In the midst of the civil war in Yemen, which has developed into a regional conflict following the Yemeni revolution of 2011, the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW) hosted a workshop to explore the crisis, the prospects of peace and the post-conflict reconstruction. Joining international diplomats and NGO representatives, Associate Professor of Political Science and Yemen expert Stacey Philbrick Yadav was the sole academic to participate in the October workshop. The following evening, she attended the first fundraising dinner of the Yemen Peace Project (YPP), a non-profit formed in 2010 in response to the political, social and humanitarian issues facing the country.
Below, Philbrick Yadav, who serves on the YPP board of directors, discusses the outcomes of these events and what the future is likely to hold for Yemen, its government and its citizens.
The AGSIW event was designed to examine how “the biggest challenges for any future Yemeni government and the international community will be ensuring long-term peace, shouldering the economic and fiscal burden of post-conflict reconstruction, and, ultimately, determining if the nation can be made whole again.” How did your talk address those issues?
The workshop was informed by the idea that peace negotiations are underway now and it makes sense to think about what elements of a future peace agreement might facilitate (or hinder) reconstruction.
Yemen had a transitional government in 2011, but it was poorly organized and fueled the civil war. Any new peace settlement will be built on a national unity government, so considering who is in that government and why is important for the process to succeed and avoid past problems of inclusion.
In addition to this, I focused in particular on the risks of private sector-led reconstruction, which drew on work I’ve done on Lebanon, as well my work on the breakdown of the last transitional government in Yemen. I wanted to raise concerns about not repeating the same mistakes, to contextualize the failures of the last transition.
Following an airstrike by the Saudi Arabian-led coalition on a funeral, which left dozens of civilians dead and drew international condemnation, a three-day ceasefire began Wednesday, Oct. 19. The airstrike also led the U.S. and British governments to announce plans to reevaluate support for Saudi involvement in the war. How likely are these developments to lead to a longer-term peace?
I left Washington feeling more optimistic than I have in a long time. The negotiation process has been beastly. There have been many failed rounds, hosted by several different countries, but I was tremendously impressed by what I heard from people directly involved in the process, who were knowledgeable about Yemen and its political dynamics and showed the patience that might be able to bring this out.
The Saudis made a major miscalculation in attacking a funeral hall. More than100 people were killed, a lot of them very actively involved in negotiating peace agreements. It seems like a tremendous setback, but in a way, it’s perversely encouraging, triggering a formal review of the U.S. government’s ongoing tactical and logistical support for the war. It’s an opportunity for the U.S. to exert pressure and signal that the Saudis need to come to the negotiating table in earnest. There’s growing Congressional dissatisfaction with U.S.-Saudi relations and the combination of Congressional pressure and the White House review puts a lot of pressure on the coalition.
What other perspectives and issues were brought to light by the Yemen Peace Project fundraiser?
This was the YPP’s first fundraising dinner, with a silent auction of Yemeni art, catering by Yemeni restaurants, coffee from partners with Yemeni coffee growers. It was a tremendous source of comfort for people to come together and share positive memories, to connect with Yemeni friends and colleagues in support of the YPP, which is the only organization devoted exclusively to U.S.-Yemeni relations. The YPP partners directly with on-the-ground organizations for humanitarian support in Yemen; conducts advocacy work in Washington; interviews Yemeni and non-Yemeni experts on a podcast called Mafraj Radio; works to brings voices of nonviolent Yemeni activists directly into policy conversations; and hosts a film and arts festival to help artists find a wide international audience. The image of Yemen in the U.S. is almost always through the lens of war and security, so this was a really powerful event that showcased the YPP’s more well-rounded approach and gave a boost to our advocacy work.
About Associate Professor of Political Science Stacey Philbrick Yadav
On the basis of her field research in Yemen, Philbrick Yadav has been writing about the country’s opposition politics for more than a decade and also serves as a member of the executive committee of the American Institute of Yemeni Studies. Since the uprising in 2011, she has published a book exploring the dynamics of Islamist activism and alliance building, and several articles in academic journals and news outlets. A member of the HWS faculty since 2007, Philbrick Yadav earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies from Smith College. She has spent several years conducting field research in Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt. Before joining the Colleges, she taught at Mount Holyoke College and in 2008 was a visiting scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies.