Yemen: finding legitimacy

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This piece is reproduced from Nutcracker Media

Over the last five years Yemen has been one of the most volatile states on the political map of the Middle East. “The Arab Spring” revealed the country’s true capacity for internal conflicts, uncovering problems the government has long been reluctant to tackle or downright neglected. Polyarchy, separatism, interfaith quarrels, military intervention and a spike in terrorist activity – this list of problems the country is faced with right now is far from complete.

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The dead end of Kuwait

On April 21st, 2016, a peaceful negotiation between the National delegation of Yemen, which includes the representatives of “Ansar Allah” and the General People’s Congress, and the “Er-Riyad group”, constituted of the members of the exiled Yemen government headed by Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, was initiated under the umbrella of The UN’s special ambassador of Yemen, Ismail Uld Sheikh Ahmed. However, after three months of continuous negotiations the parties were unable to work out a peaceful solution.

This failure happened due to the existential rift between the parties, so to say. Both of them reside in separate realities, either of which has all the rights to exist. While the national delegation of Yemen focused its attention on resolving the existing issues, which are premised on the current state of affairs, the “Er-Riyadh group” is addressing the necessity for the return to the two-years old status-quo, being apologists of the retrograde tendencies.

Both sides are justified in their stance. Mansur Hadi and his supporters are trying to act within the boundaries of the legal approach, calling upon the rigorous compliance with the two fundamental legal regulatory acts – the Gulf Cooperation Council peace initiative and the United Nations Security Council resolution number 2216 from 15th of April, 2015. Both documents, undoubtedly, put the exiled president and his government into a much more favorable position than their Kuwait negotiation partners. For instance, the statue 1 of the 2216 resolutions mandates Houthis to unilaterally withdraw their troops from the capital city of Sana’a and all occupied territories, lay down all “additional weaponry” and cease any activities which are deemed to be “exclusively within the scope of the duties of the legitimate Yemen government”. Obviously, the implementation of this statue alone would push “Ansur Allah” into the periphery of Yemen in both geographical and political sense of the word.

Representatives of the National Council of Yemen, on the other hand, are standing on the grounds of political realism, if you will, founded on the state of affairs that was established prior to the negotiations. From this point of view, the only agreeable solution would be to assemble a temporary coalition state body – the Presidential Council, which would include delegations from all sides of the conflict. However, if Mansur Hadi was to accept this proposal, this would not only make him an outsiders in the new highest governmental body of Yemen by limiting his political career to the life cycle of the new governmental structure, given his lack of real support “on the ground”, but would also rob him of the possibility to rewind the situation.

 

The vanishing legitimacy

The unfolding situation tends to benefit Sana’a’s government more so than it does Er-Riyadh’s. This is primarily due to the fact that the coalition’s military aggression against Yemen spearheaded by Saudi Arabia proved the kingdom’s resources dedicated to the resolution of the conflict severely limited. It is not even that the Yemen campaign turned out to be a game of zeroes for Er-Riyadh. On the contrary, Saudi Arabia was able to accomplish the “minimum plan” by stopping Houthis from expanding all over the country.

Clearly, weakening the North Yemen by supporting the South was Saudi Arabia’s intention all along. The South Yemen didn’t pose as much of a threat to the Saudi Arabia as the North did, not to mention the ongoing territorial dispute over Nadzhran. Besides, the specter of political forces present on the South is far more diverse, unlike in the North, where two key forces are dominating the scene: “Ansar Allah” and the Presidential Council. Initiating a dialog with the two proved highly improbable for Saudi Arabia. Lastly, the North Yemen has always been characterized by the prominence of tribal structures and relative weakness of government institutions, as distinct from the South, where the situation is quite the opposite. Such unity among the tribes of the North explains the military superiority over the South.

The frontline, which was drawn in the summer of 2015 and divided the Houthis-Salekh camp from its’ enemies nearly mirrors the former border between People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen and the Arab Republic of Yemen, remains relevant up to this day. As an arabist Sergei Serebrov puts it, “the bulk of resistance in the form of the Houthis-Salekh alliance and some fractions in the South stick to their own national and cultural values, mobilizing local tribes and citizens to protect their cultural identity”.

The emerging stagnation on the Yemen frontline renders the continuation of military efforts less and less sensible, given the colossal financial expenses the kingdom has to suffer. Its’ budget deficit was calculated to be at an all-time high of 98 billion dollars. The most humble estimates suggest that the Yemen campaign cost Er-Riyadh 6.4 billion dollars the last year. Adel Bin Muhhamad, Saudi’s minister of economy, provides similar numbers – 5.3 billion dollars were spend on the Yemen intervention (codename: Decisive Storm). This is reflected in the conclusion of the Emirates’ mission, whose troops were found to be the most potent force in the battlefield, the decrease in the intensity of airstrikes and the apparent lifting of the country’s blockade. Not only that, but after the International Red Cross committee, Amnesty International Oxfam and a number of other non-government organizations published evidence of humanitarian rights violations perpetrated by the anti-Yemen coalition, the European parliament banned any arms supplies to Saudi Arabia, putting Er-Riyadh and its’ allies in quite a predicament.

The existing status-quo is now more “metaphysical” than it is real, and it doesn’t sit well with Hadi. The time favours Sana’a’s government – the longer Hadi remains a nominal president with no real power, the less incentives there would be for the international community to recognize his legitimacy. Besides, no one has yet appointed for life-long terms – sooner or later boundaries of his legitimacy will be challenged. Not to mention all the questions that continue to linger on: after being elected in February of 2012 for a two-year term, his duties were extended for one more year, after which he was nothing more than a self-appointed president.

 

New authorities – old ways

However, regarding the Gulf Cooperation council peace initiative as the only viable means of resolving the conflict seems a little far-fetched. Once this mechanism has already proved ineffective. Mansur Hadi has already failed to fill the role of an unbiased “moderator” of the dialog. In four groups out of five (“the Saad problem”, “the problem of South”, “the transitional justice” and “state structure”) the progress seems to have halted, new constitution is yet to be devised and the deadlines for the transitional period set by the Gulf Cooperation peace initiative has not been met. The main reason for it is the different nature of the conflict when compared to the one that took place in 2011. Back then the only agenda was a change of regime and a peaceful transition of power from Ali Abdul Salekh to the new president. Now, the latest events enabled the conflict to evolve into inter-faith and inter-ethnic dissension with a much broader spectrum of political forces.

Under these circumstances, Sana’a is now looking for legal grounds that would allow their political institutes to operate in a legitimate manner. Finding them wasn’t difficult: as it turned out that the constitution of 1991 retains its’ validity, though many seem to have forgotten it existed after the “Arab Spring”. On the pretext of the master law, Sana’a’s authorities have called upon the emergency session of the House of representatives.

The third convocation of the House is unique, in a sense that it has functioned for more than 13(!) years, since the 13th of April, 2003, when the last parliament vote took place. The votes have since been postponed on multiple occasions (2009, 2011, 2014), yet the parliament continued to exercise its’ duties on the pretext of the statue 64 of the Constitution, which allows not to carry our an election until the emergency ceases. Oddly enough, the legitimacy of this state body has raised the least amount of concerns from either of sides.

The 2016 convocation of the House drew criticism from Er-Riyadh, which boils down to two points: the legitimacy of the emergency convocation and quorum. As far as the emergency session itself is concerned, there are three ways in which it can be assembled: by a presidential decree, by a written demand of no less than 1/3 of the members of the Parliament or by the decision of the Parliament presidium. Since the first two options are unavailable, obviously, the Houthis-Salekh alliance opted for the third one. As of August 13th, 2016′ the Presidium consists of four people: Yahya al-Rai, a Parliament speaker, and three vice-speakers: Akram al-Atta, Hamir Al-Omar (from the party of «al-Islah», son of the deceased sheikh Abdalla al-Ahmara) and non-party Mohammad Shadaddy. The internal regulations state that a decision is made through a simple majority of votes, though if the votes are equally divided, the last word is reserved for the speaker of the Parliament. In case of the emergency session assembly two members of the Presidium out of four voted in favor of this decision: Yahya al-Rai and Akram al-Atta, which fives enough reasons to deem the convocation of 13 of August legitimate.

Even more discussions were sparked by the quorum’s question, since the Constitution specifically points out that in order for the House’s sessions to be held valid, more than a half of its’ members should be present. Given the total number of deputy seats at 301, it would take 151 members of the parliament to validate the procedure. Since only 142 deputies were present at the emergency session, Mansur Hadi took the opportunity to brand the current Parliament’s activity illegal. However, there is another crucial fact to consider. The said 71 statue dictates that the quorum is counted out of the total number of deputies, save those “…whose mandates where pronounced vacant”. And here we find ourselves in a predicament where the total count of deputies went down from 301 to 276 in the light of the deaths of 26 deputies. Which makes this convocation legitimate not only by the rules of assembly, but also by the quorum formation as well.

The principal decision on behalf of the House was the assembly of the Presidential council which consists of ten people under the heading of Salekh as-Samad, who is also the head of the “Ansar Allah” political bureau. Kasem Labuza from the General People’s council was appointed a vice-chairman. Apart from them, the newest Yemen government body includes representatives from the People’s union, Arab socialist party of resurgence, Yemen socialist party and the Naserit people’s unionist movement.

All of this makes the situation in Yemen ever more complicated, reducing the possibility of reaching a peaceful resolution, should the negotiations continue. The alliance between People’s union and “Ansar Allah” not only holds control over the Northern Yemen in the context of foreign intervention, but also makes progress on the legal battlefields. Another legitimate state body resumed operation by the Alliance’s initiative – the House of representatives.

The exiled Hadi has nothing to boast so far. Not only his influence in Yemen is in fractions of percents and military efforts under the wing of Saudi Arabia are losing steam, but also his reputation of being the only legitimate is now undermined, considering the House’s supremacy over his authority. Time works against the former president, rendering his positions on the upcoming negotiations more and more vulnerable.