How Egypt-Gulf consensus can advance peace in Yemen

Egypt agreed with the Gulf states on the need to limit Iranian influence in Yemen and support the recent US inclination to end the Yemen war.

al-monitor Supporters of Yemen's Houthi rebels march with banners during a rally denouncing the United States and the outgoing Trump administration's decision to apply the "terrorist" designation to the Iran-backed movement, in the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa, on Jan. 25, 2021. Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP via Getty Images.

Feb 18, 2021

During a visit to Cairo by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary-General Nayef bin Falah al-Hajraf on Feb. 7, Egypt agreed with the GCC on the need to contain Iranian influence in Yemen, to reach a political solution to the Yemeni crisis without regional interference and to back US and international efforts in this respect.

“Gulf security is part of Egyptian national security,” President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said during his meeting with Hajraf.

In another meeting with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Hajraf called on Iran to end its interference in Yemen and support for the Houthi militia in order to reach a peaceful settlement to the Yemeni war.

Shoukry concurred and expressed his country’s rejection of regional interference in Arab affairs.

Both officials praised the US administration’s decision to appoint an American envoy to Yemen, which would contribute to reaching a political solution to the Yemeni crisis.

On Feb. 4, US President Joe Biden announced the end of US support for the Saudi-led military offensive in Yemen and named Timothy Lenderking as his special envoy to the war-torn country.

Saudi Arabia has led since 2015 a military coalition in support of the internationally recognized government in Yemen battling the Iranian-backed Houthis. The war in Yemen — which erupted in 2014 after Houthi rebels took control of the capital, Sanaa — has so far killed tens of thousands of people and caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, Houthis have repeatedly fired ballistic missiles and explosive drones from Yemen toward Saudi airports and oil facilities throughout the war.

Hassan Haridi, former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister, said the situation in Yemen is complex due to regional interference and the Yemeni conflict has turned into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran rather than an internal Yemeni conflict. He urged the international community to intervene decisively and called for enforcing UN Security Council resolutions to instill peace and stability in the region.

Haridi told Al-Monitor via phone, “There is a consensus between Egypt and the Arab Gulf states on rejecting Iranian interference in Yemen. Iran’s acts threaten Saudi national security and aim to bargain with the US to ease its economic sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program.”

He noted that the Egyptian-Gulf consensus should encourage the international community to step up efforts to stop the war in Yemen and support the newly appointed US envoy to pressure Tehran to halt its interference, settle the crisis politically and stop the war.

Haridi argued that Biden's policy toward Iran differs from that of his predecessor, Donald Trump. Biden relies on diplomatic openness and not just on economic sanctions, which have not succeeded in persuading Tehran to relinquish its nuclear ambitions, he said.

“Arab countries ought to unify their visions and ranks to preserve Arab national security from any Iranian threats, whether in Yemen or in other countries,” Haridi said. “Egyptian-Gulf relations are witnessing great momentum, especially after Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on one hand and Qatar on the other signed a reconciliation pact in the Saudi city of al-Ula (in January). This is likely to strengthen an Arab consensus in the coming period to confront any regional interference, whether by Iran or Turkey.”

Rakha Hassan, member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, told Al-Monitor that Egypt rejects any moves that compromise the security of the Gulf, which is part of its national security. “There is an Arab consensus to confront any attempts to threaten the Arab national security whether in Yemen, Syria, Iraq or Libya, and to reject regional interventions, whether Iranian or Turkish,” he said.

Hassan said there is a current US inclination, supported by the Arab Gulf states and Egypt, to settle the Yemeni crisis politically and stop Iranian interference in the region. “This was manifested in (Biden’s) decision to appoint a US envoy to Yemen in order to advance the political process, stop the war and implement UN Security Council Resolution 2216, the 2011 GCC Initiative and the outcomes of the (2015) Riyadh Conference on Yemeni reconciliation.”

He added, “The US administration’s decision to remove the Houthi militia from the list of terrorist organizations is a message of appeasement, well received by the Houthis, that confirms the desire to settle the Yemeni crisis politically and peacefully. The Yemeni war has been lingering on for six years, and the Yemeni people are paying a high price for it as they reel under a crippling humanitarian tragedy. This war requires all parties to shoulder their responsibility to instill stability and security in the region. There is a Saudi-Arab will to endorse the US inclination to end the war and engage in peace negotiations.”

Salah Abdullah, a former member of the parliamentary foreign relations committee, described the new US administration’s inclination to stop the war in Yemen as a good and important step in line with the Egyptian-Gulf vision to keep Iran away from Yemen and Bab al-Mandab Strait, and to stop its interference in the global trade movement passing through the Suez Canal.

Abdullah told Al-Monitor over the phone, “As part of their efforts to end Iranian interference in Yemen, Egypt and the Gulf may exercise economic pressure on Iran, whose economy is already suffering under US sanctions imposed because of its nuclear ambitions. Such a move could force Iran to stop its interference in Yemen and its threats to Arab national security. The Egyptian-Gulf consensus may also facilitate the work of the new US envoy by pressuring Houthis into accepting peace, ending the war and breaking ties with Tehran.”

Abdullah argued that Iran is supporting the Houthis in Yemen to pressure Saudi Arabia to bargain with the United States to alleviate the sanctions that are burdening the Iranian economy.

“The Egyptian-Gulf consensus (in Yemen) sends a message to Tehran that any threat to the Gulf is unacceptable and will not be allowed in order to preserve Arab national security,” he added.

Abdullah ruled out an escalation in Yemen in light of the new inclination by the Biden administration to end the war and push diplomatic efforts to instill peace and stability in the region.