Yemen: Defusing the Saada Time Bomb
Crisis Group Middle East Report N°86, 27 May 2009Page 28
tangible steps toward implementation.161 At the core of the agreement was Qatar’s pledge to finance reconstruction and launch major development projects in Saada, possibly to the tune of $300 million-$500 million, although figures were never released.162
Optimism was short-lived. Renewed heavy fighting soon rendered the peace accord obsolete. Whereas the rebels continued to press for its implementation even after Qatar disengaged,163 the government claimed it had lived up to its commitments, the rebels had not and thus Qatar’s intervention no longer was needed.164 In March 2009, President Salih confirmed that Qatar’s mediation had failed. He suggested that Doha unintentionally had enabled the rebels to believe they were “equal to the state” because they were negotiating directly with the government.165
The Qatari effort broke down for several reasons. First was the absence of an effective follow-up mechanism to monitor implementation and adjudicate disputes. In a way, the initiative essentially amounted to throwing money at a problem, hoping it would disappear. Yemeni members of the implementation committee met with rebel leaders but made little progress because they operated in a vacuum; there were no regular contacts between signatories and Qatari officials and no formal mechanism to address disagreements.166
Disagreements abounded over the extent to which the parties implemented the accord, with each side blaming the other for the breakdown.167 The government claimed that rebel commander Abdallah al-Ruzami had “refused to come down from the
161 Abd-al-Malik al-Huthi declared that the rebels had handed over 72 prisoners (officers and persons who had fought alongside the armed forces). Al-Sharea, 14 July 2007. The government launched a damage assessment of public and private properties in six Saada districts. The reconstruction committee was headed by Saada’s governor, Mutahhar al-Masri. IRIN News, 11 November 2007.
162 Crisis Group interview, Aydarus al-Naqib, Yemeni Socialist Party parliament member, Sanaa, 21 January 2009. The contribution was part of a wider effort by the newly established Qatar Foundation for Development, which at the time promised to undertake infrastructure and development projects outside Saada governorate as well. 26 September, 21 June 2007.
163 News Yemen, 19 July 2008.
164 Crisis Group interview, Zaydi intellectual, Sanaa, 14 January 2009.
165 Al-Hayat, 26 March 2009.
166 Uthman al-Majali, a ruling party parliamentarian, said, “Qatar tried to mediate, but they didn’t really know what was happening in Saada”. Crisis Group interview, Sanaa, 12 January 2009.
167 Al-Sharea, 10 May 2008.
mountains, as stipulated in the peace deal”,168 while the rebels contended that “the Yemeni government did not respect its promises”169 to normalise the situation in Saada and stop harassing its people. Rebel leaders also mentioned the arrest by security forces of a mediator representing the Huthis and accused media outlets close to the army of organising a campaign against the Doha agreement.170
A second complicating factor was competition between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Since Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani acceded to power in 1995, Doha has forged an independent foreign policy, mediating regional conflicts, developing commercial partnerships with both Iran and Israel and publicly criticising Saudi policy at Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council meetings. In so doing, it provoked Riyadh’s ire, and tensions between the small emirate and large monarchy grew apace.171 Creation of the Al-Jazeera news channel in 1997 and its frequent attacks against the Saudi ruling family proved another major irritant.172 Qatari mediation in Saada – a region that borders Saudi Arabia – appears to have prompted Riyadh to pour money into the Yemeni military and allied tribes. At the same time, Saudi media portrayed the Qatari intercession as guided by Iran, suggesting that its timing reflected a joint bid to save the rebels from looming defeat.173
C. Reconstruction Committees
In the words of a parliament member, “without compensation and reconstruction, the war will
168 Crisis Group interview, senior government official, Sanaa, 7 January 2009.
169 Crisis Group telephone interview, Yahya al-Huthi, Berlin, 3 February 2009. Local government supporters also claimed Qatar’s payments to local tribes and armed groups amounted to indirect rebel funding, tainting Doha’s role in their eyes. “Qatar paid important sums of money as gifts to rebels. People were unhappy with this, and it led to the failure of the Doha accord”. Crisis Group interview, Faiz al-Awjari, parliament member from Saada governorate for the General Congress Party, Sanaa, 12 January 2009.
170 Yemen Times, 24 April 2008. For criticism of the Qatari mediation, see Al-Shumua (Sanaa independent weekly), 20 and 27 April 2008.
171 See John Peterson, “Qatar and the World: Branding for a Micro-State”, Middle East Journal, vol. 60, no. 4 (2006).
172 See Mamoun Fandy, (Un)Civil War of Words: Media and Politics in the Arab World (Westport, 2007); and The New York Times, 4 January 2008.
173 Ukaz (Saudi daily), 23 August 2007.