Hadi's return to Yemen's parliament shores up Saudi interests

Hadi's return to Yemen's parliament shores up Saudi interests
Comment: Yemeni president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's rare visit to parliament is likely provoke further tensions and serve Saudi interests, writes Jonathan Fenton-Harvey.
5 min read
18 Apr, 2019
Yemeni president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi had been living in exile in Saudi Arabia [Getty]
Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi made a rare appearance at a parliamentary session last Saturday held in Hadramout, after living in exile since a Houthi insurgency forced him to flee in early 2015. 

It was the first House of Representatives session since Yemen's war erupted over four years ago. Around 145 Yemeni MPs had attended the session, which could be the start of further meetings to reinstate the legitimacy of Yemen's internationally-recognised and Saudi-backed government.

"This extraordinary session is held in a historic moment as we stand at a crossroad between choices of war and peace," Hadi told parliamentarians meeting in Sayun.

Amid ongoing UN-facilitated peace talks, which commenced in Stockholm in December 2018, outsiders may wishfully perceive this reconvening of parliament as a sign of Yemen's improving political stability, after years of war which has taken its toll on millions of Yemeni lives.

After all, a US Department of State spokesperson stated that "A reinvigorated Yemeni parliament will play an important role in advancing political and national reconciliation so the Republic of Yemen government, and all political parties, can better focus on meeting the needs of the Yemeni people."

Trying to rebuild Yemen around a Hadi-centred government in Aden will aid Saudi Arabia's long-term soft power in the country

However, implementing parliament in this way will mostly serve the government itself and its Saudi Arabian backers, who have waged war on Yemen since March 2015, rather than addressing the domestic divisions between Yemeni communities.

Furthermore, rather than bringing political stability, it could likely provoke further tensions and risk destabilising efforts to bring peace to the country.

Hadi himself and other figures have already echoed pro-Saudi rhetoric in parliament, admonishing the Houthis for allowing Iran's presence into the country.

Meanwhile, Yemen's prime minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed praised Saudi Arabia's supposed role in bringing stability to Yemen's government, even though Riyadh's bombing campaign has destroyed much of Yemen's key state infrastructure. Clearly, such pro-Saudi rhetoric government will struggle to win the favour of Yemenis, many of whom now oppose Riyadh's war on them.

During the session, the House of Representatives declared the Houthis a "terrorist" organisation, blaming them exclusively for the violence, and obstructing the Hodeida ceasefire, suggesting the Hadi government and its supporters in Riyadh are not taking the peace process seriously.

UN-led peace talks in Yemen, previously lauded as a positive step forward, have suffered from countless breaches of Hodeida's broken ceasefire, and the planned prisoner releases haved failed to occur. 

It is, therefore, too premature to attempt to reinstate a single Yemeni regime, and peace talks should focus on forging unity between conflicting parties, rather than isolating one another.

Yet for Riyadh, a strengthened pro-Saudi regime like Hadi's would help it gain hegemony over Yemen.

After constructing a 'temporary' capital in Aden away from Sanaa when the Houthi insurgency in September 2014 forced Hadi into exile, Riyadh has tried to develop the city as a key administrative power centre.

It had already tried to redirect trade from Houthi-controlled Hodeida towards Aden, while carrying out various infrastructural development projects in and around the city. Trying to rebuild Yemen around a Hadi-centred government in Aden will aid Saudi Arabia's long-term soft power in the country, even if destabilisation reigns.

Both these moves will aggravate tensions further. The Houthis had launched an insurgency against Hadi, complaining of government corruption and a lack of representation in the post-Arab Spring transitional plan, as well as excessive Saudi influence.

Many Yemeni civilians who also protested the government for allowing economic corruption initially supported the Houthis' advance on Sanaa in September 2014. But many do not recognise Hadi's legitimacy; some seeing him as a Saudi puppet.

The Houthis had already recently arrested parliamentarians and lawmakers in Sanaa in response to the parliamentary convening in Hadramout, showing that further efforts to impose the Hadi government could lead to further Houthi aggression, and thus derail the peace talks even more.

Any sign of the pre-conflict political environment will only worsen the conflict at this stage

Any sign of the pre-conflict political environment, as well as a blacklisting of the Houthis, will only worsen the conflict at this stage.

It could also trigger increased dissent from other communities, such as southerners who desire secession from Yemen's north.

There have already been signs of such conflicts of interest, particularly in February 2018 when southern secessionists clashed with Hadi government forces. While the situation temporarily calmed after this, such enmity still exists, and could lead to further confrontations.

Read more: The dangers of war and climate change in Yemen

Though the prominent secessionist faction, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) is largely a UAE-backed movement that also forwards Abu Dhabi's own regional interests, there has traditionally been much support for southern independence since Yemen's reunification in 1990.

If Yemen's parliament does not adapt, consider the wishes of other political actors and try to compromise with them, this, in combination with Saudi Arabia's attempts to shore up the Hadi regime mean domestic infighting could continue, even if the Saudi-led coalition's military campaign comes to an end.

With peace talks looking fragile, any solution should be agreed upon by Yemenis themselves, rather than external powers such as Saudi Arabia imposing a top-down regime which existed before the conflict, and which ignores the divisions and grievances within Yemeni society.

It also shows the need for peace talks to adapt and be flexible towards various Yemeni parties.

While there is clear international impunity towards Riyadh, as demonstrated by Donald Trump's second veto of the US Senate resolution to end America's military support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen, international pressure on the Saudi regime is essential to stop it trying gaining further hegemony over Yemeni politics. Genuine impartial, talks for Yemen must be allowed occur for a lasting solution to be in sight.   

Jonathan Fenton-Harvey is a freelance journalist. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jfentonharvey 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.