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What does John Kerry’s leaked report say about US policy on Yemen?

September 10, 2016 at 11:02 am

Last week, BBC Arabic leaked a 12-point peace plan that was written by US Secretary of State John Kerry with regards to Yemen. The report caused much controversy in the Yemeni community; by Monday, the full plan was deleted from the internet.

The points in the leaked plan were:

  1. President Hadi to appoint a vice president, and a head of government who is to have the same constitutional rights as Hadi. The appointment would be agreed by both the Houthi/Saleh rebels and the Hadi side.
  2. That Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar must step down from his position as Vice President.
  3. The initiative suggests separate options for the appointed vice president or head of government who must take a full oath.
  4. A full ceasefire to be implemented.
  5. A national unity government, with power shared between three different parties:
    • 1/3 for the Hadi government
    • 1/3 for the Houthis
    • 1/3 for Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC)
  6. Houthi militias and allies to withdraw from towns and villages near the Saudi border.
  7. All militant groups must withdraw from Sana’a.
  8. The new government must work to support counter-terrorism efforts.
  9. The new government must securitise all international passages and maritime borders.
  10. The new government must proceed with preparations for national conciliation efforts.
  11. The new government must commit to determine the mechanism of a referendum on the constitution and prepare a new electoral legal framework.
  12. The government must address human rights cases, along with anti-corruption efforts, as well as commit to post-war reconstruction.

Overall, the plan showed that there is little regard for understanding the core of the Yemen conflict. Once again, it seems, the United States looks for a temporary solution to shore-up instability, without addressing the central issues.

The fifth point was the one that caused the most controversy. Power sharing between Houthis, Saleh’s GPC and Hadi’s government is explicitly robbing the Yemeni people of their right to democracy. Though this government is intended to be a transitional move to restore political normality, realistically speaking, none of the three parties intend to give up power to each other, let alone facilitate free and fair elections to let the Yemeni people decide on who should govern them.

This is evident through the failure of the peace talks. Instead of focusing their efforts on restoring peace and order in Yemen, they utilised them as a mechanism to sustain and legitimise power. It’s important to note that none of the parties have ever won fair elections. Ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh imposed a three-decade long rule on Yemen and the Houthis came to power through a coup in the last quarter of 2014. Although President Hadi was elected as the Yemeni president, he was the only candidate in the election that he “won”. Though each of the parties have support from certain parts of the public, fundamentally, none of them could rule with the consent of the majority of the population.

It could be argued that with this plan, Kerry intended to utilise the three parties as a mechanism to create a system in which democratic principles can be built upon. This is a gross underestimation of Yemen’s political history. For the most part, most of the political actors were involved in Saleh’s dictatorship. It is forgotten that while Hadi’s military career started in South Yemen, in the 1994 civil war his loyalty shifted to Saleh; after Saleh’s victory, he appointed Hadi as Defence Minister.

Local political actors and tribal federations have a significant influence over Yemeni politics, which means that they should not be shunned. This is especially so when examining the question of separationist sentiments in southern Yemen. The future of the country is not being addressed in a representative manner and none of the parties mentioned in the peace plan are able to present the case for Yemen’s unity with any coherence.

The second point, which is the removal of Islahi-affiliated Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar from his position, has also generated much discussion. He is known for his strong links with the Saleh regime, and the fact that he is from Sanhan, the same village as Saleh, also carries a lot of weight. Being close to the former president, he was appointed as a full Colonel a year after Saleh took office. He also led operations against the Houthi rebels when Saleh’s regime was at war with them.

When Al-Ahmar’s relations with Saleh began to sour, during the Arab Spring he renounced any loyalty to the regime, as it was deemed strategically permissible to do so. Due to his military experience, his opposition to the Saleh regime and his strong links to Saudi Arabia, he was appointed as the Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces to lead the fight against Saleh and the Houthis. He was appointed as vice president in April.

Though forcing him to step down would symbolise the demilitarisation of the conflict and the cooling of relations between the three parties, it is not a progressive move; he will be replaced by someone who is just as embedded in the system as he was, as per the requirements of the first point on Kerry’s list. Having a new vice president that the Houthis, Saleh and Hadi agree on would most likely mean finding someone who is strategic enough to serve the interests of all three parties, most likely at the expense of the Yemeni people.

For too long, Yemeni politics has been at the mercy of corrupt officials and outside influence. The people have no real say in their political affairs and local actors are deemed irrelevant on the national level, completely under-representing minorities. If such a plan was to be implemented, it would only plaster over the existing power struggles, without reaching their root causes.

Kerry ignores the complexity of the Yemeni socio-political system as well as simple facts, not least that the Houthis and Saleh have an official political and military alliance. He does this at the expense of Yemeni national security, and the safety and well-being of the Yemeni people.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.