On the 14th September 2021, the Next Century Foundation hosted the United Nations side meeting on Yemen. The meeting was chaired by Safa Al-Azami with keynote speaker, Dr Abdul Galil Shaif. Discussions covered the accession of Hans Grunberg, the impact of the success of Afghanistan’s Taliban on the Yemen war, as well as the involvement of foreign powers in the Yemen conflict.
The arrival of the newly appointed United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grunberg, sparked discussion. On social media, Yemenis have responded with positivity to Grunberg’s accession as well as the resumption of diplomatic efforts for peace following his arrival. However, there remains an underlining uncertainty regarding the future of Yemen, as noted by Dr Abdul Galil Shaif, “We have a new envoy, we do not have a new policy”. Evidently, the failure of Grunberg’s predecessors to resolve and end the conflict has had considerable influence on the faith placed in the role of the Special Envoy. On the other hand, as noted by Karen Dabrowska, the distinction between Grunberg and his predecessors is Grunberg’s inclusion of the Southern governorates in his inaugural briefing to the United Nations Security Council. In his briefing, Grunberg stated, “Peace in Yemen will not be sustained in the long term if southern voices do not play a part in shaping it”. Although members of the NCF working group recognised this as a sign of progress, most also felt that the South should continue to be acknowledged and on a more substantive scale.
With recent events in Afghanistan in the forefront of many minds, there was conjecture as to the influence of the Taliban on Ansar Allah, the political wing of the Houthi movement in Yemen. Several parallels were drawn between the Houthi and the Taliban, including the similar manner in which both groups had acceded to power and the influence of international attention on the actions of the groups. Dr Abdul Galil Shaif suggested that, “The Yemenis would become more extremists in the same way as Afghanistan and Taliban”. It was suggested that the success of the Taliban in reclaiming Afghanistan has become a source of inspiration for the Houthis. Various attendees viewed the current climate in Afghanistan and the failure of the West in the region as illustrative of the potential future of Yemen.
The involvement of foreign powers, specifically Western interests, in the Yemen conflict was divisive. The “localisation” of the peace process was an idea that was supported by many Yemenis. Both Dr Abdul Galil Shaif and Dr Neil Partrick stated that the localisation of the peace process has not been one of the United Nation’s objectives in regard to the Yemen conflict. The consensus amongst Yemenis present was that Yemenis should decide the future of their state and nation, rather than regional or international powers. When questioned on the role of Western powers in the conflict, there were disagreements amongst attendees. Some viewed Western powers as attempting to “nation-build” in Yemen. Whereas others believed that any involvement of Western powers should be limited to the role of mediator or facilitator in the peace process. Perhaps there is room for encouraging future prosperity for Yemen through trade agreements and deals, as suggested by Patrick Emek. Unfortunately however, as argued by YM Al-Hussain, regional powers are simply pursuing their own interests in Yemen. Dr Abdul Galil Shaif did not hesitate to emphasise the extent to which the West is benefiting from the conflict, specifically from the sale of arms. As reiterated by numerous attendees, the access that Yemen provides to the Red Sea should be a motivating factor for international powers to become involved in encouraging the peace process, not in taking advantage of the current conflict.