Status quo

In May of 2010, I wrote the following in a paper on the Sa'dah war: is hardly surprising that the ceasefire that came into force in February of 2010 is already collapsing after only three months, and the president and his allies seem eager to help it fail. Future efforts at mediation will produce similar results so long as the most powerful factions profit more from war than from peace.

Reading the news this week of a new peace deal between the Yemeni government and the northern rebels, I felt a sense of deja vu. The government of Qatar hosted negotiations between the rebels and the government, as they have done several times in the last three years. Before Qatar, Yemeni officials and tribal leaders attempted unsuccessfully to mediate a truce between the partisans of the al-Huthi family and President Saleh's government. Knowing the history of this war, which has caused immeasurable suffering for hundreds of thousands of Yemenis in the far north, I can confidently say that this new agreement will fall apart just like the ones that came before it.

I'm not saying that nothing has changed since 2004, when the war between the government and the rebels began. Plenty has changed in Yemen. The nature of the northern conflict itself has changed: in 2004, Husayn al-Huthi led a small resistance movement, comprised mainly of revivalist Zaydi Shi'is who felt marginalized by a state influenced by Western powers and Saudi funds. Today, the label "Huthi" is applied to a wide -- and probably loose -- coalition of forces pursuing disparate agendas. Yemen has seen changes outside of the northern war zone as well. The Southern Movement has become probably a more pressing concern for the regime than the war against al-Huthi, while international concern about al-Qa'idah in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has put Yemen in the spotlight for the first time in two decades.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same -- or rather, continue to get worse -- for so many residents of Sa'dah and 'Amran governorates. The war will not end with this new peace deal, because despite all of the new pressures President Saleh faces, he and those in his inner circle still profit from the northern war. While the United States, President Saleh's new best friend, publicly demands that he make peace in the north, the truth is that the US would never support a compromise with al-Huthi. According to the twisted logic that prevails in the Pentagon, a president that gives in to the Shi'a rebels today might  give in to al-Qa'idah tomorrow. And as popular movements all over Yemen demonstrate in the streets for civil rights and increased democracy, the regime in San'a holds ever more tightly to the belief that a strong military, funded by the US and augmented by the reactionary Sunni militias that al-Huthi first rose to oppose, is its own best hope for survival.