This week, developments in Aden showed once again how difficult the situation in Yemen is. The fragmentation amongst Yemeni political actors stems largely from Houthi intransigence and refusal to engage seriously in a political process that can get Yemen on to a path of stability.
Clashes erupted in Aden last week, when the Southern Transitional Council seized large parts of the strategic port city from the government, to which it had so far been allied. The move prompted the Saudi-led Arab coalition, to intervene to halt further fractures in the local alliances that had been battling the Houthi rebels. A tenuous ceasefire has held since Sunday.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, met with King Salman in Saudi Arabia on Monday where the two leaders united in calling on pro-government parties to "prioritise dialogue and reason in the interest of Yemen and its people".
The renewed Saudi and Emirati call for calm and talks is a pivotal move as it could pressure the factions to uphold the ceasefire. Their position was backed by UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, who urged all parties involved in the conflict to engage in “inclusive dialogue”. If the UN and the Arab coalition’s calls are not heeded, the result could be disastrous for the people of Yemen. Aden has been the seat of power of the country’s internationally recognised government ever since Houthi rebels took over the capital Sanaa in 2015. Infighting in the country’s temporary capital can only weaken Yemen’s government and benefit the Houthis, as well as terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda and its affiliates - all at the expense of a desperate civilian population.
To avoid such a disastrous outcome, the UAE's peace-first approach has sought to encourage both sides to the negotiating table, while providing support on the ground to help its local allies fight extremists. This is why the UAE and Saudi Arabia have supported the Stockholm agreement, which includes a ceasefire deal in Hodeidah, brokered by the UN and signed by both warring sides in December last year. Yet the Houthis have significantly impeded its implementation and shown reluctance to engage in discussions. Influenced by Tehran, the rebels have failed to follow through with the UN-led peace negotiations, blocked international aid deliveries and repeatedly attacked civilian targets in Saudi Arabia.
Since the civil war broke out in 2015, Yemen has had more than its share of violence and calamity. Cholera outbreaks, famine and poverty have become commonplace, prompting the UN to describe the conflict as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. More division can only add to the woes of Yemenis. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have sent a strong message to their allies in the conflict, asserting that the clashes in Aden can only impede de-escalation efforts. It is now up to the parties to reassess their strategy and settle their differences at the negotiating table, rather than on the streets of Aden.