Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Houthi peace plan smacks of deceit

Houthi rebels may talk about inclusion. But their history tells a very different story.
Can Yemen's Houthi rebels be trusted in peace talks?  Yahya Arhab / EPA
Can Yemen's Houthi rebels be trusted in peace talks? Yahya Arhab / EPA

If there is one thing Yemen watchers have long understood, it is to take the words of the Houthi rebels with a pinch of salt. Sometimes, indeed, a pinch is not enough. Listen to the words of Saleh Al Sammad, a spokesman for the Houthis, earlier this week as he proposed peace talks to end the Saudi-led intervention. “We have no conditions,” he said for peace talks – except that they are overseen by “any international or regional parties that have no aggressive positions towards the Yemeni people”. Those words say much about the Houthis, their worldview, and what change they hope to accomplish inside Yemen.

Start with the “regional parties”. Mr Al Sammad is implicitly blaming five of the six GCC countries who have joined the intervention in Yemen. But those countries are the ones who backed and helped draft the transition plan of 2011 that removed Ali Abdullah Saleh from power and saved Yemen from the possibility of a civil war. By refusing to accept the transition, the Houthis appear to want to take Yemen back to a time before Abdrabbu Mansur Hadi was president – which, by total coincidence, was when Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is backing the rebels, was in power.

And then note the “Yemeni people”. Since their sweep out of their northern stronghold of Saada, the Houthis have cloaked themselves in the language of national unity, pretending to stand for the interests of all Yemenis. They have yet to explain precisely how standing up for Yemen involves seeking to assassinate the president, overthrowing the government and shelling the cities of Taez and Aden.

This doubletalk and pretence has been a hallmark of the Houthis since they took over Sanaa in September. Mr Al Sammad should know: after all, when his rebels stormed into the capital last year and forced the prime minister to resign at gunpoint, he was one of the Houthis who was given a role in the government of Mr Hadi. But that was not enough for the rebels, who then toppled the government, marched on Taez and Aden and used fighter jets against Mr Hadi’s home.

Peace talks are necessary for the conflict in Yemen to end. But what is also needed is compromise. The Houthis dragged Yemen to this point, pretending otherwise is unlikely to persuade anyone who has been paying attention.

Updated: April 6, 2015 04:00 AM