Decentralizing Peace in Yemen
The Yemeni crisis is entering a new phase. A conglomeration of forces ostensibly linked to exiled President Abdorabbo Mansour Hadi has, for now, pushed the Houthi rebels and their allies out of the South. Aided by Saudi airpower and Emirati armored divisions, anti-Houthi cadres are consolidating territory in central Yemen. These forces have announced plans to soon move on Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. Hadi’s exiled government is already making plans for Yemen’s future, with the ousted Yemeni president affirming his intention to impose a federalist model “whether it is wanted or refused.” Perhaps the most significant outcome of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) was an understanding that decentralizing Yemen is the only sensible way of maintaining Yemen’s broader unity. However, Hadi’s tough talk is unproductive. The implementation of decentralization processes requires local support and is often vulnerable to security crises and exploitation by corrupt political actors. Furthermore, such efforts require a confidence in the central government that Hadi fails to inspire.
Despite the deepening divisions across Yemen, virtually all factions have negative views of Hadi. Even among his supposed anti-Houthi allies—the separatist Southern Herak and the Islamist Islah party (Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood branch)—Hadi is viewed with tremendous disdain. Undoubtedly, the Houthis and their allies, cronies of the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, will act to secure their own interests, as they did in their bungled coup attempt. Yet, regardless of how the Yemeni crisis ends, Hadi’s enemies and their constituencies will have to be considered and accommodated in any successful federal project.
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