The Old Man Speaks
Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Johnsen has written for a variety of publications on Yemen including, among others, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, The Independent, The Boston Globe, and The National. He is the co-founder of Waq al-Waq: Islam and Insurgency in Yemen Blog. In 2009, he was a member of the USAID's conflict assessment team for Yemen.
One of the old men of Yemeni tribal politics - which, I guess, is really the same as saying Yemeni politics - Shaykh Sinan Abu Lahum, he of the 4-volume memoir, recently gave an interview to the Egyptian paper al-Ahram, which of course Mareb Press has reprinted.
The interview leads off with a proposal from Abu Lahum to solve the war in Sa'dah, but given what he reports as President Salih's response to his proposal it seems a non-starter. Perhaps not surprisingly, Abu Lahum focuses on local and regional (or Yemeni and Arab) mediation to the conflict. I have my doubts about how successful such an approach can be.
I agree that any US or EU role would have to be non-public and behind-the-scenes, but I also believe that without US pressure on, say, Saudi Arabia the conflict is unlikely to end as opposed to going into hibernation, which it has been doing for years. The regional approach as launched by Qatar and the famous Doha agreement was not worth much largely because Saudi Arabia was frozen out and, at least initially, Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar was not part of the negotiating team. As I said in a recent piece on the conflict I think at this point both sides are benefiting so much from the war economy that solving this conflict is going to take a great deal of effort.
Additionally, as Robert Worth points out in this excellent piece from the NY Times, President Salih is now involved in the war in a way that he wasn't in 2008 when he used the failure of the military to weaken Ali Muhsin's allies in the military. And now, as I pointed out yesterday in "poking the bear," the failures of the military are emboldening other groups to take some shots they wouldn't have taken a few years ago.
As a bit of a side note, I will say that I would have given a great deal to have been a fly on the wall during the meeting with Abu Lahum and Shaykh Hamid al-Ahmar last week.
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