The Yemeni-Yemeni talks hosted by the Gulf Cooperation Council next week could be a game changer for the country. Over 10 days (March 29 to April 7), scores of Yemeni politicians from the government, the two houses of parliament, members of political parties of different stripes and many unaffiliated participants, including lawyers, journalists and community leaders, will gather at the GCC headquarters in Riyadh to discuss Yemen’s present challenges and future prospects in an informal manner, facilitated and moderated by GCC officials and others.
The main purpose of this Yemeni-led gathering is to help participants of all political stripes move on from discussing the current state of war and destruction to an honest dialogue about how to create a more peaceful state, in which they can resume political and economic deliberations and restore the functionality of state institutions. The talks are expected to organize along parallel tracks — political, security, economic, humanitarian and governance, among others. By the end, the organizers hope to have some consensus moving forward and to establish a sustainable framework for future efforts.
Yemenis and others have repeatedly proposed these talks to the GCC, as it was one of the main sponsors of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference deliberations, which were held in Sanaa for 10 months from March 2013 to January 2014. The two conferences are similar in that they are both inclusive and Yemeni-led. Almost all the key political groups took part in the Sanaa talks, including the Houthis. The Riyadh consultations are also designed to accommodate all current political forces, including the Houthis and groups close to them. However, the format and purpose of the new consultations are quite different from the earlier Sanaa talks, although in many ways their outcomes are expected to be consistent and will complement each other.
The main difference between the two sets of consultations is the war. Next week’s talks take place while Yemen is in the midst of a devastating conflict that has torn it apart in every way. As such, one focus of these talks will be how to bring the country back from the brink, which requires all Yemenis to rally behind UN-mediated talks and for all parties to engage in peace negotiations in good faith.
Another difference is the dire humanitarian conditions, economic paralysis and breakdown in social order and cohesion, all brought about by the war that has raged since 2014, i.e., within months of the conclusion of the first national dialogue.
There has not been a chance for Yemenis from such diverse political backgrounds to gather and deliberate the future of their country for years. This fact in itself makes next week’s talks important, but there is also a sense of urgency because of the deteriorating conditions brought about by the eight-year-old war and the impasse facing the UN’s mediation. The military stalemate on the ground may also persuade the parties to explore new avenues for engagement.
During the period preceding the onset of the crisis in 2014, the GCC was Yemen’s top trading partner and accounted for about 80 percent of foreign direct investment in the country. In December 2001, the GCC started the process of integrating Yemen into the bloc’s fabric, admitting it into several of the GCC’s specialized agencies. In 2002, the GCC-Yemen Sanaa Accord was signed to align Yemen’s economic laws with those of the GCC, so as to enhance their two-way trade and investment further. In March 2006, the GCC adopted a 20-year plan to rehabilitate Yemen’s economy to prepare for its gradual integration into the GCC economy. In November 2006 and September 2012, the GCC co-sponsored international donor conferences to mobilize funds to accelerate Yemen’s economic development. About $15 billion was pledged over three conferences, 70 percent of which was from GCC countries and the bloc’s regional funds.
There has not been a chance for Yemenis from such diverse political backgrounds to gather and deliberate the future of their country for years.
Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
Geography, history and shared cultures have dictated the close partnerships between Yemen and the GCC states. Economic integration between them is inevitable too. Looking forward, they have similar security concerns and hopes and expectations about the future. As such, the GCC-hosted talks next week are also about how to deploy this partnership in times of need and to help Yemenis navigate their way back from the abyss of war and devastation. This involves, firstly, providing a space for Yemenis to deliberate freely and, secondly, supporting whatever consensus the talks produce.
Existing structures and mandates are capable of providing such support, both technically and financially.
Depending on the outcomes agreed at the talks, the GCC will be ready to facilitate future efforts to ensure their implementation. If asked, it is ready to engage positively and support those efforts.