x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Yemen needs friends now more than ever

The GCC and the international community, including the US and the EU, should not back away from negotiations with Yemen's president despite his refusal to cooperate.

No one could say they didn't see it coming. On Sunday night, the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, once again refused to sign a GCC deal that would have enabled a peaceful transition of power.

The Gulf states responded quickly, signalling they will consider pulling out of talks. This reluctance is understandable: armed supporters of the president surrounded the UAE embassy in Sanaa, where envoys from the GCC, EU and the US were meeting. Clearly, Mr Saleh has shown his true colours.

But while pulling up stakes would seem the obvious choice, this is precisely the moment when more engagement, not less, is essential.

International entities which have so far remained quietly on the sidelines should now engage in full. The GCC, whose members are closest to Yemen geographically, may not have all the levers needed to force Mr Saleh's hand. In this regard, the United States specifically has a far bigger role to play.

Mr Saleh seems to believe his western supporters won't abandon him, given his stated commitment to targeting al Qa'eda and other Islamist terrorists on his soil. He should know by now that Washington's patience is not endless, and the US should remind him of that.

More importantly, though, any future transition plan needs far broader buy-in from the Yemeni public. Opposition groups like the Joint Meetings Party may appear unified, but they lack clear support from the many youth movements that have taken to the streets. Youth groups, for their part, must work to enunciate their demands beyond calls for the downfall and prosecution of Mr Saleh.

Mr Saleh still enjoys massive support. To many, he has succeeded over the years in maintaining unity while appearing to target the country's terrorism threat. He has also maintained loyalty among tribal leaders. It is by no means certain any successor could maintain this status quo. Nonetheless, the idea of him remaining in power is less appealing.

As the world waits for Yemen's next move, two things are certain: violence will not end the crisis, nor will a disengaged world community. Yemenis themselves will ultimately choose their own future; only a deal that includes all players can bring about a peaceful transition of power. But as Mr Saleh's stunt in once again backtracking from the GCC deal proved, he needs more forceful convincing.