x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Yemen's crises demand both sides negotiate

The new GCC initiative for Yemen has been given an initial nod of approval by the ruling party, but the opposition groups might not be easily convinced.

On Wednesday, Yemen's ruling party approved amendments to a GCC initiative that would see President Ali Abdullah Saleh hand power to his vice president 90 days after the deal is signed. The hope is to end a political stalemate that has exacerbated Yemen's economic and security crisis.

It is not clear whether the formula will be acceptable to the opposition forces, who were considering it yesterday. The coalition of opposition parties has already voiced reservations, saying the proposal did not provide anything new.

There are reasons for them to be sceptical. Mr Saleh has an atrocious record on following through with his promises and, even from convalescence in Saudi Arabia, the embattled leader might be expected to wriggle out of a supposedly binding deal. But Yemen's problems are on the scale of failed states such as Somalia and Afghanistan. The opposition has a responsibility to forge a way ahead as much as Mr Saleh does.

According to the initiative, elections would be held after Mr Saleh formally quit office and the opposition would join an interim unity government for a two-year transition period with Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi as interim president.

Opposition groups, especially represented by the youth protests in the streets, have objected to any participation by Mr Saleh. He has become a focus of rage, but the regime is more than one man. Loyalists control powerful bodies such as the Republican Guards, the Central Security Forces and the antiterrorism forces. The amended initiative, unlike past ones, includes restructuring military institutions. That, for the opposition, is decidedly more than a glass half full.

Events on the ground should convey a sense of urgency. A day before the announcement of the deal, at least 60 militants from the group Ansar Al Sharia, which is accused of ties to Al Qaeda, entered the town of Rowdah in the southern Shabwa province. The town is eight kilometres from major gas pipelines and a main transit point for gas and oil between the north and the southern port of Balhaf.

Yemen remains a mesh of rival tribes, militants and regional powers - many question whether claims of Al Qaeda are meant to shore up support for Mr Saleh's regime. Saudi Arabia also wields a heavy hand in the affairs of its southern neighbour and could play a decisive role in its stability. A disintegrating Yemen is in no one's interest.