On 14 February, the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CHS), in cooperation with the Arab Center in Washington DC (ACW) and DeepRoot Consulting, launched the two-day academic conference, “The Conflict in Yemen: Current Situation and Future Prospects.” The public conference is being held on a virtual basis through Zoom and livestreamed through the organizations’ social media platforms. This conference reflects CHS, ACW, and DeepRoot Consulting’s shared commitments to serve as bridges between academia and practice and to examine the widest possible range of views in amongst key actors in conflict settings.
This conference serves as an opportunity for participants to better understand the conflict's dynamics and conceptualize more comprehensive and thoughtful solutions to the conflict. It also aims to attract the interest of donors and key actors in international mediation and reconciliation, recovery, reconstruction, and development to involve them in addressing Yemen's current struggles and promoting regional and international cooperation for addressing these critical challenges.
The conference opened with welcoming remarks jointly presented by Professor Sultan Barakat, the Founding Director of CHS, Professor Khalil Jahshan, the Executive Director of ACW, and Rafat Al-Akhali, Founding CEO of DeepRoot Consulting. Professor Barakat began by elucidating on the importance of conflict studies in the Arab world to promote peace, noting the successful partnership between CHS, ACW, and DeepRoot Consulting in hosting this conference to that end. Professor Jahshan underscored the timeliness of the conference in light of the protracted nature of the Yemen conflict – that has witnessed widespread famine and hunger, the resurgence of cholera, and produced more than 330,000 deaths – and the growing need for its peaceful resolution. Al-Akhali concluded these remarks by highlighting the uniqueness of the present conference for its diversity in perspectives and disciplines, its public and open nature, and its orientation towards the present and the future instead of the past.
Keynote remarks of the first day of the conference were delivered by the US Special Envoy for Yemen, HE Timothy Lenderking, who reaffirmed his and his government’s commitment to bringing the Yemen conflict to an end as a US foreign policy priority. Lenderking relayed the US aid provisions to support Yemenis during the conflict, which include $214 million for the Covid-19 pandemic and more than 300,000 vaccine doses delivered through the COVAX initiative since December 2021. He urged all states to fulfill their funding commitments to mitigate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. He expressed concern over escalatory military action in Yemen, citing Houthi attacks against internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and other civilian infrastructures, and failed airport attack attempts in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, as clear violations of international humanitarian law, and the primary obstacle to peace. Lenderking emphasized that the US and its international partners do not support a military solution to the conflict. Instead, US diplomatic efforts have focused on growing international consensus for a ceasefire and a national solution to the conflict, along with supporting the development of an inclusive peace process.
Sweden’s Special Envoy for Yemen, HE Peter Semneby, also provided a critical analysis of the Stockholm Agreement and issues in ensuring Yemeni ownership and leadership of the peace process. He stated that whilst the agreement succeeded in creating a strong de-escalatory impact in Hudaida, Yemen – the key imperative at the time – further efforts could have bene concerted to enhance confidence building between conflict parties. He also stated that as external actors make space for Yemeni actors to resolve their issues, local actors must prioritize peace instead of gains on the battlefield to avoid further human suffering and deeper fragmentation.
The conference’s opening session concluded with remarks delivered by Mohammad Al-Amrani, Director of the Technical Office for Consultations and Member of the Yemeni Government Negotiation Team, who offered the Yemeni government’s perspective on the national peace process. Al-Amrani stated that the peace process has been at a standstill since the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement with talks between Yemen’s conflict parties becoming increasingly indirect. He cited Houthis’ intransigence towards being at the negotiating table without concessions or delays as the key obstacle. Al-Amrani argued that the international community incorrectly concerted its efforts towards applying pressure on Saudi Arabia instead of addressing the Houthis’ refusal to progress in the political process. He stated that Houthis seek to “double the cost of peace by doubling the cost of war” through their military escalations. Al-Amrani explained that for a national peace process to succeed, both conflict parties must be willing to engage with the other and offer concessions. He concluded by affirming that the costs of the Yemen conflict are not the cost of war, but the cost of a poorly managed peace process – a responsibility that also rests on the international community.
Moderated by CHS Research Fellow Mona Hedaya, the conference’s first panel, “Mapping the Conflict: Causes, Actors, and Dynamics,” sought to present novel findings to enhance understandings of the Yemen conflict. Peter Salisbury, senior Yemen analyst at the International Crisis Group, outlined four key trends in Yemen’s civil war that will impact policymaking and
mediation options for the country. Maysaa Shuja Al-Deen, a senior researcher at the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, provided an overview of the Yemeni decentralization debate, highlighting its role in the ongoing civil war and its potential for realizing peace. Andrea Carboni, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Sussex, explored the evolution and breakdown of the unlikely alliance in 2017 between the Houthis and the General People’s Congress. The first panel concluded with a presentation by Ibrahim Jalal, a Non-resident Scholar in the Gulf and Yemen Programme at the Middle East Institute, who examined the implications of the institutional design of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference on representation, negotiation dynamics, and the dialogue’s outcomes.
The conference’s second panel, “Evolving Gulf Interventions and Policies Towards the Conflict in Yemen,” sought to advance understandings of Yemen-Gulf relations and was moderated by Al-Akhali. Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Non-resident Fellow at the Middle East Institute, discussed the evolution of Houthis and their political ideology and its implications for regional security. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the ACW, offered insights into the evolution of Saudi and Emirati policies towards the conflict in Yemen, focusing on the impact of the two countries’ changing relationship on their Yemen policies and positions. Dania Thafer, the Executive Director of the Gulf International Forum, offered ideas on how the Saudi-Iranian détente could impact the war in Yemen, including a possible return to the Iran nuclear deal. The session concluded with a presentation by Majed Al-Ansari, Director of the Qatar International Academy for Security Studies, who provided a critical overview of Gulf mediation efforts in Yemen and proposed an enhanced regional mediation initiative that would be locally-led and owned.
The second and final day of the conference will take place on Tuesday, 15 February 2022, and will continue to feature researchers and experts focused on the Yemen crisis and its prospects. Interested members of the public can register to attend the conference on Zoom, where they can ask questions during the designated Q&A sessions or follow its live broadcast on CHS social media platforms. Zoom participants or viewers of the livestream can tune into the conference in both English and Arabic languages.