Failed Yemeni talks shatter hopes of Yemenis' financial recovery

Residents of Houthi-controlled Sanaa pinned their hopes on a recent meeting between Yemen’s warring sides to solve economic crises as the country’s Central Bank remains divided, but no solution was found and differences remain.

al-monitor Members of the Yemeni government delegation take a break after a new round of talks between Yemen's warring parties, in Amman, Jordan, May 16, 2019. Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.

May 23, 2019

SANAA, Yemen — Clashes erupted May 15 between forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government and Houthi rebels in the port city of Hodeidah, despite what the United Nations said was a successful withdrawal by Houthis from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Issa.

Yemen's internationally recognized government's Minister of Information Moammar al-Eryani took to Twitter May 12, describing the Houthis’ withdrawal as misleading and unacceptable.

Ibrahim al-Dhufri, a father of three from the Old City of Sanaa, has welcomed the withdrawal of Houthis from the three ports. He said, “It [the withdrawal] is a positive step. We expect [President] Abed Rabbo [Mansour Hadi] and his companions to take a similar step.”

Dhufri said the war and the economic situation have taken a toll on his life and that of public servants. He is one of tens of thousands of government employees in Houthi-controlled areas who have been paid half a salary every three months since 2016.

“I just got paid last week — a half salary,” said Dhufri, who works at the government-affiliated Tribal Affairs Administration in Houthi-controlled Sanaa. Dhufri lives near four historic houses that were destroyed by Saudi-led coalition warplanes in 2015 in the UNESCO-listed Old City of Sanaa.

Speaking to Al-Monitor May 15, Dhufri urged the Yemeni warring sides to put their differences aside and prioritize the country’s interests during their meeting in Amman, Jordan May 13 to discuss the economic part of the Stockholm Agreement reached in Sweden last year that calls for the redeployment of forces from Yemen’s Hodeidah and for warring parties to swap prisoners.

“[The warring sides] have to avoid external pressures and work in the country’s interests,” Dhufri told Al-Monitor.

Things did not go as Dhufri wished, however.

On May 16, the Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes on a populated neighborhood in Sanaa, killing six civilians — including four children — according to the Houthi-run Health Ministry.

On May 17, Reuters reported that the UN-sponsored meeting in Jordan ended with no agreement. The Houthis said they do not trust the government-run Central Bank and refuse a deal to share the bank’s revenues.

A source with the Houthi delegation at the meeting who asked to remain anonymous told Al-Monitor May 17 that the delegation was surprised by the deliberate absence of Hafez Muaiad, the governor of the Central Bank based in Aden.

According to the source, the Saudi-backed government appointed Mohammed al-Omrani as head of the government delegation instead of Muaiad. “[Omrani] is an intelligence official with no economic background,” the source added. Omrani is the director of the Technical Office for Consultations of the Hadi government and head of the National Information Center.

The source also said the Houthi delegation at the Amman talks was headed by the Central Bank in Sanaa Gov. Mohammed al-Sayani, noting that the warring sides refused to meet face to face at the talks and UN mediators had to shuttle between them.

The internationally recognized government, which is based in Aden, moved the Central Bank from Sanaa to Aden in August 2016, claiming Houthis stole the bank’s funds and used them to pay their fighters leading the war against the Saudi-backed government. But Houthis deny this.

The Saudi-backed government has been promising to pay the salaries of public servants, even in the main population centers, which are mostly in Houthi hands. But this has yet to happen. Hopes were further shattered with the failure of the warring sides to reach an agreement at the Amman talks.

Ali Shawee, another resident of the Old City of Sanaa, is one of the many public servants who have been paid half a salary every three months since 2016.

“We hope [the warring sides] will reach a solution … as people are running out of patience,” Shawee told Al-Monitor.

“Some 28 million Yemenis are waiting for a solution,” he added.

Speaking to Al-Monitor May 15, Mohammed Abdul Qader, from the Old City, did not expect the meeting in Jordan to result in a solution.

“I don't expect any economic solution. They are all liars,” he said, adding that he has no hope — not even in the United Nations.

Abdul Qader, whose house was destroyed in the 2015 strike and now lives in his grandfather’s home in the same neighborhood, said a member of the UN mission in Yemen had visited owners of the houses targeted in the Old City and told them the United Nations was ready to help them rebuild. But reconstruction has yet to happen. “Only one woman was able to rebuild her house with financial help from some traders,” Abdul Qader added.

Al-Monitor toured the neighborhood targeted in 2015. It was hard to find a family breaking fast in the streets during the holy month of Ramadan. People now prefer to eat at home, as their meals are only getting smaller. In the past, people would break fast at mosques or in alleys to share their meals with the poor. But Yemen is now facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the UN World Food Program says nearly 10 million Yemenis are one step away from famine.

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