces and other fronts in North Yemen over the two past months. They carried out about 51 attacks against the Southern forces since the beginning of May till July 13. [6] Moreover, the Houthis ignore the announced references of the political settlement process.

Regional prospect: This is mainly built on the Saudi vision to manage the political process in the Yemeni issue in coordination with Omani moves. Saudi reports hinted that Riyadh has a political transition plan (a roadmap for two or three years) to settle the crisis. It is based on the references of a political solution and the participation of all Yemeni national forces in the political operation or the so-called "Arrangement of the Yemeni file". [7] However, this remains a mere proposal about the mechanisms and structure of the process but it doesn't represent the essence of the very complicated political process in the Yemeni case. [7]

International perspective: It is represented in the vision of the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg. It is built on the importance of creating serious ways to move forward toward a comprehensive solution by the engagement of all local parties involved in the conflict and absorbing their political projects. A number of challenges remain in place in front of international perspectives to achieve this vision considering field and political internal developments. The most prominent of these challenges is to point out to everyone that the international legitimacy is granted to all parties based on the participation of the UN-led negotiations and rejecting the notion of "avoiding dialogue with rivals". The second challenge is the Houthi re-involvement in the negotiation process before the exacerbation of internal divisions within the PLC.

Based on the previous determinants that reformulate the political scene of the Yemeni issue, there are three possible future scenarios of the coming stage as illustrated below:

The first scenario - A fragile political settlement:

The hypotheses of this scenario are built upon the historic experience of the "Peace and Partnership Agreement" in 2014. The political aspects of this agreement were applied while the military and security sides were ignored. This led the Houthis to control Sanaa completely at that time. Thus, a fragile political settlement may be reached without addressing the roots of the Yemeni crises, based on regional developments following the resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran and its impact on the political and security preparations inside Yemen. Local parties will likely accept this agreement which maintains their freedom to possess arms. Accordingly, one cannot exclude that applying this scenario would pave the way for a new chapter of doctrinal and regional conflicts like several other troubled states in the region.

The second scenario - The continuation of non-decisiveness:

The hypotheses of this scenario are based on the continuation of the status quo in the Yemeni state given the deadlock of field and political equations without any remarkable move among the local parties involved in the crisis. This imposes the continuation of the "coexistence" hypothesis, the recognition of the internationally recognized government with its fragile the status as well as the status of the Houthi group and STC's map of control. This threatens turning Yemen into a pattern like some countries in the troubled region such as Lebanon, Iraq, and Somalia.

Thus, this decreases the chances of building " the unified national state" as the country will remain divided between different factions and internal/local parties, like what happen in some countries in the troubled region such as Lebanon, Iraq, and Somalia.

The third scenario - The failure of the political process:

The hypotheses of this scenario are based upon the international moves to achieve the requirements of the road map in addition to the decline of Saudi-Houthi decline toward nothingness. In the case of applying that scenario, the field map will likely turn into what is like a "war of attrition" among all internal warring parties. There are some determinants that support this scenario, foremost of which is that the conflict in Yemen is a multilateral one among parties that have different and conflicted interests. Moreover, the Houthi expansion over the past years in all joints of the state may push them toward securing maximum gains in any future negotiations which will be rejected by other parties. This is in addition to the future status of South Yemen. [8]

Accordingly, although the possible scenarios fluctuate between the continuous status quo of non-decisiveness or reaching a fragile political agreement that does not suit the size of the current challenges, whether internally or in the Arab Middle Eastern region, there is a glimpse of hope on the other hand about a possible achievement of the political settlement requirements. This can be built upon some moves, the first of which is the international and regional focus on the main references of the UN roadmap, including the Riyadh Agreement in 2019 and the outcomes of the Riyadh Consultations in 2022 as effective successful political tools for a solution. The second one is the involvement of all local political factions and parties in the political settlement negotiations in a way that fulfills the conditions of justice and transparency. The third one is rearranging the military and security situation among different local parties engaged in the political process to avoid reproducing the scenario of previous agreements through the employment of the "weapons card" to thwart the political settlement moves. The fourth one is to set an economic, humanitarian, and developmental plan to treat the impact of the current conflict in the post-war phase.

Egyptian researcher, specializing in international relations and regional security


1- Yemen: Chances of Peace are Available, Sky News Arabia, 11/4/2023

2- Abdullah Al-Shadli: The Houthis Military Escalation: Messages and Goals, South24 Center, 13/7/2023

3- The UAE Withdrawal from the Combined Maritime Forces: Reasons and Consequences, South24 Center, 12/6/2023

4- Veena Ali-Khan, Yemen’s Troubled Presidential Leadership Council, Crisis Group, 04 MAY 2023

5- Tawfiq Al-Shanwah, The "July 7" Anniversary. Between the Unity of the Two Parts of Yemen and the Division of Political Forces, Independent Arabia, 8/7/2023

6- Abdullah Al-Shadli: The Houthi Military Escalation: Messages and Objectives, previously mentioned reference 

7- Ahmed Eliba, After the Saudi Iranian Rapprochement: What about the Future of Settling the Yemeni Crisis? Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, 20/6/2023

8- The Prospects of Political Endeavors to Solve the Crisis in Yemen, The International Institute for Iranian Studies, April 19, 2023

YemenYemeni conflictSTCHouthisPLCSaudi ArabiaIslahIran