On December 13, a truce in Yemen was agreed after a week of negotiations in Stockholm, Sweden. These were the first high level Yemen peace talks since September 2016, when the Houthi delegation did not show up for meetings in Geneva, Switzerland.
A small-scale UN monitoring mission will be activated in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah shortly to oversee the ceasefire, Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen has told diplomats in New York.
The agreements reached in Stockholm will have to be endorsed by a United Nations security resolution, which will most likely also include the provisions for the creation of a UN body to supervise the port’s administration and mutual troop withdrawals.
According to the BBC, the latest peace talks were a milestone. The speed with which the two sides in Stockholm reached agreement on the ceasefire was a pleasant surprise for all the stakeholders involved. They are now looking forward to assessing the results of the next round of talks in Kuwait at the beginning of next year.
Western diplomats are also hoping that the two rival sides will set up a joint force capable of addressing the issues of the location of mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and booby traps.
Therefore, alongside the potentially momentous political implications of the talks, the latest negotiations might also represent the first tangible step towards a process of deradicalization, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR), in particular for religiously motivated fighters.
Disrupting Radical Networks
In April 2015, a multi-pronged anti-terror operation was launched by the Coalition with the goal of disrupting multiple radical Sunni and Shiite networks, led by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Houthis.
Since then the United Arab Emirates (UAE), leading the counter-terror activities, have secured a number of significant objectives, with UAE troops or UAE-trained Yemeni security officers controlling several bases, airfields, and ports, especially along the south coast of the country.
According to official statements, the coalition in general and the UAE in particular have trained more than 60,000 Yemeni soldiers. Since 2015 they have drastically reduced AQAP’s territorial control.
At the same time, the Coalition has been making inroads against the Houthis, the Shia movement known for its virulently anti-Semitic and anti-American narratives and slogans. Over the last decade the Houthis have issued repeated threats against Yemen’s Jewish community and attempted to force the U.S. ambassador to Yemen to leave. This radical Islamist factor could strengthen in future in the wake of a gradual loss of political and territorial power and control.
Obviously, predicting the evolution of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) in Yemen is premature at present. However, it is possible to recall the main characteristics of the pre-war Yemeni CVE context and highlight a number of issues that the country will have to address in this field.
The core of the former Yemeni counter extremism strategy was the Committee for Religious Dialogue, established in September 2002 and modelled on a series of approaches and good practices that closely resemble the Saudi Arabia rehabilitation program.
Yemen was one of the first countries in the region to take a step towards terrorist rehabilitation, but due to the many challenges that the program had to face amid political disputes and struggles, its activities have been discontinuous.
Nevertheless, the experience gained in the early 2000s, together with the more structured Saudi model, are likely to provide a good basis upon which to build a consistent CVE strategy aimed at addressing the complex post-war challenges in the medium and long-term.
In fact, the program received positive attention from the international community for its pioneering efforts. It was grounded in a religious dialogue that aimed to lead the detainees to revise their distorted beliefs and their willingness to use violence to promote social change.
The Dialogue – run by Judge Hamoud Abdulhameed al-Hitar, former Minister for Endowments and Guidance – used a four-pronged approach, focusing on ideology and religion, security, economic issues, and regional and international cooperation.
The religious element was the nucleus of the program. The security component was based on the embryonic awareness of the so-called crime-terror nexus: to fight radicalization the state has to deal with the issue of crime at large. Similarly, the economic component implied that economic problems must be addressed too and jobs must be created so that the youth can be employed in order to hinder recruitment into radical groups. Finally, Yemen also realized the importance of fostering cooperation at both the regional and the international levels to combat terrorism effectively.
Unfortunately, these founding principles remained largely a statement of intent, while other crucial issues were not addressed systematically, such as the need for post-release monitoring, the measurement of recidivism rates, and the degree of involvement of former radicals in the program.
In 2010, Yemen started a similar program to counter a number of beliefs of the ideologically radicalized sections of the Houthi rebel groups. The project shares some features of the Binaa program designed by the General Directorate of Investigation in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for Shiite detainees whose sentences are about to end. Inevitably, in the case of Yemen the results are still uncertain and a complete assessment of the program will be impossible until the end of the war.
Creating a comprehensive and effective CVE approach will be a very bumpy ride.
Obviously, it will have to follow the complex demilitarization and disarmament phases. It will also have to be divided into macro, medium and micro levels. The macro-level of counter-radicalization targets the population at large, and the best example of this is counter-narrative campaigning. The medium level focuses on vulnerable components of the population and usually involves specific age-groups, such as teenagers, or specific social environments, such as a school or neighborhood. Finally, the micro level of action focuses on interventions with an individual.
The support of the Coalition in Yemen will be crucial for the creation of this program, which will be called to address tough targets – members and sympathizers of AQAP, a number of Hezbollah-like proxy groups, and large segments of the Houthi population.