Since September, a new set of more effective peace talks have been taking place between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, with Oman acting as a mediator. The Houthi is a movement of Zaydi Shiites that emerged in Northern Yemen in the 1990s with the initial goal of fighting the president of Yemen at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his corruption. After Saleh was replaced by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, the Houthi responded with an uprising that led to a conflict with the government of Yemen, backed by a Saudi-led coalition.
This conflict has been devastating the country since 2011. The United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, informed the UN Security Council in November of a significant drop in the number of airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. In many ways, this was a ray of hope for the country that was thrown into chaos in 2015, when a massive scale conflict broke out after Saudi intervention. At the same time, these new events raise doubts about the efforts made by Saudi Arabia before 2015 to seek a peaceful and political solution for the conflict in Yemen. That civil conflict has now developed into a proxy war between Shiite Iran, which supports the Houthi forces, and Sunni Saudi Arabia, backed by the United States. Yemen is the battleground of a competition between two Middle Eastern forces attempting to dominate the region.
Saudi Major General Ahmad Asiri stated, “Mansur has the responsibility to protect Yemen and the population against these militias, and he called for help.” Saudi Arabia has justified its military intervention with its Responsibility to Protect doctrine, created as a reaction to the atrocities that occurred in the Balkans and Rwanda during the 1990s. But the Saudis’ peaceful means were adequately keeping the peace, which further calls into question their use of force.
Today, the world optimistically embraces the steps being taken toward peace in the Middle East. It is, however, difficult to understand what has previously prevented this change. It is hard to affirm that peaceful roads have been tried and exhausted before force has been used. While the Houthis have shown openness to dialogue — more than once participating in the 2013 Yemeni National Dialogue Conference or complying with the 2018 Stockholm agreement — Saudi Arabia has constantly insisted on defeating the Houthis rather than including them in a possible consensus. For instance, the Saudis broke the agreed cease-fire in Hodeida after peace talks in Sweden in 2018.
So what caused Riyadh to start considering the Houthis demands? Reaching the level of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 80% of the population in need of aid and 14 million people at risk of starvation, was not enough. Neither was the targeting of civilians and human rights violations or the massive proliferation of terrorist attacks. No. It took Saudi Arabia seeing their fossil fuel-based affluence threatened and the vulnerability of its source revealed — after the Houthi attack on Saudi Aramco oil facilities — to cause military attacks to decrease and catalyze the negotiation process.
At this point, we in the international community can only wait to see the outcome of these negotiations. We as world citizens must keep in mind that, far from our homes, a whole country needs to be assisted and remembered. I hope those responsible for this humanitarian crisis face the consequences and that the international community acts — we have a responsibility to protect those in need. Saudi Arabia’s lack of desire in ending its rivalry with Iran has contributed to the destruction not only of Yemen, but also of its future. It is 2020, and the world has not yet learned that no war has ever had a true winner.
Elena Fernández-Mardomingo is a senior exchange student from Spain, double majoring in international studies and law.