GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Conflict and Mediation in Yemen: Lessons Learnt from the Huthi Wars (2004-2010)
Paper Proposal Text :
Over the past decade we could observe the continuous escalation of the so-called Huthi conflict, which erupted in 2004 in Sa’dah governorate adjacent to the Saudi border and, by 2014, already affected large parts of northern Yemen. The Huthi conflict began in 2004 as a police operation against the Zaydi scholar and activist Husayn al-Huthi in a small village in Marran in Sa’dah’s western mountain range and gradually evolved into a full-blown rebellion. Between 2004 and 2010, the Yemeni government led six intermittent military campaigns against the Huthis, which – rather than ceasing the rebellion – led to a steady expansion of the war zone. In November 2011 the power transfer deal mediated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forced President Saleh to resign and provided for the presidency’s transition to former vice president Abd Rabbuh Hadi. The ensuing power vacuum finally enabled the Huthis to conquer large parts of northern Yemen including the capital Sana’a, which they seized in 2014. The Operation Decisive Storm against the Huthis carried out by a Saudi-led international alliance of Sunni states, which began in 2015, has eventually internationalized the Huthi conflict and turned Yemen into a central crisis zone in today’s globalized world.

Since the onset of the Huthi conflict in 2004, multiple attempts at de-escalation and conflict mediation have taken place to defuse the crisis and to restore peace and stability in Yemen. The appointment of mediators and mediation teams is not surprising, as mediation is the socially and politically preferred way of conflict management in Yemen. Setting up mediation teams in times of heightened tensions and eruption of armed conflict is common practice in Yemen. The Yemeni tribes, in particular, have well-established and effective mechanisms for channeling crises into negotiation, as documented by social science research.

The Huthi conflict, too, has been continuously accompanied by mediation endeavors, as religious scholars, tribal shaykhs, politicians, and foreign actors – including Qatar – were trying to mediate in the conflict. Despite intensive efforts, however, the conflict could at best only be temporarily stopped, and no sustainable results have emerged from mediation. During the war in Sa’dah, conventional mechanisms of crisis-prevention and conflict-control seemed to have limited application: the bad crisis management of the Saleh regime, the lack of political will to really end the war, political intrigues, rivalries, unauthorized military actions, impossible conditions and obscure phrasing in ceasefire agreements, and other obstacles generated such a fiasco that in 2009 local stakeholders to the conflict ultimately demanded the cessation of any mediation with the Huthis.

Based on years of anthropological fieldwork and social anthropological bottom-up approach, this paper analyzes the various local, domestic, and regional mediation initiatives which took place during the Huthi conflict 2004-2010. It examines their composition, their approaches, the impact of their efforts, and the reasons for their (temporary) success or failure. The paper shows that not only the lack of commitment of the warring parties, but also - at times - the non-compliance with fundamental prerequisites of mediation have sabotaged the de-escalation of the Huthi crisis since its very beginning and thus impeded restoration of stability in Yemen.