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In his late March resignation, outgoing Yemeni Minister of State Salah al-Sayadi criticized Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen as taking sovereignty away from the its people. These remarks follow his accusations that Saudi Arabia has been keeping Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi under house arrest, preventing him from returning to his country.
“All Yemenis are calling for demonstrations and rallies for the return of President Hadi to Yemen,” he said, arguing that his return would ensure the defeat of Houthi-aligned “Iranian militias” and return the government to the people. The resigned minister’s comments underscore the tensions between Yemen and the coalition.
Information Ministry Undersecretary Najib Ghallab has accused Salah al-Sayadi of acting at the behest of Qatar or Iran to destabilize the coalition and weaken its support of the Yemeni government under President Hadi. At the time of writing, the former minister refused to comment on Ghallab’s accusations, while the government had yet to issue an official stance on his resignation. Salah al-Sayadi’s decision to step down was the second high-profile loss in a very short period of time, coming within 24 hours of the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Civil Service and Insurance Abdulaziz al-Jabari.
Both al-Sayadi’s criticisms of the coalition and the accusations levelled against him highlight the fraught situation in Yemen where multiple actors are pursuing varying interests within and across political divides. Firstly, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and Saudi Arabia support a unified Yemen under the recognized government of President Hadi, in which the Houthi rebellion is put down and North Yemen is returned to governmental control. However, the United Arab Emirates has some degree of support for the separation of Yemen into pre-1990s boundaries where the North and South would become separate states. Further, the conflict is one of a series of proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with Iran providing support for the Houthi (predominately Shia Muslims), who are rebelling against the Saudi coalition, which support President Hadi’s (Sunni-dominated) government. Finally, Qatar was a member of the Saudi coalition until its 2017 diplomatic crisis; accusations have since been levelled that the Qataris have supported the Houthi rebellion. The intertwined and overlapping nature of interests between various parties – along with President Hadi’s reliance on the coalition for military force to maintain dominance and prevent Houthi incursions – mean that he will likely remain politically handicapped and trapped in Riyadh for some time.
Salah al-Sayadi’s criticisms follow revelations from last November when AP reported that President Hadi, along with his sons, ministers and ministry officials, was not allowed to return to Yemen due to enmity between him and the UAE. In May 2017, this hostility reached a point where President Hadi accused the UAE of acting like occupiers. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are the two main players in the international coalition and the former is a dominant presence in South Yemen, the area under coalition control. President Hadi has been in Saudi Arabia since fleeing his country in February 2015. However, Al Jazeera reports that he has repeatedly written to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to be allowed to return but been ignored.
The conflict in Yemen remains one of the most violent, bloody and inhumane in the world, with all sides accused of violating international law and the laws of war, such as high numbers of civilian casualties (including women and children), the use of outlawed munitions like cluster bombs (and allegations of chemical weapons usage), refugee crises with over 2.5 million internally displaced people and 1 million people fleeing to neighbouring countries, and a massive famine. The resigned minister’s comments and the response from critics highlight the lack of resolution and conflicting nature of interests which keep the death toll climbing. A stable and sovereign Yemen under the control of a Yemeni government is not a foreseeable outcome in the near future.