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Op-Ed: Yemen is on the verge of collapseAs the situation in Yemen continues to deteriorate, Manish Rai urges that a regional approach to the crisis should be implemented. According to Rai, after a ceasefire agreement is in place, humanitarian aid can reach the millions of people in need and the parties involved in the conflict can engage in a dialogue to end the fighting.
With more than 10,000 people killed and the country on the brink of famine, the Yemen war has entered its fourth year. Yemen has long been the poorest country in the Arab world, with limited arable land and water resources. Although it has some oil, this resource never made the country rich and is likely to be depleted in the near future.
The ongoing multi-party conflict and blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition has worsened the conditions for the Yemeni citizens. Now, more than 22.2 million people in Yemen require humanitarian assistance, including 3 million people who urgently need assistance to survive, according to the United Nations. Around 18 million people, more than 60 percent of the total population of the country, are food-insecure while an estimated 16 million people lack access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation. In addition, the intensive bombing of civilian infrastructure, including water and sewer systems, has resulted in the worst cholera outbreak of recent time. These facts clearly illustrate the magnitude of humanitarian crisis Yemen is going through.
In addition to the worst humanitarian crisis, Yemen is also witnessing a growing influence of Al-Qaeda & ISIS and separatist movements. The current conflict in Yemen has offered terrorist groups – namely Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS – lawless territory to exploit and opportunities to recruit from the Yemeni masses afflicted by the humanitarian catastrophe.
AQAP still maintains a presence in the central and northern cities of Ataq, Shabwah, al Bayda and Hadramat, with its leadership based in the urban areas of Ma’arib. ISIS also has a strong network and sleeper cells in the country. Both Al-Qaeda and ISIS have exploited the conflict and the collapse of government authority to gain new recruits and allies and expand their influence.
Yemen suffers from regionalism as well. The southern part of the country was an independent state for around 23 years and was never happy with its 1990 union with the north, which even led to a short-lived civil war in 1994. Now, the groups like the Southern Transition Council (STC) are encouraging this feeling of separatism. The STC not only declared its opposition to internationally recognized President Hadi’s Aden-based government but it also advocates for the re-division of Yemen into two separate states, north and south. It’s being suspected that the transition council is getting support from the UAE.
At this point in time, Yemen is going through its worst and most difficult phase. Yemen’s survival as a unified country appears in doubt as it faces numerous challenges. But the consequences of Yemen collapsing are dire. A failing Yemen would entail half of the large population of 23 million seeking asylum in neighboring countries. Going forward, this will become a significant problem for these countries.
Yemen’s collapsing state will also hold negative implications for international maritime trade as the conflict is occurring near a major trading artery for the global economy, the Suez Canal-Red Sea shipping lane, and for regional security for countries on both sides of the Red Sea, including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf of Aden.
As Yemen’s problems are not confined to its borders, a regional approach should be implemented to resolve the crisis. First of all, the immediate ceasefire ending all foreign military attacks is certainly required. After the ceasefire is in place and being observed by every party to the conflict, humanitarian assistance can begin for the needy people. Later on, a broad national dialogue can be conveyed, and through this dialogue, the establishment of an inclusive unity government can be achieved.
The Sultanate of Oman, which has refused to take sides in the conflict, could act as a broker, much like it did in the run-up to the Iran nuclear talks. The aim of such talks could be to establish a federal state, as first proposed during the National Dialogue of 2013-2014. A successful deal would balance the grievances and worries of the Northern Zaydi tribes and of the Southern and Eastern tribes. This deal should put forth a system of obligatory power sharing, as history has proven that the domination of the federal government by one tribal alliance would quickly lead to a new conflict.
With the strengthening of the state and its institutions, much attention can be assigned to the elimination of AQAP and ISIS. It should be understood that a peaceful and stable Yemen is not only in the interest of Yemenis but also in the interest of the neighboring countries and region at large.
Manish Rai is a geo-political analyst and columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and the editor of geo-political news agency ViewsAround (VA). He has done reporting from Jordon, Iran and Afghanistan. His work has been quoted in House of Commons, British Parliament.
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