Chatham House’s recent report, Yemen: Stemming the Rise of a Chaos State by Peter Salisbury, provides a background for the post-2011 transition and conflict, and offers recommendations for Yemen’s political process and future government. Researched between October 2015 and April 2016, the report “aims to help policy makers and analysts deepen their understanding of the conflict in Yemen,” and identifies points of leverage that could be used in a ceasefire and for future political dialogue. The report argues that a continued focus on elitist politics and foreign interests, such as counterterrorism, at the expense of local concerns, will lead to further fragmentation and conflict. In order for a lasting political solution to be reached, representation must be expanded to local, grassroots actors.
Following Yemen’s 2011 political crisis, international efforts were made to reach a peace deal and introduce a political transition that would save the country from civil war. According to the report by Chatham House, Yemen’s descent into a catastrophic and drawn-out conflict is partly due to the 2012-14 transition’s failure to include non-elitist players in its power-sharing deal. The deal also granted immunity to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has since played a hugely destabilizing role in Yemen.
The simplistic, elitist approach of Yemen’s transitional period is also evident in the popular narrative of the conflict, in which locals are seen as divided between Houthi supporters and those backing Hadi’s government. This perspective fails to address the demands of most Yemenis, who are not aligned with either side.
“The reality is that most Yemenis do not support either the president or the northern rebels; rather, they are part of much smaller groups with their own identity, ideology, grievances and political goals, from secessionists in the south to Salafists in Taiz and Aden and tribal leaders in the north.”
As the report emphasizes, the ongoing conflict is multifaceted, with a number of different factions deserving the same consideration as Hadi’s government or the Houthis. These include the Southern Movement, Islah, and various tribal militias. The report explains that, by focusing exclusively on the war between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis, participants in the peace process and the international community are failing to recognize the series of “small wars” that threaten to consume Yemen even once the “big war” is resolved.
If representation at a government level is not expanded to include local interests, the report warns that Yemen will be pushed “a step closer to becoming a ‘chaos state’--a country defined by little more than its borders, in which complex regional conflicts are deepened and prolonged by the interests and actions of external players.”
As the report warns, “Yemen may not be a Western policy priority today, but if it is allowed to descend into deeper chaos the humanitarian crisis and the rise of jihadist groups like AQAP will eventually force it further up the international policy agenda.”