PoliciesPublicationsStudiesSocial Protests and Relevant Impacts for Riyadh Agreement Implementation

24 March، 2022by Hani Al-Mughals0

This paper deals with the protests and their impact on the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, through discussing their reasons and implications.

Dr. Hani Al-Mughals

Executive Summary

Several Yemeni regions under the control of the internationally-recognized Government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) witnessed spontaneous and unprecedented mass protests in September 2021. Thousands flocked to the streets to protest the fuel crisis, the national currency’s collapse, the degradation of basic services, and ongoing salary disruptions. These protests brought to the fore the importance of implementing the Riyadh Agreement, signed in November 2019 between the internationally-recognized Government of Yemen and the STC, as a necessity to prevent the economy from collapsing and the situation from devolving into chaos.

This paper deals with the protests and their impact on the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, through discussing the reasons and implications of the protests, the responses of the parties to the Riyadh Agreement, the impact of the protests on the Riyadh Agreement, the challenges and difficulties facing the Riyadh Agreement, and the future of the Riyadh Agreement and its repercussions for Yemen’s political process.

The protests were triggered by deteriorating economic and living situations, which have complicated political underpinnings that work to prolong and intensify Yemen’s ongoing crisis. Economic management is influenced by the conflicting parties’ interests, with corruption growing at the expense of citizens’ livelihoods. The protests are a resounding outcry against the war’s continuation and its political and military appropriation of citizens’ economic priorities.

The Government and the STC took a heavily securitized response to the protests; two individuals were murdered and an unknown number were injured in Hadhramaut, where Government authorities imposed a strict night curfew. Among the protesters in Aden, one person was murdered and dozens were injured. The STC proclaimed a state of emergency in Aden and remainder of the southern governorates, which appeared to be aimed at consolidate the STC’s symbolic political presence in those governorates, which remain outside its control. The STC also turned the enraged protests against the Government, using the topic of southern independence to deflect living demands into political goals. The STC exacerbated southerners’ concerns over an “existential war” undertaken by the Houthis in collusion with Government forces to reoccupy the South, resting on the Houthis’ capture of several districts of the southern Shabwa governorate.

The government’s reaction to the demands of the protesters was different. The return of the Prime Minister and several ministers to Aden was expedited to carry out strictly economic rescue missions. This return was more closely linked to “economic promises” to provide international and regional support to the government than to mutual understandings between the government and the STC regarding the completion of the Riyadh Agreement or the development of a new and long-term mechanism to ensure the Agreement’s full implementation. Internal military developments, such as the collapse of government forces in the face of the Houthis’ advance on some southern Marib fronts in conjunction with the protests, appear to have played a role in convincing the government of the importance of being present in the interior regions during the next stage. In any case, the Prime Minister’s return to Aden was the consequence of a coordinated and intertwined collection of variables (protests, military changes, and international and regional pressures), not of prior agreements between the two parties to the Riyadh Agreement. Hence, it does not necessarily indicate the two parties’ strong desire to resolve their differences and carry out the agreement in good faith.

The government’s position was damaged by its partial return to Aden, which occurred in the context of a clearly stated fixed-time process to complete the execution of the Riyadh Agreement. This return was supposed to be a chance for the government to re-establish its cohesiveness and unity, to regain international and regional trust and complete the sensitive and urgent economic duties that had been assigned to it. This return was not accompanied by assurances that the agreement would be implemented in its entirety, exacerbating differences within the internationally-recognized authority led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. However, it is evident during the protests that President Hadi’s domestic political status was seriously harmed. Then, in Hadhramaut and Taiz, enraged protesters chanted against him and tore his photographs. Later, senior politicians accused him of indirectly aligning with the fait accompli that the STC is attempting to impose on the country at the price of its unity. The great frequency of calls to alter Security Council Resolution 2216 could be recognized at the international level. This entails President Hadi’s soft removal, either concurrently with the protests or in the immediate aftermath.

The protests, on the other hand, exposed the depths of the STC’s disagreements and disparities, helping to convert a segment of it into an unprecedented military separatist movement during the “Crater events” in early October 2021. In addition, several STC leaders resigned, saying that the South’s claim to self-determination had been abandoned. These disagreements may resurface and spread in the future, especially if some of them have regional implications.

In terms of the protests’ impact on the Riyadh Agreement’s implementation process, the protests and their subsequent series of repercussions, such as the partial return of the government to Aden, have created a better situation for moving forward with the agreement’s implementation, though the long-term viability of this situation has yet to be determined. Protests shattered the stalemate that had plagued the implementation process since the government’s departure from Aden in March. They paved the way for a strong international and regional diplomatic effort to begin, which included international diplomatic delegations, as well as the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, holding a series of encouraging meetings with STC officials to explore their perspectives and encourage them to engage in negotiations to complete the agreement.

Riyadh was able to partially revive the indirect negotiation process between the internationally-recognized government and the STC in mid-November after the STC President, Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, received an urgent invitation to visit Riyadh in response to the STC’s threat to withdraw from the government if no immediate solutions to the economic situation were found. Riyadh’s indirect negotiation process, which was launched with the support of a visible international diplomatic effort, appears to be bearing fruit, particularly in terms of bringing the economic part of the Riyadh Agreement forward. For the first time, the STC praised President Hadi’s decisions to restructure the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) Board of Directors in early December, and asked him to make further “consensual measures” aimed at reactivating the financial and supervisory institutions.

The government, on the other hand, was prompted by the protests, as well as the Houthi military advance toward Marib, to focus on “unifying the ranks” with anti-Houthi forces, including the STC, and postpone its demands to implement the remainder of the Riyadh Agreement’s military/security section. This freed up time in the future to concentrate on the Agreement’s political components, the most important of which is the establishment of a joint negotiating delegation between the two sides in final discussions with the Houthis. Despite certain unresolved challenges relating to the implementation of the military/security components, it is unlikely that these concerns will obstruct development in other aspects.

Alongside the positive effects that can be built upon to move toward full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, there are a number of challenges, the most prominent of which are the conflicting priorities and demands of the two parties to the Riyadh Agreement, as well as the difficulty of subjecting President Hadi’s decisions to complete agreement as demanded by the STC. Furthermore, there has been a selective application of certain provisions of the Riyadh Agreement while neglecting the associated duties, as well as the continuance of contentious contacts between the two sides, as in the case of Shabwa, a wealthy oil and gas region.

In general, the full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement is contingent on success in halting Yemen’s comprehensive economic collapse, restoring a reasonable level of financial and monetary stability; improving citizens’ living conditions, including the resumption of salary payments; halting inflation and currency manipulation; improving public services; and preventing the humanitarian catastrophe from worsening. It is undeniable that attaining all of this is contingent on establishing the government’s presence in Aden, its seriousness in constructively assuming its responsibilities, and its capacity to carry out the necessary changes. International and regional trends should also strongly support the government and the Agreement’s implementation.

Finding suitable financial and economic stability would improve the agreement’s implementation prospects, intensify the beneficial consequences of societal protests, and make the post-protest period a critical turning point in the Riyadh Agreement’s full implementation. Failure on the economic and financial front, on the other hand, will increase implementation issues and may result in huge setbacks that are impossible to predict. The link between the economic issue and the Riyadh Agreement’s implementation path is critical, and it will continue to be so at least until Yemen’s economy regains its minimum status. Following that, the Agreement’s implementation might pursue a more self-contained pathway. Because of the upheaval generated by the economic crisis, this pathway may suddenly be surrounded by unexpected changes and problems.

In short, there are stronger chances in the future to complete the Riyadh Agreement. These do not, however, go beyond moving the negotiations issue forward between the two parties and opening for discussion on key issues in the agreement in the near future, such as the formation of a joint negotiating delegation and possibly discussing the issue of the South’s political future. The anticipated end results are hazy, and it is too early to speculate on them. However, if the Riyadh Agreement is fully implemented or major and advanced steps are taken in this direction, this will tighten the political and economic noose around the Houthi group, forcing it to change its behavior toward peace efforts and initiatives, and opening up a broader scope for holding comprehensive and multiple peace consultations under UN supervision.

Introduction

In the middle of 2021, massive protests occurred over numerous Yemeni cities under the control of the internationally-recognized government and the STC. Thousands took to the streets in Yemen’s largest “liberated” cities, including Taiz, Aden, Mukalla, Sayun, Ataq, Al Dhale’e, and Lawdar, demanding immediate solutions to the stifling economic crisis, including halting the national currency’s ongoing decline against foreign currencies, delivering oil derivatives and public services, and resuming the payment of public sector salaries.

This research paper deals with the influence of the protests on the execution of the Riyadh Agreement, agreed between the government and the STC in November 2019. It examines the prospects of the agreement’s execution in light of the protests’ impact and the potential consequences for Yemen’s political process.

Methodology

This research paper is written using the methodology of monitoring and research analysis of developments. This methodology is based on the extrapolation of data and partial facts about the protests and the Riyadh Agreement’s execution. It connects them holistically to gain a better understanding and interpretation of the direction and magnitude of the protests’ impacts on the implementation of the agreement and the political process in general. The primary sources reflected in the official statements of the parties to the agreement and the comments of officials were used. Some protest slogans and speeches were also analyzed to understand their effects. Secondary sources, such as studies and research papers, are also employed to support the study subject.

First: Societal Protests; Context, Reasons, and Implications
1. Economic Context of the Protests: Overview

Yemenis’ living conditions deteriorated beginning in June 2021. The scarcity of oil derivatives has returned in various Yemeni towns, as the price of a liter of gasoline soared to almost YER 750, driving up the cost of basic foodstuffs. Meanwhile, the national currency’s value against international currencies continued to fall. The Yemeni currency had reached the 1,100 rials per US dollar mark by the middle of September last year.[1] This is a catastrophic and unprecedented fall in the value of the Yemeni Rial, which has been followed by a rise in inflation and a 90% increase in the commission for internal cash transfers from Aden to Sana’a. As a result, the prospects of those surviving below the poverty line have decreased, and living circumstances have grown impossibly severe.

The fall in state earnings from oil and gas production and export owing to the conflict has contributed significantly to the worsening economic conditions. It has also resulted from a drop in remittances from overseas, particularly from Gulf countries,[2] as well as a shortage of foreign exchange reserves to fund basic commodity imports and maintain currency stability. The government formed as a result of the Riyadh Agreement was able to cope with the ramifications of the situation in 2019, thanks to a two billion dollar Saudi deposit. However, the deposit’s disbursement and completion by the end of 2020, along with allegations of the government’s lack of openness in the use of deposit money, meant that Riyadh declined to provide an additional deposit that would provide longer-term financial stability.[3]

In the same vein, the failure of government policies to address the repercussions of financial division coming from the CBY decision to relocate its headquarters from Sana’a to Aden in September 2016 has had disastrous ramifications for the economy. To cover the budget shortfall at the start of 2017, the government printed additional banknotes. The Houthis, on the other hand, eventually prohibited commerce in the new currency in the regions under their control. This resulted in a widening of the monetary divide and a dispersion of foreign currency rates inside the country.[4] To cover the imbalance in the balance of payments, the government proceeded to print larger numbers of banknotes. As a result, the local currency money supply inflated versus hard currencies,[5] and the price of one dollar surpassed YER 1,700.

2. Interpreting the reasons for the protests: Economic and Political Debate

The recent societal protests are primarily motivated by poor economic and living conditions as a result of the currency crisis and price increases. However, the economic factor as a motivator for protest in a war situation is more synthetic than it appears at first glance. This factor’s impetus concerning the protests is not limited to currency depreciation and inflation, both of which have direct material consequences for citizens’ lives and livelihoods, but also includes spontaneous popular perceptions of the negative and complex political roots of the economic problems. Due to the politicization of the economic file and its relation to nebulous war accounts that do not disclose any near-term outcomes, the citizen who suffers from poor living conditions thinks that this situation will continue.

Since the start of the war, politicians from all walks of life have staked the solution to citizens’ economic problems on long-term political expectations, either related to achieving a comprehensive political settlement or reaching the point of a “military decision” in favor of the party of their preference. As a result, the economy continues to deteriorate, and residents’ precarious living conditions worsen. The partial agreements and settlements, such as the Riyadh Agreement between the government and the STC (November 2019) and the Stockholm Agreement between the government and the Houthis (December 2018), demonstrated the government’s inability to free the “citizen’s sustenance” from the grip of war or curb political manipulation of the economy.

The Riyadh Agreement, signed in late 2019, established a “national” government, the head of which stated that the government’s priorities are economic rather than political or military. But, in the end, the economic crisis escalated in a way that had never happened before under this government. Apart from that, perhaps the most important attempt to approach the economic and humanitarian file through a track separate from the political and military tracks was made by former UN envoy Martin Griffiths since the start of 2019, based on the Stockholm Agreement and high expectations of the parties’ response. Griffiths’ endeavor raised hopes for some time that outcomes might be reached in terms of depositing Hodeidah port revenues in the Houthi-controlled city’s central bank, resuming employee salaries, opening highways and bridges, providing basic services, and alleviating the economic crisis. This attempt was quickly thwarted on May 18, 2020, when the Houthis confiscated a sum of YER 35 billion deposited in the Central Bank – Hodeidah Branch without notice.[6]

With much determination, Griffiths returned in mid-2020, but this time on a far greater scale than his last attempt. After UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on Yemeni parties to halt hostilities and unite in the face of COVID-19 in March 2020,[7] Griffiths rushed to present the conflicting parties with the idea of signing a “Joint Declaration” that included essential economic arrangements, among other things, in April 2020. The international community believed that the expansion of the pandemic, together with the worsening economic crisis and the growing scale of the humanitarian disaster, would be enough to arouse the consciences of the conflicting parties and force them to make reciprocal compromises. At the end of the day, everyone recognized how foolish this perspective was. The official conclusion of the economic discussion with the political/military led to confirmation of the first’s solubility in the second, as well as its incorporation under its intricacies and mysterious and endless subtleties. This is unquestionably a terrifying outcome for the millions of ordinary people who had banked their expectations on the accomplishment of international initiatives and partial settlements to prioritize citizens’ economic and living priorities.

The crisis issue in Yemen experienced what can only be called “economic death” in the war’s momentum in the run-up to the protests. Deceptive discourse about Yemen’s reconstruction has disappeared without a trace, as have naive ambitions about the region’s commitment to restore the “liberated districts”. The commitment of donor countries to support emergency humanitarian response plans has dwindled.[8] The task of obtaining the funds required to fulfill the bare minimum of assistance appeared to be as difficult as hunger and destitution itself. International organizations operating in Yemen rushed to announce cuts to their assistance programs, increasing concerns of impending hunger among the poor.

Citizens were driven to take action because of the “death of the economy”, or its deterioration and neglect at the official level. The purpose appears to be to bring the economy back to the forefront, and to call attention to the threat of the conflict extending at the price of ordinary people’s livelihoods. It makes no difference in this conflict whether the citizen is reasonable in his demands and expressions or thinks like the politician. What matters is that he has enough “economic romanticism” to believe that urgent solutions to economic issues must be pursued regardless of other factors.

Other factors that led to the Yemeni streets’ rage in the aforementioned areas, such as insecurity and the growth of social discontent, are included in the same framework. Military failures by government forces against the Houthis on the fronts of Al Bayda, Shabwa, and Marib are also likely to have harmed confidence in the ability of anti-Houthi parties — including the government and the STC — to defeat the Houthis and end the war quickly, resulting in economic struggles.

3. Protest Dynamics and Implications

On September 9, 2021, the first in the recent wave of protests against the poor economic and living conditions occurred in Mukalla, Hadhramaut Governorate. Hundreds of people turned out to protest high living costs, a shortage of oil derivatives, and poor services.[9] Most of Hadhramaut’s cities, including Seiyun, Tarim, Al Qatn, Ghail Bawazir, and Aldays Alsharqia, saw comparable protests within a few days. Young people in various parts of these cities blocked public roadways and attempted to force the closure of businesses and schools. Meanwhile, civil disobedience occurred in Seiyun, disrupting city traffic.

On September 13, spontaneous protests occurred in Crater District, Aden Governorate, condemning the power outage and demanding an improvement in services. Similar demonstrations erupted in practically all of Aden’s districts within hours. Owing to the high temperature and power outages, the governor of Aden decided to halt studies in all Aden schools on September 9,[10] ostensibly as a means of absorbing public outrage over the city’s increased rate of power outages to around 18 hours per day due to the fuel crisis. However, this measure may have exacerbated the protests and increased the number of people who participated in them. Images from the Aden protests showed a large number of school-aged boys taking part.

Due to the fuel crisis, the collapse of the currency, the rise in prices, and the degradation in the level of services, significant protests took place in the city of Taiz on September 18. The protests had taken on a similar tone to those in Hadhramaut and Aden by the end of the month. Hundreds of young people came to the streets in several areas of Taiz, in discrete protests that saw clashes with security forces and the burning of tires on the roadways, instead of mass demonstrations.

In the cities of Hadhramaut and Aden, power outages were a major element in aggravating public rage. The strike called by commercial truck drivers in Taiz since the beginning of September in protest of financial charges at security posts on the Aden-Taiz Road[11] sparked protests in the city and parts of the surrounding countryside. However, the shift in the protest movement from enormous protests to violent and direct confrontations with security, which lasted roughly a week, coincided with the Taiz Traders Association’s declaration of a strike in protest of the currency’s declining value. The statement by the exchange associations in Aden to cease exchange transactions and cash transfers, as well as the closure of fuel stations and obstruction of business mobility, appears to have fueled the protest movement in all cases.

Despite the unanimity of the demands for ending the fuel crisis, preventing the currency’s fall, reducing price spikes, and improving service levels, the protests included a variety of objectives. The topic of dismissing and holding responsible the corrupt, with the governors of the two governorates at the head, was at the forefront of the protest movements’ demands in Hadhramaut and Taiz, albeit to varying degrees, since it was clearer in Hadhramaut than in Taiz. Those demands were present in Mukalla and other Hadhramaut cities from the beginning of the protests. Meanwhile, in the Taiz protests, the demand for the governor’s removal was postponed until the last days of September. Aden protests did not witness demands for the dismissal of the governor of Aden, who was appointed by consensus between the government and the STC following the Riyadh Agreement.

The Hadhramaut protests espoused rhetoric aimed at exposing the “southern issue” as a demand, with protesters accusing the government of waging a “war of services” against the south. The STC’s activists appear to have had some success in guiding the protests for a period, particularly in Mukalla, where the STC planned a major demonstration in July 2021.[12] On the first day of the September protests, protesters set fire to the headquarters of the Yemeni Islah Party, which opposes the STC.[13] In Aden, the protests were overshadowed by livelihood demands, and there were no clear directions to highlight specific southern demands. Protesters marched toward the STC headquarters and another group toward Al Ma’ashiq Palace, the interim seat of the government guarded by Saudi forces.

In general, the protests blended economic demands with uncoordinated political appeals to remove the government and end the Saudi-led coalition’s participation in the conflict. Hadhramaut and Taiz were the epicenters of these demands. Protesters in Mukalla demanded that the Saudi-led Arab coalition leave immediately. Protesters in Mukalla and Tarim tore up photographs of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and King Salman bin Abdulaziz, which were strewn throughout the city’s streets.[14] Protesters in Taiz not only denounced Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik (a native of this governorate), but also tore up photographs of President Hadi in the city’s streets.[15] They expressed widespread dissatisfaction with the Arab coalition, calling on Saudi Arabia to assume its obligations in the face of Yemen’s economic crisis.

4. Protest’s Implications in the Context of War

Typically, wars give few opportunities for societal protest. Thus, the geography of protest and its link to the war itself is the first thing that comes to mind when considering the ramifications of protest activity in regions controlled by the government and the STC. When war escalates and loses its function and rationale on a regular basis, progressive social action spaces emerge to look for ordinary chances for existence outside of what remains of a once-real war, or in the hazy area between war and peace.

The objective of maintaining society under the threat of war or summoning war in the form of inexplicable security chaos in “liberated” regions, that is, places that did not become part of the conflict, even partially, is to confiscate residents’ economic priorities. It also aims to conceal the inability to face the test of power, and postpone the conditions of a decent life for citizens indefinitely, or until the maturation of non-public and non-national agendas. As a result, the war is founded on interests and connections that are independent of people’s demands, which are regressing in the framework of war interests. Through economic protests, citizens feel estranged from this structure and its political and military classes. These protests have strong political overtones, condemning the war’s continuation as an elite match, one that consistently denies its professed aims — whatever those goals may be — and continues relentlessly the mission of destroying society.

Second: How have the parties to the Riyadh Agreement dealt with protests and responded to demands?
1. Violence against protests

The two parties to the Riyadh Agreement (the Yemeni government and the STC) dealt with the protests with varying degrees of violence directed at the protesters. The government gave local governments in Taiz, Hadhramaut, and Shabwa carte blanche to deal with the protesters without fear of legal repercussions. Even though three people were murdered and others were injured in the protests in Aden and Hadhramaut, the government refused to denounce the repression. It did not commit to holding individuals responsible for these acts accountable nor did it take steps to refer them for investigation. Except for the Hadhramaut Representatives bloc in the House of Representatives, no official statement or remark was issued by the official bodies constituting the internationally-recognized authority to reflect their position on the violence used against the protests from the beginning of the protests until the date of the Prime Minister’s return to Aden (September 28). The bloc condemned the use of live ammunition against peaceful protesters and urged an investigation and the prosecution of anybody found guilty of firing live ammunition at protesters.[16]

After the pressure from the protests mounted on the local authorities in Taiz, and protests spread to parts of the city’s southern countryside, the Islah Party, which runs the city’s local affairs, issued a statement declaring that it is “clearly on the side of the citizens’ demands”. The party also demanded that the “legitimate government” take full responsibility for the situation. Many saw Islah’s statement as an obvious attempt to ease public pressure on its local bodies, to prevent associated troops from further engagement in suppressing protesters, and to maybe hold the government, in which Islah has a number of ministers, accountable. Furthermore, “the corrective procedures begin initially with the return of the government to do its business from Aden or one of the liberated governorates”, according to the statement.[17] By doing so, Islah wanted to remind protesters that the economic downturn is the consequence of the STC’s reluctance to implement the Riyadh Agreement, as it is a fierce opponent of the Yemeni Islah Party in the southern arena.

Governor Faraj Al-Bahsani, Brigadier General of Hadhramaut’s Second Military District, announced a partial curfew from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. in Hadhramaut. Al-Bahsani mentioned the existence of a “Houthi plot to attack the freed territories and southern governorates” in a meeting with military and security commanders, emphasizing the need to confront acts of chaos and security breaches.[18]

The STC, on the other hand, appeared surprised by the protests in Aden. While the STC was working to incite protests against the government in some southern cities, it was surprised to see hundreds of protesters take to the streets of Crater, Sheikh Othman, Mansoura, Al-Tawahi, and other districts, raising the same economic demands heard in other southern cities, as well as angry slogans directed at both the STC and the internationally-recognized government.

The STC used excessive force toward the protesters, resulting in one person being killed and scores being injured in different parts of Aden. Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, the President of the STC, declared a state of emergency in the southern governorates on September 15, ordering his forces to “attack with an iron fist the groups who attempt to undermine security and stability”.[19] The proclamation of a state of emergency signaled that the protests were in danger of spiraling out of control, but the STC also hoped to use it to solidify its actual or symbolic authoritarian presence in Aden and other southern governorates.

2. “Legitimate Government”: Economic Response Constrained by Structural Impediments

With the escalation of protests in the second half of September, the Yemeni government requested urgent economic assistance from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries through Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, as well as the convening of an emergency conference to prevent the currency and living conditions from deteriorating further.[20] Indeed, the government was well aware of the difficulty in obtaining any kind of foreign aid or grants, including the ability to use International Monetary Fund (IMF) drawing rights, before embarking on economic reforms aimed at restoring regional and international trust in the government and its administrative and financial approach.[21] As a consequence, the government’s capacity to respond to even the most basic demands of the protesters, such as a speedy improvement in economic, living, and service conditions, was severely constrained, as it had been in the past.[22] The “legitimate government” was forced to expedite the return to Aden as an inevitable response to the changes taking place in the country,[23] and the resulting internal and external pressures of the protests, which occupied a larger geographical space and drew the attention of those concerned with the Yemeni file from countries throughout the region and the world. This return was tied to “economic promises” to offer international and regional assistance to the government, rather than solid vows to complete the Riyadh Agreement or establish the necessary circumstances for its implementation.

The Quartet countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) issued a joint statement on the economic situation in Yemen and the decline of the Yemeni rial, emphasizing the importance of speeding up the completion of the Riyadh Agreement.[24] However, the statement reflected the international community’s demand that the government return to Aden to conduct strictly economic rescue missions. This return was not mentioned in the context of a clearly defined political mechanism to complete the Riyadh Agreement’s implementation. The statement also neglected to reconfirm the two sides’ mutual commitments to the agreement or to develop a new and time-bound mechanism to assure its implementation.

Whatever the shape and scale of the government’s reaction to public demands, it occurred in tandem with regional and international trends minimizing the possibility of unrest devolving into disorder and encircling the Houthis’ enormous and swift military gains since mid-2021. The following are the main trends that the government appears to be focusing on right now:

  • The Prime Minister’s return to Aden is intended to instill confidence, first and foremost, that the economic crisis will not be allowed to spiral out of control.
  • Renewing the regional function of the Riyadh Agreement; an alliance framework with short-term military goals. This aims to reorganize the relationship between local anti-Houthi forces (specifically, the “legitimate government” and the STC) under the leadership of the state sponsoring the agreement (Saudi Arabia), to direct the priorities of these forces toward curbing the Houthis’ military push to control new areas, and preventing a serious imbalance in the internal balance of power that frustrates international and regional peace trends and exacerbates the threat posed by the Houthis to regional security and the freedom of maritime navigation in the region.
3. STC: Demands Political Adaptation

The STC refused to rescind the proclamation of the state of emergency before the Prime Minister’s return to Aden in late September. Ali Al-Kathiri (September 22), the STC spokesperson, stated that “The Houthis and Yemen’s Islah Party plot and coordinate movements in the southern regions. The decision to declare a state of emergency arrived at a critical juncture in the fight against this threat.”[25] The STC then reiterated its criticisms of the government’s failure to control the south and deliver public services: “The awful living circumstances and devastating economic problems arise in the framework of the whole war and purposeful measures aimed at subjugating the southern people and generating instability in the freed southern governorates”.[26]

The STC turned the protests into a one-sided action against the government, accusing it of deliberate economic failure. The STC absolved itself of the consequences of the failure to implement the Riyadh Agreement, in conjunction with repositioning it within the context of the southern independence issue. Thus, the STC sought to divert living demands toward high political goals, reinforcing fears of an “existential war” waged by the Houthis to retake the south through its eastern gate (Shabwa), in collusion with government forces who, according to the STC, have handed over their positions to the Houthis without a fight in order to defy the southerners and their just cause.[27] As an informal actor, the STC had a lot of flexibility when it came to taking extraordinary measures to deal with protesters without having to pay the repercussions of its actions. Then, even after the prime minister returned to Aden, it continued to impose a “state of emergency” with security and political implications, forcing the government to carry out its economic tasks under the “state of exception” imposed by the STC as a supra-governmental authority claiming to represent the will of the southerners. The STC acts as an adversary to the government, rather than as a partner in shouldering responsibilities.

Third: Protests’ direct effects on the Riyadh Agreement parties
1- Yemeni Government: Variations and an unknown fate

The immediate return of the prime minister and certain ministers to Aden was a direct result of the protests. This return was not accompanied by parallel pledges from the STC to play a positive role in completing the Riyadh Agreement, creating the conditions for the Government’s full return to Aden, and assuming its financial commitments in accordance with the Riyadh Agreement, including working alongside the government to activate revenue institutions beginning in the temporary capital of Aden. The prime minister’s return in this manner exacerbated differences within the legal government.[28] The unwillingness of a number of ministers to return to work after leaving Aden is obvious evidence of this. In truth, the present government in Aden resembles a “mini-troika” of ministers concerned with the economy, led by a non-technocrat prime minister. This raises several concerns regarding the government’s capacity to make a significant difference in the economy. Furthermore, continuing to work through this predicament undermines the institutional character of a government that already lacks cohesion among its fundamental components. Despite the government’s strong international and regional support, protests against corruption and tampering with public funds are making countries and government organizations in the region and abroad more cautious in dealing with it and reluctant to provide funds that the government demands to bridge the funding gap and achieve economic stability and sustainable development.

In parallel, the protests have damaged President Hadi’s legitimacy. During the protests, President Hadi seemed entirely detached from the events and unable to make timely decisions in reaction to developments on the street, which is consistent with the fait accompli that the STC is progressively attempting to impose. As a result, President Hadi’s internal political position has been severely harmed.[29] It is no coincidence that during the September and October wave of protests, there was more talk about regional and international efforts to change Security Council Resolution No. 2216, or to introduce fundamental amendments to it, which, if implemented, would result in President Hadi’s soft removal from power. The discussion concerning this took a new turn at the end of October. Richard Oppenheim, the new UK ambassador to Yemen, told the Saudi newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, that “Yemen needs a resolution that gives legitimacy to any comprehensive political settlement. We need a new resolution that reflects this settlement, but the decision must be reflected on the settlement, not the other way around. It is possible to talk about the content of the resolution before the settlement. I am sure that the international community is ready for a new resolution at the appropriate time to give international legitimacy to a settlement between the parties.”[30] It should also be emphasized that, as a result of the heightened international and regional interest in the government following the demonstrations, President Hadi’s grasp on power may lessen in the future. However, this will be connected to the government’s accomplishments, or lack thereof.

2. STC: a widening division

Early in October, armed elements loyal to the leader of the Security Belt Forces, and former commander of the STC Camp 20, Imam Al Nubi, on the one hand, and the Security Belt Forces, the STC’s strongest military arm, on the other, engaged in violent clashes with medium and heavy weapons in Aden’s Crater district. During the clashes, Imam Al Nubi received clandestine logistical support from his brother, Mukhtar Al Nubi, commander of the Fifth Brigade in Radfan (Lahij), and deputy commander of the STC’s Security Belt Forces. This enabled Al Nubi to hold out against the Security Belt Forces for several days, with the help of anti-terror brigades and Saudi Arabian-led intervention forces in Yemen. However, the Security Belt Forces failed to storm the Tawila neighborhood in Crater, where Imam Al Nubi was secured. After, Al Nubi was allowed to safely leave Aden, according to mediation between the parties.[31]

Confrontations flared up between the STC factions after gunmen affiliated with Imam Al Nubi attempted to kidnap the Director of Criminal Investigations in the Crater Police, due to his refusal to release detainees in connection with protests calling for an improvement in services and the living situation. At the height of the clashes, Al Nubi declared a “Popular Resistance” against the STC, calling for STC soldiers to be removed from Aden, the commencement of a battle against corruption, and the release of protest detainees.[32] In fact, there are motives for Al Nubi’s separatism that are thought to be more important than those reflected in the aforementioned list of demands, such as regional differences within the STC between the “Al-Dhalea”, “Radfan”, and “Yafa” groups, as well as the associated conflicts of influence and interests. In any case, Al Nubi (a Radfan resident) attempted to use the ongoing protests to bring attention to the corruption and shedding of what he referred to as “the mountain militias”, a clear reference to the leaders of the STC from Al-Dhalea, led by the STC’s President, Aidarous Al-Zubaidi. Indeed, the history of south-south wars indicates the active presence of the regional element at the heart of those conflicts, regardless of their scale and outcomes. In the context of this limited conflict, this cannot be ruled out as well.

As a result, despite its ability to handle the security situation and prior success in suppressing demonstrators, the protests may be said to have harmed the STC’s internal cohesiveness. The protests helped turn the STC’s stagnant disparities and inequality into an unprecedented military separatist movement.[33] Protests and separatist movements were able to create a discourse in the heart of the STC, and in a tumultuous security setting, that represented the other side of the legitimate authority’s discourse from multiple perspectives. This discourse casts doubt on the credibility and viability of the “separatist discourse”, which is at the heart of the STC’s legitimacy, and condemns the STC’s actions in relation to the Riyadh Agreement’s implementation. Leaders of the STC, notably Badr Sael, a member of the local leadership of the STC in Zanzibar, announced their resignation from the council during the protests, revealing that they had abandoned the demand for southern independence. Furthermore, the demand for the removal of the STC forces from Aden made by Imam Al Nubi during his secession fits the demands of government officials for the completion of the Riyadh Agreement. Imam Al Nubi’s departure from Aden to Shuqrah (Abyan), where government soldiers are stationed, as verified by frequent intelligence, keeps his separatist movement alive and possibly explosive in the face of the STC, particularly if it is confirmed that it has deep “identity” roots.[34]

With the fall of various directorates of the southern Shabwa governorate to the Houthi group, Mukhtar Al Nubi, the stepbrother of Imam Al Nubi, accepted the efforts to create peace between the STC and the internationally-recognized government, which was sponsored by Salafi clerics. A military delegation from the STC, led by Al Nubi, visited the Lawdar front in Abyan in late September to announce the supply of a convoy of supplies and backing to the Lawdar resistance, as well as its support for a coordinated operation to help the combat fronts against the Houthis.[35] Despite its silence on the subject, the STC leadership did not approve this decision. However, it has probably exacerbated a state of debate within the STC about the best approach to respond to government calls to unify in order to combat the Houthi threat, which is accompanied by regional and international pressures.[36]

Fourth: Protests’ impact on Riyadh Agreement implementation

The following are some of the concrete — although preliminary in nature — repercussions of the protests on the completion of the Riyadh Agreement:

1. Break the deadlock

Even if it is outside the context of the agreement to solve the problems that have hampered the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement for the past two years, the prime minister’s return to Aden represents new ground for launching a pressing international and regional diplomatic movement to complete the agreement’s completion. For an active movement like this, the doors have become more open than before. The Prime Minister’s presence in Aden allows undertaking follow-up talks with STC officials to learn more about their perspectives on the challenges to the agreement’s implementation and encourages them to participate in constructive dialogue. Such meetings, led by international diplomats, in addition to the envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General, Hans Grundberg, would not have taken place if the protests had not resulted in reforms, the most notable of which is the partial return of the government to Aden. Indeed, the STC will exploit this transparency to overcome its worldwide isolation, and may also use it to advance its political goals. The clearest reality is that without direct dialogue with the STC, agreement execution will remain a distant prospect.

2. Enhancing the chances of resuming negotiations

The STC praised the Prime Minister’s return to Aden, calling it “an end to the unjustifiable absence of the power-sharing government”, and urged the government to complete its economic obligations and pay salaries as soon as possible.[37] In mid-October 2021, the STC called for “the fast return of the government with all its members in the capital, Aden, and abandoning the unjustifiable absence of some ministers” as a requirement for carrying out its obligations in restoring the economy.[38] Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, the STC President, reiterated the STC’s intention to complete the Riyadh Agreement a few days later.[39] This produced an optimistic attitude toward the likelihood of continuing talks on the remainder of the Agreement’s implementation. The STC issued a statement on November 9 accusing the government of continuing to hinder the Riyadh Agreement’s completion and seeking to erode the function of the Consensus Government.[40] “Our patience has reached its limit and will not last much longer unless immediate and time-sensitive actions are made to complete the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement”.[41]

Despite its many objections to the Riyadh Agreement, the STC appears to argue that the major difficulty hindering its completion is the “legitimate government”, not the government arising from the agreement. Perhaps it wanted to emphasize that the “legitimate government”, which the STC accuses of being infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood,[42] will not be able to turn the dispute over the Riyadh Agreement’s completion into a conflict between the STC and the government, or evade the implementation entitlements once the prime minister and some members of the government return to Aden. Despite its harsh tone, the STC statement was a non-explicit call to negotiate with the “legitimate government” on specific measures to complete the Riyadh Agreement, rather than try to use the government as a distraction or force the STC to coexist with an impotent and incomplete government for an extended period. Meanwhile, Yemen’s streets are bracing for new protests that will be more harsh and violent than the previous wave.

The government saw the STC’s escalation in tone as an aspect that did not restore trust,[43] but the statement actually expedited Saudi diplomacy to contain the issue. Riyadh summoned STC President Aidarous Al-Zubaidi for consultations on November 15.[44] This paved the way for the “legitimate government” and the STC to begin indirect discussions on the Agreement’s completion.

3. Starting to move the economic part

President Hadi’s early December decisions, which included restructuring the CBY’s board of directors and appointing the Central Organization for Control and Auditing to review the Central Bank’s operations, were the result of an initial agreement between the “legitimate government” and the STC. This initial agreement appears to have emerged from indirect conversations held in Riyadh in November and December of last year. For the first time, the STC applauded President Hadi’s decisions, which it previously characterized as unilateral. This move has increased the chances of the two sides continuing to negotiate to finalize the economic element of the Riyadh Agreement.

4. Reducing the pressure of the military/security aspect on the implementation track

Reduced military/security pressure on full completion of the Riyadh Agreement is not solely due to the tyranny of economic priorities brought on by protests. The government tacitly abandoned its demand for the execution of major Riyadh Agreement provisions related to the military/security element earlier in 2020. The withdrawal of all military forces from Aden (all of which are affiliated with the STC), the return of the First Brigade of Presidential Protection (affiliated with the “legitimate litigation”) to Aden, the assembling of weapons and vehicles and placing them in camps determined and supervised by the Coalition to Support Legitimacy, and the reorganization of the military and security forces under the unified command of the Ministries of Defense and Interior are examples of such provisions.[45]

The “legitimate government” and the STC signed a mechanism for speeding the completion of the Riyadh Agreement in July 2020, which ignored several of the Riyadh Agreement’s aforementioned provisions. These provisions were replaced with measures to “separate forces” in Abyan, transfer them to the front lines, and military and security plans for the relocation and repositioning of armed forces from Aden to outside it.[46] The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially announced on December 10 that the plans for implementing the Riyadh Agreement’s military/security element under the mechanism had been completed.[47] The STC considers that the military/security aspect has already been implemented, except for the departure of government forces from the southern governorates.[48] No official statement from the “legitimate government” contradicted this. President Hadi, on the other hand, issued a decree forming the government based on the completion of military and security arrangements at the moment.

The Yemeni Minister of Interior, who works from outside of Aden, recently stated that “In terms of security, the ‘legitimate government’ has no problems to the STC. The issue is solely with the STC’s regions of authority, where there are several security formations and a condition of duplicity.” He alluded to the potential of dealing with the STC’s security apparatus, if it is unified.[49] This implies that the government’s demands for the integration of the STC’s security forces and their accession to the Ministry of Interior under the Riyadh Agreement are becoming less pressing.

When it comes to the “legitimate government”, the need for the Riyadh Agreement’s military/security component to be implemented was replaced by “Unifying the Ranks” rhetoric. The Yemeni Prime Minister stopped in Shabwa governorate on his way back from Riyadh to Aden, where he visited the controversial governor, Bin Udayo, regarding his demand that the UAE evacuate the crucial Balhaf liquefied gas export facility. In his talk with the governor, the Prime Minister stated that the Houthi group is attempting to gain control of Yemen, which coincides with the country’s economic crisis. He urged the STC and Tariq Saleh’s forces to join with the government to combat the Houthi menace.[50]

In political conversations about measures to complete the Riyadh Agreement, the concept of “Unifying the Ranks” over the mutual risks posed by the Houthis became the watchword. Tim Lenderking, the US Special Envoy for Yemen, met with Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, the President of the STC, in Riyadh on November 17. The President highlighted that the moment had come for “all Yemeni factions” to face the Houthis’ common dangers and complete the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.[51]

Overall, the STC has expressed verbal agreement with this discourse, but refrained from making any pledges to combat the Houthis with the “legitimate government” in reality.[52] The STC is also prone to succumbing to an excessive sensation of euphoria. The STC’s forces, which the “legitimate government” considered rogue militias and has been calling for some time to be integrated under a unified command of the Ministry of Defense, in accordance with the Riyadh Agreement, are now required to participate in the battles against the Houthis and to open new fighting fronts from the position of an ally, not an affiliate.

Fifth: Challenges and difficulties of Riyadh Agreement full implementation

In contrast to the preceding impacts, which constitute chances for moving forward with the Riyadh Agreement’s full implementation, there are still several hurdles to overcome. These challenges are anticipated to have a detrimental impact on the agreement’s full implementation in the future, with the following being the most significant:

1. Difficulty of subjecting President Hadi’s decisions to the rule of full consensus

There are no strong signs that the notion of consensus with the STC will form the foundation for future presidential economic choices. The STC aims to broaden the scope of consensus to cover all of President Hadi’s decisions, as well as all government decisions in general, regardless of their nature (economic, political, military, or security). The STC also demands a review of prior presidential decisions, which it defines as unilateral, and claims that reversing them will help the Riyadh negotiations succeed.[53]

President Hadi and the local forces backing him are finding it difficult to accept the limits on their powers within the context of an agreement with the STC, as consensus, in this case, entails a type of co-administration. President Hadi’s experience in governing, both during the transitional period following the popular revolution (2011-2014) and throughout the conflict, clearly indicates that he will not accept such a co-administration. As a result of President Hadi’s remaining in power and the STC’s insistence on broadening the base of consensus as a prerequisite for moving forward in negotiations, the road to completing the Riyadh Agreement is fraught with challenges.

2. Conflicting priorities and demands

Everything appears to be disputed between the “legitimate government” and the STC outside of certain urgent actions to restore trust in the CBY and make a speedy improvement in the currency situation. While the STC emphasizes the importance of depositing oil and gas revenues, taxes, customs, and other revenues in the CBY in Aden,[54] the prime minister focuses on the component of international and regional economic support and aid, ignoring the issue of government collection of financial revenues.

At the same time, the two parties continue to have opposing viewpoints on the nature of the essential reforms in the economic and supervisory institutions system. The Supreme Economic Council, the National Anti-Corruption Authority, and the Central Organization for Control and Auditing are among the economic and supervisory entities that the STC asks for reforming and activating.[55] Even though the way to correct the work of the state institutions is to start activating the legislative and supervisory role of the parliament, including approving a general budget for the state through parliament, the STC is unconcerned with the arrangements for holding sessions of the Yemeni parliament (the STC is not represented in it) in Aden or Seiyun in Hadhramaut.

The STC is eager to renew its demands for “the expulsion of military forces from the southern governorates (Abyan, Shabwa, Hadhramaut, and Al Mahra), pushing them to confront the Houthi militia, and purifying the armed and security forces from terrorist elements”[56] (referring to loyalists of the Islamic Reform Grouping allied to the “legitimate government”) as a condition for the Riyadh Agreement’s completion. Government forces, on the other hand, refuse to leave their military bases in Abyan, Shabwa, and Hadhramaut, even though their military defenses against the Houthis in Marib are disintegrating. Withdrawing these soldiers would constitute an official declaration of the country’s division. Despite the military cease-fire between the “legitimate government” and the STC, it is hard to reduce the dangers of disagreement on this issue and rule out the possibility of minor military conflicts in some areas.

3. Selectivity in taking obligations

The STC is neglecting a variety of actions and hierarchical tasks under the Riyadh Agreement, such as preparing for the complete return of the government with all of its members — including the Minister of Interior — and allowing them to execute their duties from Aden, the interim capital. “The first step has been passed”, STC President Aidarous Al-Zubaidi said, “and there is still a stage, and we are totally prepared to implement it.”[57] He is most likely referring to the creation of a combined negotiation delegation with the legitimate government to engage in thorough talks with the Houthi group in the second stage. In reality, the STC is keen to get to this point, which would entail admitting its political representation for the south and putting the topic of southern independence on the table of UN-sponsored negotiations.

4. Continuity of conflict interactions

In late November, fierce military clashes erupted in the region of the Al-Alam camp, from which the Emirati soldiers retreated, between government forces and the STC’s Shabwani Elite Forces. When government forces gained control of the camp east of Ataq city, the administrative headquarters of Shabwa governorate, the clashes stopped. Following that, the STC increased its demands to remove Shabwa governor Bin Udayo from his position as head of the governorate’s local authority. The STC bolstered its support for tribal and political movements calling for Bin Udayo’s resignation, most notably the tribal “Al-Watah Meeting” convened by Sheikh Awad bin Al-Wazir. This meeting resulted in a number of requests, the most important of which was the reformation of the governorate’s local authority and the evacuation of government soldiers from the governorate.[58] Actually, the governorate of Shabwa is not only a source of temporary stress and congestion between the two Riyadh Agreement parties. Given the large oil and gas resources in this crucial southern governorate, as well as the divide of tribal loyalties between the two parties, it is expected to become a theater for complex and ongoing conflict.

Sixth: The future of the Riyadh Agreement and its repercussions on Yemen’s political process
1- The future of the Riyadh Agreement in light of the protests

The Riyadh Agreement has a stronger possibility of being completed in the near future; however, the challenges have become more obvious, raising worries about unanticipated dangers that might stymie the agreement’s full implementation. In this regard, two major factors may be identified that resulted as a consequence of ongoing societal protests, or whose influence was heightened as a result of that movement, and will most likely provide the implementation process with a new impetus during the next stage:

The First Factor is the Riyadh Agreement’s foundation as a framework guiding the interaction between the government and the STC. This effectively eliminates the option of rescinding the agreement or delaying its execution indefinitely. The Riyadh Agreement has been re-examined from a variety of perspectives as a result of societal protests. Despite widespread calls to fire the government and stop the Arab Coalition’s mission, the protest movement, with its many variants and rhythms, did not exhibit a consistent opposition to the Riyadh Agreement. Rather, the movement emphasized the need to use the agreement as a springboard for addressing the economy’s collapse. Simultaneously, both sides (the government and the STC) realized that the agreement provided them with a lifeboat in the face of societal protests, in the absence of other viable options.

The Second Factor is that the Riyadh Agreement’s military/security component, which had previously been a key impediment to implementation, was largely bypassed through agreed-upon practical arrangements (under the mechanism of accelerating the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement). Fortunately, during the recent protests, this was highlighted in a variety of ways (see Topic IV 4). This means that there will be a better chance of containing the negative consequences of the remaining points of disagreement in this aspect, allowing the focus to shift to the political aspects of the agreement, which will be represented by the formation of a joint negotiating delegation for the final consultations with the Houthis. Without a doubt, this essential aspect of the agreement faces a number of challenges, as well as the significant possibility of a staged stumbling block. But the most significant thing is that this topic is now more accessible than it has ever been.

In general, the two factors mentioned above provide a considerable incentive for completing the agreement. The positive and practical outcomes of the two factors, on the other hand, are contingent on maintaining a reasonable level of financial and monetary stability, improving citizens’ economic and living conditions, including the resumption of salary payments and the increase approved by the government in 2018, stopping inflation and currency manipulation, strengthening the status of public services, and preventing the worsening of the humanitarian catastrophe.

So, despite the many anticipated difficulties, the possibility of a temporary stumbling block, and the fact that the future of the agreement’s implementation is based primarily on a financially stable economy, it can be said that the future of the agreement’s implementation is based primarily on a financially stable economy, to the extent that prepares the atmosphere for the positive impact of the most profound protest data, and allows for a new turning point in the implementation process, opening up additional horizons for discussion that were previously difficult to navigate.

2. Consequences of putting the agreement into effect on Yemen’s political process

One of the declared aims of the Riyadh Agreement is to bring together the efforts of the government and the STC to compel the Houthi group into making concessions for a comprehensive political settlement. If the Houthis fail to overthrow the city of Marib and take the oil and gas reserves in Safer, this approach might aid the political process. The best method to persuade the Houthi party to change its thoughts and actions toward peace efforts and initiatives is for the Riyadh Agreement to be completed without major obstacles. Thus, the war will be shortened and genuine peace negotiations will commence. On a less general level, the following are the consequences of executing the agreement on Yemen’s political process:

  • Tightening the political noose around the Houthi group. The UN mediation efforts and other measures to speed the commencement of comprehensive talks for a political settlement will be increased if the two parties to the Riyadh Agreement succeed in assembling a joint negotiating delegation to represent them in the final political negotiations. This might intensify international pressure on the Houthi group to force it to abandon its preconditions for the commencement of negotiations.[59] On the other hand, the presence of a stable government operating regularly from Aden, the interim capital, could deflate the Houthi group’s hopes of breaking the wall of international and regional political isolation, as well as its ambitions to engage in normal relations with some countries within and outside the region. This legalizes the government’s political presence in the capital, Sana’a, and some of the country’s governorates.
  • Bringing the international community closer to achieving the goal of holding Yemeni-Yemeni multilateral consultations under the auspices of the United Nations. The STC’s participation in upcoming consultations with the Houthi group along with the government, as defined by the Riyadh Agreement, will serve as a good incentive to include other active Yemeni groups, such as the Hadhramaut Inclusive Conference and the National Resistance Council led by Tariq Saleh. Regardless of how this participation takes place, the consultations, in this case, are likely to have a pluralistic character to accommodate the forces and primary stakeholders in the conflict, which increases the chances of reaching negotiated solutions and understandings on the core issues upon which the achievement of peace in Yemen depends.
  • President Hadi’s grasp on the file of political negotiations with the Houthis has loosened. As a result, the stance that is holding to the reference of Security Council Resolution 2216 is weakened, and the consultations are made lighter, increasing the chances of success.
  • Better chances for the “legitimate government” and the Houthi group to rework the issue of joint economic arrangements. The Houthi group will face difficulties if the CBY is activated in Aden, the national currency is stabilized, civil and military salaries are paid on time in government-controlled areas, and adequate service and health performance metrics are available. At that point, the Houthi group must either accept this, at least in part, by paying employee salaries in regions under their control and reactivating essential service sectors (water, electricity, sewage, etc.), or face mounting popular unrest. This helps to reintroduce the economic and financial difficulties surrounding the demise of the banking division.
Recommendations to the International Community and the United Nations
First: Recommendations to complete the Riyadh Agreement
  1. Developing an international mechanism to oversee the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, monitor the implementation process, and assist Saudi mediation between the two parties to the agreement.
  2. Assisting the two parties in their negotiations to complete the agreement, and ensuring that the process does not come to a halt before substantial progress is made.
  3. Encouraging the two parties to the agreement to prepare for the government’s complete return to Aden, where it will be able to carry out its responsibilities as a team, free of security and political barriers.
  4. Overcoming some of the obstacles to the agreement’s completion by establishing informal lines of communication between the STC and the Yemeni Islah Party, which is the “legitimate government’s” core component and has substantial military power in several southern governorates.
  5. As soon as government policies generate positive economic and living results for citizens, countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and EU countries can begin conducting calming contacts with the parties to the Riyadh Agreement, on the appropriate way to represent the STC in the government delegation that will participate in consultations with the Houthis following the Riyadh Agreement.
  6. The discussions on the formation of the joint negotiating delegation of the government and the STC should include a “Principles Framework” on the future of the southern issue, including an agreement on giving southerners the right to self-determination through a popular referendum after the war, as well as a limited transitional period.
  7. Refusing requests for the removal of government forces from the southern governorates to prevent the STC from acting unilaterally and imposing the South’s independence as a fait accompli outside of thorough consultations.
  8. The UN should devote more attention to the completion of the Riyadh Agreement by assisting in the bridge-building between the two parties to the agreement, while continuing to focus on holding thorough meetings between Yemeni parties to reach a peace settlement.
  9. Defining the future positive benefits that the Houthis can get from the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, in terms of leading to thorough political consultations that satisfy the interests of all conflicting parties.
Second: Economic Recommendations
  1. Organizing a regional and international donor conference, including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries as participants, to fund long-term development plans in Yemen.
  2. Providing the government with the ability to employ the IMF’s drawing rights in line with processes that assure transparency and accountability.
  3. Encouraging the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to submit an urgent financial deposit with the CBY in order to provide credit for purchasing basic food commodities from other countries.
  4. Demanding the new Central Bank administration to neutralize the bank’s operations and activities, and implement a non-inflationary monetary policy.
  5. Encouraging President Hadi to make decisions on financial and supervisory reforms as soon as possible, while taking into consideration the consultation process.
  6. Enabling the government to increase oil and gas production and begin export in agreed-upon amounts, with the value deposited with the CBY in Aden.
  7. Assisting in the removal of roadblocks to the reopening of the Balhaf LNG export facility.
  8. Improving the government’s ability to manage financial revenues and develop local revenue sources.
Notes

 

[1] Before the war in March 2015, the price of a US dollar did not surpass YER 220.

[2] Yemen’s Economic Update, April 2020 (Summary), World Bank, April 16, 2010, at: https://www.worldbank.org/ar/country/yemen/publication/economic-update-april-2020

[3] Using IMF Support to Mitigate Currency Collapse, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, October 26, 2021, at: https://sanaacenter.org/ar/publications-all/analysis-ar/15575

[4] Yemen Economic Bulletin: The War for Monetary Control Enters a Dangerous New Phase, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, January 21, 2020, at: https://sanaacenter.org/ar/publications-all/analysis-ar/9500

[5] Using IMF Support to Mitigate Currency Collapse, ibid.

[6] Griffiths: The Houthis withdrew the revenues of the Hodeidah port, and the joint declaration does not represent the end of the conflict, Yemen Net, 16.07.2020, at: https://cutt.us/xMojU

[7] Secretary-General calls for ceasefire in Yemen to counter a potential outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, United Nations – UN News, March, 25, 2020, at: https://news.un.org/ar/story/2020/03/1052072

[8] At the donor conference, early March 2021, $1.7 billion was raised. Mark Lowcock, the former under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, stated that “this amount is less than half of what we need for this year’s response plan. It is nearly $1 billion less than we received in 2019”. See: The United Nations: The consequences of disagreements between the parties to the Yemeni conflict are not borne by those who take Resolution but Ordinary Yemenis, United Nations – UN News, March 16, 2021, at: https://news.un.org/ar/story/2021/03/1072622

[9] Where is Hadramout heading in light of the escalating protests? Al Khabar Post website, September 15, 2021, at: https://alkhabarpost.com/press/26827

[10] Suspension of studies in Aden due to power outages and high temperature, Al Yaqin Online, September 9, 2021, at: https://cutt.us/EJE1H

[11] Intersections and levies points on the Aden-Taiz road, a new win over people’s pain (report), Almawqea Post, September 16, 2021, at: https://almawqeapost.net/news/63466

[12] In response to the STC’s call, tens of thousands gathered in Mukalla to condemn the policy of impoverishment and starvation and to reject the attempts to legitimize the Yemeni Parliament on the lands of the south, STC official website, July 31, 2021, at: https://stcaden.com/news/15350

[13] Protests escalate in Mukalla and news of protesters burning the headquarters of the Yemeni Islah Party, Massa Press, September 13, 2021, at: https://cutt.us/5Rkip

[14] Southerners protest economic collapse amid Houthi advances – The Yemen Report, September 2021, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, October 20, 2021, at: https://cutt.us/BcUY2

[15] Renewed protests in Taiz against Hadi government and the coalition, denouncing the economic situation, Al Mayadeen Net, September 27, 2021, at: https://cutt.us/KJtIY

[16] Hadhramout Parliamentary Bloc condemns the attack on the demonstrators and demands investigation and accountability of those involved, Al Mosnad Net, September 20, 2021, at: https://almosnad.net/?p=84817

[17] The Yemeni Islah Party in Taiz expresses its position on the demonstrations demanding the reform of living conditions, September 28, 2021, at: https://adennews.net/143239

[18] Renewed demonstrations and protests in Aden and Hadramout despite the security crackdown, Balqis Net, September 17, 2021, at: https://cutt.us/Q0Kkf

[19] Al-Zubaidi delivers an important speech and declares a state of emergency and general mobilization in all southern governorates, Southern Transitional Council, official website, September 15, 2021, at: https://stcaden.com/news/15641

[20] The Minister of Foreign Affairs calls on the Gulf Cooperation Council to hold an emergency conference to provide economic support to Yemen, Al Sharea News, September 16, 2021, at: https://alsharaeanews.com/2021/09/16/71729

[21] In early September 2021, Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik made contacts to discuss activating the use of the drawing rights allocated by the IMF to Yemen in August, with a value of 665 million US dollars, but the attempt did not yield tangible results.

[22] The government left Aden in March 2021, after a wave of popular protests erupted, calling for an end to the economic and service collapse.

[23] In addition to the protests, the government also needed to prove that it was able to return and resume work from the inside for reasons related to internal military developments and the losses suffered by government forces in the confrontations with the Houthis.

[24] A quartet statement calling for the return of the Yemeni government to Aden… and the speedy implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, CNN Arabic, September 16, 2021, at: https://arabic.cnn.com/middle-east/article/2021/09/16/government-yemeni-crisis-aden-riyadh-agreement

[25] Southerners protest against the economic collapse amid the progress of the Houthis – The Yemen Report, September 2021, ibid.

[26] The Presidency of the STC: All attempts to subjugate the people of the south will fail as its predecessors failed, the official website of the STC, September 27, 2021, at: https://stcaden.com/news/15740

[27] Ibid.

[28] Criticism of the sudden return of the Prime Minister of Yemen to Aden without guarantees, Alsjl News, September 30, 2021, at: https://alsjl-news.com/n/4714448

[29] It is possible to look here at what was known as the “statement of bin Daghr and Jabbari” as a sign of that. The statement issued by the Speaker of the Shura Council and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament condemned “the gradual waiver of the legitimate government from its leading role in the battle.” It is noteworthy that the statement completely ignored the issue of demanding the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, but rather spoke of what it described as “dismantling policies that work to divide and tear the nation and society,” in a sign of a negative attitude toward the Agreement. See: In an unprecedented statement… Two Yemeni officials demand an end to the war, arabic.rt, November 30, 2021, at: https://cutt.us/qmHzK

[30] Britain: The gap between Resolution 2216 and the current situation on the ground in Yemen requires a new UN resolution, Al Sharea News, October 22, 2021, at: https://alsharaeanews.com/2021/10/22/75706

[31] Agreement to stop the confrontations between the STC forces in Aden provides for the expulsion of Al Nubi, Yemen Net, October 4, 2021, at: https://cutt.us/gqpTw

[32] The leader of the rebellion in Aden announces the formation of the “Popular Resistance” and talks about the situation in Crater, Yemen News Portal, October 2, 2021, at: https://cutt.us/zTrou

[33] See: A prominent STC leader announces his resignation from the council and confirms his abandonment of the claim for the independence of the south, Alnabba Alyemeni, September 17, 2021, at: https://cutt.us/VuAfO

[34] According to some sources, Imam Al Nubi’s father is from Taiz. The STC stressed, through its media and official statements, during and after the confrontations, the full name of Imam Al Nubi, which is Imam Muhammad Ahmed Abdo Al Silwi, to suggest that he belongs to the north, and to weaken the regional connotations of his separatist movement. See: The Administrative Board of the National Assembly issues an important statement regarding the recent bloody events in Crater, STC, official website, October 4, 2021, at: https://stcaden.com/news/15802

[35] The STC delivers a convoy of support and backing to the Lawdar resistance as a goodwill gesture for reconciliation with the legitimate government, Alsaa News, September 22, 2021, at: https://cutt.us/7y6BL

[36] In early October 2021, Al-Zubaidi issued a decision to dismiss Mukhtar Al Nubi from his position as deputy commander of the Security Belt Forces.

[37] STC welcomes the return of the prime minister of the power-sharing government to Aden, Bawabatii Net, September 28, 2021, at: https://bawabatii.net/news296663.html

[38] The Presidency of the STC calls on the Arab coalition and the Quartet to urgently intervene to stop the currency collapse, STC official website, October 18, 2021, at: https://stcaden.com/news/15909

[39] Al-Zubaidi to Okaz: Ask Saudi Arabia who is obstructing the Riyadh Agreement? Al Ayyam Newspaper Website, October 24, 2021, at: https://www.alayyam.info/news/8S8UH7WJ-NKV74X-0E38

[40] Important statement issued by the extraordinary meeting of the Presidency of the STC, the STC official website, November 9, 2021, at: https://stcaden.com/news/16073

[41] Ibid.

[42] In an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, Al-Zubaidi said: “Southern independence is our strategic aim, and we will not retreat,” the STC official website, August 1, 2021, at: https://stcaden.com/news/15355

[43] Government: ST’s position is unjustified at a time when regain our presence, Alayyam Newspaper Website, November 11, 2021, at: https://www.alayyam.info/news/8SX8KUDA-SS14L2-50AF

[44] Al-Zubaidi to Riyadh for consultation, Alayyam Newspaper Website, November 14, 2021, at: https://www.alayyam.info/news/8SX8KUDA-SS14L2-50AF

[45] Full text of the Riyadh Agreement, Anadolu Agency, November 5, 2019, at: https://www.peaceagreements.org/viewdocument/3281

[46] This mechanism was implemented in mid-December 2020, by separating the forces of the two parties and retreating them for a few kilometers behind the lines of contact on the fronts of Sheikh Salem, Al Treya and Qarn Al Kalasi in Abyan, under the supervision of a Saudi committee and participation of military personnel from both sides. According to this mechanism, the forces of the government’s 21st Mecha Brigade and 30th Mecha Brigade withdrew from their areas of concentration in the Qarn Al Klasi area near the coastal city of Shuqrah (the government forces’ operations centre in Abyan). Units from the government’s 89th Infantry Brigade withdrew from Sheikh Salem and Al Treya areas east of Zinjibar (the capital of Abyan). Units from the government’s Coastal Defense Brigade left their positions near the city of Shuqrah, in addition to evacuating the Third Presidential Protection Brigade from its positions in the Al Treya area. On the other hand, battalions from the 8th Sa’iqa Brigade and 11th Brigade and battalions from the 14th Sa’iqa Brigade of the STC withdrew from their positions in the Sheikh Salem area towards Al-Dhalea Governorate (the tribal stronghold of the STC forces). Formations of the 15th Brigade withdrew to the Karsh area separating between Lahj and Taiz. In Aden, it was announced that battalions from the First Brigade, special missions, were withdrawn from Salah Al Din area towards Al Anad base in Lahj governorate. Forces from the Third Brigade, Saiqa, stationed in Jabal Hadid overlooking the Ma’ashiq Palace were withdrawn to al-Dhalea. On the security front, the arrangements under the mechanism stipulated that the STC forces leave the cities of Zinjibar and Jaar (the largest cities in Abyan governorate), and hand over the headquarters of the security, military police, and government institutions to the Special Security Forces and Public Security loyal to the legitimate government. In Aden, the withdrawal plan stipulated that the Security Belt Forces and the Support Forces (affiliated with the STC), in addition to the General Security Forces of the legitimate government, shall take over the security tasks therein and enable the presidential protection brigade to enter the city to secure the necessary protection for the government.

[47] The Saudi ambassador in Yemen announces the completion of military arrangements to implement the Riyadh Agreement, Sputnik Arabic News, December 17, 2020, at: https://cutt.us/jgWwV

[48] At the time, the STC considered that the military/security part of the Riyadh Agreement had been implemented. It remains only for the legitimate government forces “to implement their commitments, withdraw from the rest of the southern governorates, return to their original homeland from which they came before August 2019, and direct them to confront the Houthi militia and liberate the north.” The STC stressed that the priorities for the next stage lie in “full-time completion to complete the rest of the provisions of the [Riyadh Agreement], foremost among which is the formation of a joint negotiating delegation for comprehensive political negotiations. Also, it is necessary to restructure and form the most prominent economic institutions, including the Supreme Economic Council, the National Anti-Corruption Authority, and the Central Organization for Control and Auditing.” See: Al-Khubaji: “We have failed attempts to obstruct the Riyadh Agreement, and our participation in the government does not mean that we have abandoned the project to restore the state,” 4 May Net Website, December 16, 2020, at: https://www.4may.net/news/53243

[49] Interior Minister: “We are not responsible for security in Aden,” Alayyam Newspaper Website, November 19, 2021, at: https://www.alayyam.info/news/8T9X11VJ-P4UPCG-14C2

[50] After a visit that lasted several hours.. the Prime Minister leaves Shabwa Governorate, Al Sharea News, September 27, 2021, at: https://alsharaeanews.com/2021/09/27/73074/

[51] Al-Zubaidi meets Lenderking to discuss the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement and Houthi provocations, Al-Mashhad Al-Arabi, November 18, 2021, at: https://almashhadalaraby.com/news/321142

[52] Al-Zubaidi said that the STC is ready to “discuss the support of the government forces against the Houthis on the Ma’rib fronts if all conditions are prepared.” See: Al-Zubaidi to Okaz: Ask Saudi Arabia who is obstructing the Riyadh Agreement? ibid.

 

[53] STC: Our delegation in Riyadh made a courageous proposal to hold the corrupt accountable, Alayyam Newspaper Website, November 30, 2021, at: https://www.alayyam.info/news/8TO7GEOQ-W6F88P-D121

[54] Important statement issued by the extraordinary meeting of the Presidency of the STC, ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Al-Khubaji meets the Australian Deputy Ambassador in Riyadh, Alayyam Newspaper Website, November 30, 2021, at: https://www.alayyam.info/news/8TOSATD5-KB0J9H-473A

[57] Al-Zubaidi to Okaz: Ask Saudi Arabia who is obstructing the Riyadh Agreement? ibid.

[58] Shabwa Transitional Council issues an important statement regarding Sheikh Awad bin Al-Wazir’s invitation to the historic meeting in the Al-Watta Area, STC Official Website, November 14, 2021, at: https://stcaden.com/news/16116

[59] The preconditions set by the Houthis to agree to engage in final consultations are to completely lift the restrictions imposed on the port of Hodeidah and Sana’a International Airport, and stop the coalition’s air raids, without linking this to stopping Houthi attacks on Marib, or stopping the expansion of the internal battles.

 

This paper is part of the “Riyadh Agreement Project,” implemented by the Arabia Felix Center for Studies (AFC), with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). The aim is to understand the factors that prevent the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement and provide realistic recommendations to the concerned parties. This project will include studies and other policy papers that will be published successively.

Hani Al-Mughals

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