Category: Dialogues

Title: Dr. Charles Schmitz on the Yemeni Civil War’s Past, Present, and Future

Author: Interview by Zara Ali
Date Published: December 11, 2020

There has to be some sort of political resolution, but I am pessimistic about a long-term solution. The means, institutions, and frameworks are there to reach a solution, but it will be difficult for the actors to reach an agreement.

– Dr. Charles Schmitz

How do you foresee political negotiations moving forward in the region among the sides? What would be advantageous for both parties involved?

There has to be some sort of political resolution, but I am pessimistic about a long-term solution. The means, institutions, and frameworks are there to reach a solution, but it will be difficult for the actors to reach an agreement.

I do believe a potential negotiation between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis is viable. The Saudis are looking for security, and the Houthis are looking for international recognition at a minimum as the de facto government in the territories they control. These desires are compatible, so I think that the Saudis and the Houthis could negotiate well with one another. 

However, that still leaves the rest of Yemen at stake with the conflict between the Houthis and the Hadi government. The Houthis are born of an insurgency—they are a Zaydi revival movement. The Houthi that we see today are a successful insurgency that fought a vicious war against the Yemeni government between 2004 and 2010. Because of this history, they fight hard and trust no one, especially not the Yemeni government. They have come to recognize that power comes from military control, and that does not make them conducive to negotiation. In addition, the rest of Yemen will not willingly live under Houthi rule because the Houthis are often abusive. They imprison, torture, and harass their political enemies even though they claim to be for a civil state, democracy, and a peaceful transfer of power. Their behavior belies their true intentions. 

There may be a ceasefire or an agreement not to continue the war, but I do not see a political solution to this in the short or medium term. There are too many splinter groups within the anti-Houthi coalition; there are people who support independence in the east, but they do not trust the ones in the west, so the country lacks political unity. The most probable scenario would be that the Houthis govern their territories, and the Southern Transitional Council will govern part of their territory, forming a loose federation. They are not going to develop good planning, management, or economic policy because of the numerous internal rivalries.

. . .

Dr. Charles Schmitz is a professor of geography at Towson University, where he has taught since 1999, and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute. He is a specialist on the Middle East and Yemen, beginning his academic career as a Fulbright Scholar and American Institute for Yemeni Studies fellow in Yemen in the early 1990s, studying the country’s engagement with the International Monetary Fund’s reforms and the rise of Yemen’s oil economy. During the 2000s, Schmitz worked for the defense of Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay while also heading the American Institute for Yemeni Studies. His current research interests include the political economy of development in Yemen, international law, international governance and failing states, and the sociology of contemporary Yemeni society. He holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies, M.A. in Geography, and a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of California, Berkeley. 

 

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