Above Photo: A military parade on eighth anniversary of the September 21 Revolution in Yemen. Al Masirah.
The recent China-brokered rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran may have a significant effect on the ongoing peace efforts between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia.
Thousands took to the streets across major Yemeni cities including Sanaa, Sa’ada, and Taiz on Sunday, March 26, to mark the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the Saudi-led aggression in the country. The protesters reiterated their demand for an end to the aggression and the lifting of the blockade on the country. The leaders of the Houthi movement have called these essential conditions for peace.
The National Day of Resilience and Steadfastness, as March 26 is celebrated by the Yemenis, symbolizes their resolve amid the large-scale destruction caused by the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes and blockade.
Meanwhile, after eight long years of suffering caused by foreign aggression and the ill effects of the war, hopes for peace in Yemen have been renewed following the recent rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This is relevant as Saudi Arabia has been suggesting that Iranian influence in the region and alleged support to the Houthis is one of the main reasons for the war.
Eight years of Saudi-led war in Yemen
On March 26, 2015, an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched its war on the Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and imposed a punishing land, sea, and air blockade on the country, depriving it of essential commodities including food and medicine. The Saudi-led coalition alleged that the Houthis were a proxy of Iran and wanted the reinstatement of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who had fled capital Sana’a for the southern city of Aden after the Houthis took control of Sana’a in September 2014. Hadi later left the country to live in Riyadh.
The Saudi-led forces were supplied armaments and technical support by the US, the UK, and France.
The war has had a devastating impact on Yemen’s 33 million people, killing hundreds of thousands and forcing millions into displacement. Yemen, already the poorest country in the Arab world before the war, has, according to the UN, become the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” of the century.
While the UN had claimed that by the end of 2021 a total of 377,000 Yemenis had been killed due to the war, the Houthi-backed administration in Sana’a claims that the real figure is over 1.5 million. This figure includes deaths caused by both direct and indirect acts of war. It also claims that the war and blockade are the primary reasons for the rise in poverty (currently at 95%) and unemployment (65%) in the country.
UNICEF has reported at least one child dies in Yemen every 10 minutes from causes that are easily preventable. According to UNICEF, at least 2.2 million Yemeni children suffer from acute malnutrition. The UN has estimated more than 11,000 Yemeni children have been either killed or severely injured in the eight years of war, also noting that actual figures could be far higher.
As per the UN, “a staggering 21.6 million people require some form of humanitarian assistance in 2023, as 80% of the country’s population struggles to access food, safe drinking water and adequate health services.”
Renewed hope for peace
Despite occasional reports of violence from time to time, there has been relative calm in Yemen since April last year when a UN-mediated ceasefire was imposed. The formal truce lasted only for six months, but both parties have desisted from any large-scale escalation since then.
The Houthis have repeatedly raised the continued Saudi blockade as the main reason for avoiding talks to extend the ceasefire. The Saudis have refused to respond to this, and had only partially lifted the blockade during the six months of the ceasefire.
The Saudi coalition has also had to grapple with infighting. Last year, the coalition replaced Hadi and instead installed a seven-member Presidential Council as an alternative government in Yemen.
The favorable conditions created by the Saudis’ dismissal of Hadi and the prolonged ceasefire gave Oman an opportunity to mediate talks between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition. The Oman-mediated process also received a boost when Saudi Arabia and Iran signed a China-mediated deal to restore diplomatic relations after a gap of seven years.
However, Yemenis are still skeptical. The US, which had actively supported Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen until at least 2020, still sees the Houthis as dangerous to its attempts to maintain hegemony in the region.
Abdul Malik al-Houthi, leader of Ansar Allah or the Houthi movement, has made it clear that the withdrawal of foreign troops from Yemen is essential for peace. Without elaborating on the reasons, he recently expressed his apprehensions about the success of the Oman-led mediation, saying that the US was attempting to postpone “the withdrawal of foreign forces from Yemen for an indefinite period.”