The Jeddah Agreement, which is the latest ceasefire deal regarding the war in Yemen, is not one that will see the Houthi rebels lay down their arms. Instead, the Saudi Arabia and UAE-sponsored agreement seeks to end the long-simmering fight that escalated sharply in August between the Southern Transitional Council and pro-Hadi forces, which comprise the bulk of the anti-Houthi coalition. While the signing of this deal will not see an end to the war, it is an essential step to begin addressing the political fragmentation that would undoubtedly see any future political settlement with the Houthis break down if left to fester.
The STC’s forceful takeover of Aden in August—and the subsequent clashes that took place across Southern Yemen as the STC worked to gain control of areas outside its power base in Aden—risked plunging the country into an even more intractable conflict. At the same time, it served to solidify the STC as a formidable political and military force in Yemen that cannot viably be sidelined in any future political settlements without risking another plunge into war, much like the scenario that saw the onset of the current war following the National Dialogue Conference. Similarly, the STC-Hadi conflict illuminated the fissures between Saudi Arabia and the UAE as Saudi forces launched a counterattack and the Emiratis conducted strikes in support of the STC. In this sense, the agreement is nearly as much about cooling tensions between the STC and Hadi as it is about getting Riyadh and Abu Dhabi back on the same page.
Fighting between pro-STC military forces and pro-Hadi forces—including military units loyal to notorious strongman Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar—is still being reported in Shabwa but most other areas have calmed (Alayyam, October 22). Delegations from both sides, however, have been meeting in Jeddah and are moving closer to finalizing a deal to freeze the conflict by determining an agreeable means for securing and governing Southern Yemen, at least for the duration of the broader war against the Houthis.
Portions of the draft agreement have been leaked to the public and indicate that the STC must agree to cede the matter of secession for the duration of the war with the Houthis, transfer UAE-backed southern forces to Hadi government control, and appoint Saudi forces to oversee the temporary capital of Aden. Additionally, the draft indicates that Hadi will remain as president but will share government positions equally among Northern and Southern political figures, a concession that has been attempted in the past but rarely successfully implemented. Also up for discussion, is the matter of the STC being well-represented in any government negotiating team that works toward a settlement with the Houthis (Twitter.com/Dr_E_Kendall, October 18).
The Jeddah Agreement serves as an important reminder that the only way to end the conflict is to begin addressing the fractured political scene across Yemen, regardless of which groups are viewed as the main belligerents. Similarly, it provides Hadi and the Saudi coalition a sort of practice round for any future negotiations with the Houthis, as the Houthis and the STC share similar historical grievances in terms of their political and economic marginalization.
The signing of the Jeddah Agreement will at the least freeze the conflict, and it creates a potential stepping stone toward more comprehensive achievements, but there is still much hanging in the balance. The success of the Jeddah Agreement will hinge on the government positions STC leaders are appointed to and the leeway they are given in local administration, among myriad other factors. At the same time, the agreement is likely to set the STC up to demand greater concessions in the future by formalizing it within the government. Similarly, the agreement will see the STC become increasingly legitimized while other Southern groups will remain outside of the political milieu. Transferring the command of STC forces to the government is a positive short-term fix, but doing so will not erase their allegiances, animosity toward the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islah party, or goals for an independent Southern Yemen, and neither will it ensure that they act in the interest of the government for the duration of the agreement.