Sun - 08 Sep 2019 - 06:51 AM

written by : *Saleh Baidhani Writer Archive -

As the conflict in Yemen drags into its fifth year, al-Islah Party, the Yemeni affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, is coming under scrutiny for allegedly disrupting peace efforts and attempting to weaken the Saudi-led coalition.

The division was clear during recent peace talks in Jeddah, where representatives of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government refused to sit with the delegation of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) at the same table.

The Islah-backed government’s stance was considered an attempt to thwart the Saudis’ bid to diffuse tensions between the Yemeni government and allied forces supporting the coalition to counter the Iran-backed Houthis.

Represented by a large delegation led by Aidarous al-Zubaidi, the STC pushed for the adoption of Saudi-sponsored negotiations aimed at ending the violence in Aden and other southern provinces.

The Saudis’ efforts seem to be hitting a brick wall, however, in no small part due to al-Islah. Increasingly, reports emerged of suspicious ground movements in areas liberated by the Saudi-led coalition, especially in Bayda and Sa’dah provinces along the Saudi border. There were reports of increasing tensions between Saudi forces and Oman-backed fighters in the eastern province of Mahrah.

The developments, which come after Muslim Brotherhood-allied forces from Yemen’s southern governorates were pushed out by the STC, threaten to complicate the Arab-led coalition’s efforts to forge a solution to the conflict. They will especially hurt Riyadh’s bid to stabilise the country and eliminate threats along its direct borders with Yemen.

In the Nata district of Bayda, a retreat by forces loyal to al-Islah gave the Houthi militia an opportunity to wrest control on the ground but the STC’s Security Belt repelled the attack.

In Sa’dah province on the Saudi border, the situation has grown especially tense. Sources there said the Arab-led coalition intercepted correspondence between tribal chiefs and field commanders from al-Islah in Jawf province.

This correspondence indicates that al-Islah members were considering forging an agreement with the Houthis. The deal would facilitate a handover of areas liberated by the Arab alliance in exchange for the creation of a direct threat to one of Saudi Arabia’s most sensitive borders.

Tensions are also rising in the eastern province of Mahrah, along the Omani border, where Oman and Qatar are seemingly attempting to disrupt the Arab-led coalition’s aims.

Oman’s involvement in the war in Yemen has come under scrutiny since 2016 when weapons smuggled through Oman allegedly meant for Houthi rebels were intercepted in Yemen.

The shift from Muscat’s publicly stated position of neutrality in Mahrah came to the fore last year when former Yemeni minister Ahmed Mousaed Hussein al-Awlaki visited Shabwa province and pressured local leaders to adopt an anti-coalition stance.

Awlaki, who has been based in Muscat since 2010, sought to recruit local leaders to foment internal conflict in liberated provinces.

Developments in Bayda, Sa’dah and Mahrah, as well as reports about a Qatari- and Omani-funded plan to sow discord along various fronts in Yemen are likely to pose a serious threat to the Arab-led coalition.

All of this comes while Washington engages in talks with Houthi rebels in its own bid to end Yemen’s war.

“We are also having talks to the extent possible with the Houthis to try and find a mutually accepted negotiated solution to the conflict,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker said during a visit to Saudi Arabia.

This marked the first time the US administration has dealt with the Houthis in more than four years and reflects Washington’s growing frustration with the lack of progress in ending Yemen’s conflict.

Published by The Arab Weekly on Saturday September 07, 2019.