IR Made Easy: The Riyadh Agreement on Yemen

Kingdom Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Hala Al Ghanim on Unsplashed.

Since withdrawing from the Riyadh Agreement in January 2020 in protest against violence in Shabwa province and declaring self-rule in April 2020, southern separatists in Yemen, known as the Southern Transitional Council (STC), have now announced that they will abandon their aspirations of autonomy in order to implement the peace deal with the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. With major implications for the politics, military, security, and international relations in the region, this power-sharing deal could reshape the conflict in Yemen. So what is the Riyadh Agreement and why is it important?

What is the Riyadh Agreement?

Signed on 5 November 2019 in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, the agreement is a power-sharing deal between the Saudi-backed Hadi government and the UAE-backed STC. It allows for power-sharing between north and south and the return of Prime Minister Moeen Abdelmalek to Aden to set up state institutions.

As per the agreement, both sides agree to nine commitments:

  1. Full implementation of newly created Yemeni state instituions.
  2. Reorganisation of military forces under the Ministry of Defence.
  3. Regoranisation of the security forces under the Ministry of Interior.
  4. Complete citizenship rights for all Yemenis.
  5. An end to all offensive media campaigns.
  6. To work together to restore security and stability in Yemen and to confront terrorist organisations.
  7. Formation of a committee specialising in monitoring, executing, and implementing the agreement.
  8. Discussion of a final political solution to the coup staged by Iran-backed Houthi Militia.
  9. Immediate issuing of instructions to all of state institutions by the President to implement the agreement.

Political and Economic Implications

The political and economic arrangements of the agreement are set out in appendix 1. A new technocratic government is to be set up that has no more than 24 ministers – 12 from the north and 12 from the south. Those selected to be ministers must not have taken part in or incited people to participate in any clashes between the two sides. Furthermore, the Yemeni President must appoint new governors for the governates of Aden, Abyan, and Dhale.

The appendix also sets out rules for how state revenue is to be handled. All state revenues are to be deposited in the Central Bank in Aden and the government must follow an approved budget. To ensure government spending is held to account, a regular report that is transparent regarding government revenues and spending is to be presented to the parliament for evaluation and audit. This is likely to be unpopular in certain governorates – namely Marib, Hadhramaut, and Shabwa – that have taken control of their oil revenues.

Military Implications

The second annex to the agreement deals with military arrangements. All forces and artillery that moved towards Aden, Abyan, and Shabwa since the beginning of August 2019 will return to their former positions and will be replaced by official security forces. The only exception to this is The First Presidential Protection Brigade. In additon, Military forces will be reorganised and placed under the control of the Defence Ministry, particularly those in the governorates of Abyan and Lahij.

Security Implications

The final annex outlines next steps for Yemen’s security forces. The STC forces will be incorporated into the Ministries of Interior and Defence. Government and STC military forces will leave Aden within 30 days and Saudi Arabia will oversee security inside the city. Tasked with protecting civilian infrastructure, the interior ministry’s director for security will create a defence force.

Destroyed house in Sana’a. Photo: Ibrahem Qasim.

Implications for International Relations and Obstacles to Implementation

The situation in Yemen is complex with many factions and international actors at play. Implementing the Riyadh Agreement requires a high level of cooperation between warring Yemeni factions as well as between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This may prove too difficult for the parties and no progress will be made in resolving the conflict. Furthermore, the agreement will be supervised by a committee established by the coalition; following the UAE’s withdrawal from Yemen, this will be dominated by the Saudis.

For the agreement to be a success, the UAE must prioritise its relations with Saudi Arabia over its support for the STC. This will prove to be difficult, as Saudi-Emirati relations have long been strained.

The agreement has also been critisised for not including other factions outside of the Hadi government and the STC. These two groups fundamentally disagree over the future of Yemen, with the former seeking unity and the latter seeking separatism. The Riyadh agreement is thus not a hollisitc, long-term solution for Yemen.

Yemenis are optimistic that the plan’s implementation will bring some stability to the nation. Former deputy prime minister and presidential adviser Abdulmalik Al-Mekhlafi described the news that the STC will implement the agreement as representing the start of a “new phase” in bringing peace to Yemen. But this “new phase” will only come to fruition if all sides keep their commitments and work hard to implement the plans in the agreement. It’s fair to say that although progress has been made, there is still a long way to go on the road towards peace in Yemen.

Sources

“Yemen’s Riyadh Agreement: An overview” (Al Jazeera)

“Yemen: Why the Riyadh Agreement is collapsing” (European Council on Foreign Relations)

“War and pieces: Political divides in southern Yemen” (European council on Foreign Relations)

Text of the Riyadh Agreement (Middle East Monitor)

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