Yemen's future to be decided in Riyadh

Yemen's future to be decided in Riyadh
Analysis: Leading political figures in Yemen will take part in a conference in Saudi Arabia's capital seeking to end months of conflict.
4 min read
GCC countries have solidly opposed the Houthi movement [AFP]

On May 17, a conference will be held in the Saudi capital which, it is hoped, will bring together Yemen's warring parties.

The list of invitees includes defectors from the army and militias loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis.

Invites sent out

In Yemen, rebel groups appear to be on the back foot as Saudi-led airstrikes continue.

On the ground, advances from the Popular Resistance militia, which supports the internationally recognised government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, are beginning to pick up pace.

The participants in the conference and the proposed format of discussions indicate that the talks could mark a turning point in the conflict.

"The pace of Yemeni political and diplomatic efforts has increased recently, with final arrangements for the Yemeni dialogue conference in Riyadh almost complete," said a source who wished to remain anonymous.

"The political parties who will be received have been named."

A preparatory committee for the Riyadh conference - sponsored by the GCC - is said to have already sent out invitations to leading Yemeni political figures.

All the member nations of the Gulf group - with the exception of Oman - are part of the military coalition against Saleh loyalists and Houthi militias.

Sources said invitees include defected members of the former ruling party, Saleh's General People's Congress - including the former first deputy president of the party, Ahmed Obaid bin Dagher, and assistant secretary-general, Sultan al-Burkani.

The selection of this pair has drawn anger from many Yemenis. Both were considered to be Saleh's right-hand men, and are thought to have taken leading roles in the coup against Hadi.

Reports suggest that Burkani, who lives in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, has declined the committee's invitation.

Party politics

"Many members of the political bureau and leadership of the GPC came to Riyadh in the past few weeks," an anonymous source told al-Araby.

     The pace of Yemeni political and diplomatic efforts has increased recently.
- Anonymous source

Most GPC leaders have not criticised Saleh directly, but have expressed support for operations against the Houthis and President Hadi.

The fact that the summit includes pro-southern secession figures, such as Ali Salem al-Beidh, point to some interesting developments in Yemen.

Beidh is said to have recently cut ties with Tehran and is positioning himself closer to Riyadh, but reportedly is yet to meet leading figures from Saudi Arabia or the GCC.

Sources believe that Beidh is seeking a federal system in Yemen with two main regions - north and south - based on the borders of what were two separate countries prior to their 1990 unification.

However, this proposal is unlikely to be taken seriously by the committee, and sources say that a six-region federal state is more likely.

There have been two national dialogue conferences on Yemen, held in March 2013 and January 2014, and although many politicians are eager to take part in the talks, some remain hesitant.

A major source of contention is about the six-region plan.

The previous national dialogue meeting had agreed to split top posts between northern and southern leaders before the ratification of a federal constitution.

Hadi suggested in a recent speech that this remains the plan: "Yemen will soon implement the outcomes of the national dialogue conference. The solutions will be satisfactory to all Yemenis, particularly south Yemenis."

Mukhtar al-Rahbi, Hadi's media adviser, said that the aim of the Riyadh meeting was to complement the national dialogue conference. It will lead to a timetable for pushing through points of an agreement, he said.

Sources said that the Riyadh meeting will also review the 2011 GCC initiative and how it is to be implemented, along with UN resolution 2216 - which calls on Houthis to withdraw from territory occupied in the latest conflict.

Abdul-Aziz Jabari, chairman of the preparatory committee, is reportedly being assisted by the president's former chief-of-staff, Nasr Taha Mustafa, and former interior minister Abdo Hussein al-Tarb.

The presence of these figures should ensure GCC economic support for Yemen, sources suggest.

Several of Hadi's supporters have been invited to the Riyadh conference.

They include members of the Islamist al-Islah party, and the Nasserist party, and a long list of southern and tribal leaders who will be vital to the success of the Riyadh meeting.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.