MIDEAST MIRROR 05.06.15, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)
1-Two-way ticket to Geneva
2-The Friday test
3-On knife’s edge
1-Two-way ticket to Geneva
The Yemeni government's participation in a dialogue conference alongside the Houthis who have usurped power in Sana'a, has raised the fears of many Yemenis that this may provide the means of saving the Houthis and Ali Saleh at the expense of Yemen itself. But a realistic reading of the Yemeni government and Houthis' decision to take part in the Geneva dialogue conference on June 14th indicates that it is the Houthis who have taken a step backward. The repercussions of this retreat will primarily affect Ali Saleh, the temporary ally of his Houthi enemies. After all, he has fought bloody wars against them and has now burnt all his bridges with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Moreover, he has no ideological umbrella from Iran to protect him--pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi
The Geneva conference [has become] a demand and a means of exit for the [Saudi-led] coalition more than the Yemenis, despite the enormous human and material damage done by Decisive Storm’s missiles and bombs. Contrary to the substance of UN Resolution 2216, Geneva will be held without preconditions; it will not be held in Riyadh, and the UN and not Saudi Arabia will sponsor it. And most importantly, it will be held without achieving any victory worth mentioning, for the Houthis have neither abandoned their weapons nor withdrawn from the cities to their faraway caves. What is certain is that the delegation representing Yemeni 'legitimacy' [President Hadi] will reserve two-way tickets for itself, from Riyadh to Geneva and back--'Urayb ar-Rintawi in Jordanian ad-Dustour
The Saudi refusal to acknowledge the failure of its aggression has meant that Riyadh has been unable to see that the world, even including its own friends, has come to the conclusion that this aggression must end, and that its persistence will lead to nothing but more killing and destruction of the Yemeni people. There is talk now of another date for the Geneva conference, sometime after June 10th. If Saudi Arabia agrees to attend this conference, or if it allows its camp to attend, as seems to be the case, this means that Riyadh has accepted that it has failed to achieve any of the declared aims of its aggression, particularly since it had previously insisted that the  Gulf Initiative and the UN resolutions and nothing else constituted the terms of reference for the dialogue and were the precondition for any such conference--Luqman 'Abdullah in Lebanese al-Akhbar
The exiled Yemeni government and Houthis’ consent to attend the Geneva conference on June 14th was only possible because the latter were forced to retreat after realizing that their project to rule Yemen had failed, maintains the editorial in a Qatari-owned pan-Arab daily. But the main threat to stability in Yemen remains deposed president Ali 'Abdullah Saleh. None of Riyadh's preconditions for a conference on Yemen have been satisfied, and yet it has given the go-ahead for its Yemeni allies to head to Geneva, notes a leading Jordanian commentator. If anything, this indicates that Riyadh and its allies are desperately seeking a way out from the Yemeni predicament despite the fact that it is the Yemeni people who are suffering the greatest losses. Saudi Arabia has clearly been forced to back away from its preconditions for any inter-Yemeni dialogue after realizing the failure of its operation and its isolation on the international stage, maintains a commentator in a left-leaning Lebanese daily. But this dialogue is likely to be long and complicated because it is unclear to whom the Houthis are to hand over the cities currently under their control.
A NEW POLITICAL PHASE: "The Yemeni government's agreement to take part in the Geneva conference and the subsequent consent of the Houthi Ansarullah movement, have both paved the way before the possibility of moving Yemen on to a new political phase," writes the editorial in Friday's Qatari-owned, London-based, pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi.
The Houthis announced their acceptance of dialogue 'without preconditions' after negotiations with the Americans in the Omani capital Muscat, and under the watchful eyes of the two major regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Meanwhile, the Saudi-led Arab coalition is continuing its air raids against Houthi positions and former president Ali 'Abdullah Saleh's forces. On the other hand, the Houthis have escalated the conflict by deploying missiles to attack sites in Saudi border cities, while an official spokesman for the 'Yemeni army' that they control has claimed that 'the war now is equal.' In other words, the military equation now is this: Missile strikes inside Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and air raids on Yemen on the other.
The Yemeni government's participation in a dialogue conference alongside the Houthis, who have usurped power in Sana'a, has raised the fears of many Yemenis that this may provide the means of saving the Houthis and Ali Saleh at the expense of Yemen itself. But a realistic reading of the Yemeni government and Houthis' decision to take part in the Geneva dialogue conference on June 14th indicates that it is the Houthis who have taken a step backward.
The repercussions of this retreat will primarily affect Ali Saleh, the temporary ally of his Houthi enemies. After all, he has fought bloody wars against them and has now burnt all his bridges with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Moreover, he has no ideological umbrella from Iran to protect him. In an interview with the satellite TV station al-Mayadeen, Ali Saleh exposed his cards with an unusual ferocity. This suggests that his opportunistic alliance with the Houthis has become a subject for Arab and international negotiations and that his head is now on the line.
The Houthis have been forced to 'sip the poison' of negotiations – to use Imam Khomeini's expression – before they have had time to enjoy the privileges of controlling Yemen if only for a short while, and even though they believed they had taken full hold of it. And a number of political and military developments are behind this:
- The first, of course, is Operation Decisive Storm that has ended a long phase of Saudi policies that resorted to soft power, money, and influence from afar. Regardless of the results of a military survey of the Houthi’s most important command-and-control positions, the basic consequence of that operation is that none of that movement's leaders is now safe.
- The second development is that Houthi and Ali Saleh and his men are now operating outside the framework of international legitimacy after UNSCR 2216. This means that their control of Yemen is just a temporary hiatus in the country's history, which must end if the country is to emerge from the current vicious circle.
- The third development is that Ali Saleh has lost his special relations with some Gulf states. The fact that he continues to try to pull the strings of these relations is evidence of his despair rather than his cunning.
- The fourth and perhaps the most serious development is that because of various international and geographic factors, the Iranians have come to realize that they can no longer influence the game in Yemen and that their attempt to use the Houthi card has failed. They are most likely to have conveyed this to the Houthis.
This analysis indicates that Ali Saleh will constitute the main obstacle to the coming settlement. The leaks coming from Yemen and the Gulf indicate that negotiations are underway to ensure his departure from Yemen.
"Will he leave, or will Yemen witness a new bloody confrontation between the deposed president and his enemies/allies the Houthis?" asks the daily in conclusion.
PRECONDITIONS DROPPED: “Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi's government has dropped its 'preconditions' and decided to back away from its refusal to take part in the Geneva conference before the Ansarullah submit to the UN demand that they hand over their weapons, withdraw from the city centers, and allow 'legitimacy' [Hadi] to return to the country," notes 'Urayb ar-Rintawi in Friday's Jordanian daily ad-Dustour.
The Yemeni delegations will now head to Geneva in the middle of this month to join an exhausting process in search for the bases of a political resolution of the Yemeni crisis. And they will do this without prior conditions and under the UN's sponsorship. So what happened in a single week and that has forced the exiled [Hadi] government to be willing to ‘sip the poison’? What are the true reasons behind this U-turn?
If we want to know what paved the way to Geneva, we must know what happened in Muscat. The password came from there, where the Omani capital hosted multi-party dialogues in which the Americans and the Iranians spoke with the Houthis and sought a political way out of the Yemeni predicament. And the Saudis, as well as the major players in the region and the world, were not far from these dialogues,
After seventy days of futile war, all parties are drawing close to a shared conclusion: The [Saudi-led] coalition has no hope of winning this war or emerging victorious from this risky venture. Instead of searching for solutions that help the Yemeni party allied to Operation Decisive Storm [Hadi], the search has begun to focus on finding a way out for Saudi Arabia and the coalition it is leading from the Yemeni 'quagmire', without paying much heed to saving the Kingdom’s face.
The fact is that neither Hadi nor his government could have decided to reject the Geneva conference and then accept to take part in isolation of Saudi directives in this regard. It is clear that the coalition has accepted to escape while it can, opting for the view that cutting its losses is better than seeking gains. And is there any damage worse than being involved in a futile war that is costly in both political and moral terms?
This is why the Geneva conference became a demand and a means of exit for the coalition more than the Yemenis, despite the enormous human and material damage done by Decisive Storm’s missiles and bombs.
Contrary to the substance of UN Resolution 2216, Geneva will be held without preconditions; it will not be held in Riyadh, and the UN and not Saudi Arabia will sponsor it. And most importantly, it will be held without achieving any victory worth mentioning, for the Houthis have neither abandoned their weapons nor withdrawn from the cities to their faraway caves.
"What is certain is that the delegation representing Yemeni 'legitimacy' will reserve two-way tickets for itself, from Riyadh to Geneva and back," concludes Rintawi.
SAUDI ASSUMPTION: "Saudi Arabia deals with the UN and its organizations on the assumption that they are all subject to its will, and that their policies should provide cover for its aggression," writes Luqman 'Abdullah in Friday's left-leaning Beirut daily al-Akhbar.
It exerted pressure to remove former UN Yemen envoy Jamal Benomar from his post against the background of the Gulf regimes’ accusations that he was siding with the Ansarullah. But the truth is that Benomar was merely pursuing his mission as far as possible within the balance of power in the Yemeni and regional political map.
When the current UN Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmad was appointed, the Saudi and Gulf media sang his praises on the assumption that he was close to them and has private interests in Saudi Arabia, in addition to being a friend of Saudi Foreign Minister 'Adel al-Jubeir. But the reality on the ground and the man's performance so far have proven that he is following in his predecessor's footsteps, because, simply put, Saudi Arabia has failed to achieve its aims and most of Yemen's provinces are now managed by the Supreme Revolutionary Committee which is close to Ansarullah, even in the shadow of the aggression on the country.
It is true that Gulf diplomacy succeeded in getting the UN Security Council to issue UNSCR 2216 but its diplomacy has failed to squeeze out any political 'juice' from this resolution, as well as failing to make use of it in changing the military situation on the ground.
Moreover, the disastrous scenes resulting from the aggression have placed the international humanitarian organizations and bodies in a difficult position because of Saudi Arabia's excessive violence, and its systematic destruction of the country with no commitment to the usual rules of engagement that restrain military action. As a result, these organizations have reserved a role for themselves and their activities have offered a diplomatic alternative in the absence of any effective and significant political initiatives.
This was context for the UN’s decision to specify May 28th as the first date for a dialogue between the various Yemeni constituents in Geneva. That was rejected by Saudi Arabia, as conveyed to the UN by means of a letter sent by fugitive President 'Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi to the UN secretary-general, on the grounds that the Ansarullah were continuing to provoke Yemen's neighboring countries.
Parallel to these developments, talks were held in the Sultanate of Oman, and the government in exile in Riyadh appeared to be dissatisfied with the manner in which they were proceeding. Anyway, that government was not invited to these talks to begin with. As for their content, it emerged that they took place between the real players and in the absence of their proxies. The spokesman for Hadi's government expressed this view when he said that the Muscat negotiations are between the Ansarullah and the Americans and that their outcome was not binding on Hadi.
But what is important about all this is that the Saudi refusal to acknowledge the failure of its aggression has meant that Riyadh has been unable to see that the world, even including its own friends, has come to the conclusion that this aggression must end, and that its persistence will lead to nothing but more killing and destruction of the Yemeni people. There is talk now of another date for the Geneva conference, sometime after June 10th.
If Saudi Arabia agrees to attend this conference, or if it allows its camp to attend, as seems to be the case, this means that Riyadh has accepted that it has failed to achieve any of the declared aims of its aggression, particularly since it had previously insisted that the  Gulf Initiative and the UN resolutions and nothing else constituted the terms of reference for the dialogue and were the precondition for any such conference. In fact, it did not confine itself to this, but demanded that it should decide which Yemeni parties and figures were to be invited to this dialogue as a precondition.
But the information available so far indicates that it is the Yemeni people's various constituents that were previously holding a dialogue in Yemen who will be invited to the Geneva conference without any change. And more important than all the above is that the dialogue will be held without preconditions and in good faith, according to a press statement issued by the UN Security Council after a session devoted to discussing the Yemeni situation.
As for Ansarullah, they are heading to dialogue with a broad space for manoeuvre. Most Yemeni provinces are in their hands even if they agree to hand over the cities they hold. But the problem has to do with the party that will replace them against the background of al-Qa'ida’s growing strength and the absence of any force that is acceptable to both sides, given that the most of the army’s units are now seen as being pro-Ansarullah.
"And this calls for long and complex negotiations," concludes 'Abdullah.
2-The Friday test
As Saudi Arabia faces the possibility of another Friday attack on Shiite shrines, everyone should hope that today passes peacefully, says 'Abdelbari 'Atwan on pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com
Saudi Arabia’s security forces face their most serious test today (Friday) after two successive Friday bombings of Shiite mosques in the Kingdom, maintains the editor-in-chief of an online pan-Arab daily. If they fail, it would mean that ISIS has established dangerous cells in the country that outshines al-Qa'ida in its power and financing.
NOT MUCH TO SAY: "It has been some time since Lt.-Gen. Ahmad al-'Asiri – Operation Decisive Storm's spokesman appeared at his daily press conferences to discuss the latest developments in the Saudi-led Arab coalition bombardment of Yemen," notes Editor-in-Chief 'Abdelbari 'Atwan on Friday on the pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com.
But there is not much he can say to journalists and media representatives now that it is already two months since the Storm began and is approaching the middle of its third month, and now that the Kingdom is sliding towards other sorts of wars that require other sorts of spokesmen.
Developments on the Saudi domestic front and the bombings that have occurred there have certainly overshadowed the reports from Operation Decisive Storm. They have also overshadowed the raging war that is getting more intense and dangerous along the Yemeni/Saudi borders. On that front, the Yemeni Houthi Ansarullah have begun to publicize their military operations and missile bombardments of Saudi positions for the first time, whereas they previously used to claim that Yemeni tribes were carrying them out.
Throughout the past week, the Saudis – including their security agency leaders– have had their hands on their hearts for fear and worry. It is also certain that they are praying to God that this Friday will pass without any bombings similar to those that targeted two Shiite mosques within eight days. The first was al-Qudaih Mosque in al-Qatif during prayers the Friday before last, killing twenty worshippers in the process. The second was al-'Anoud Mosque in ad-Dammam, resulting in the death of four people, including the suicide bomber who was trying to infiltrate the worshippers and blow himself up in their midst.
This Friday will be the most important test of the Saudi security men. If it passes peacefully, that would be cause for the Saudi security leadership's satisfaction. Equally satisfied will be Crown-Prince and Interior Minister Mohammad bin Nayif who built his reputation inside and outside the country as the Kingdom’s strongman because of his 'successful' plans to destroy al-Qa'ida and its cells after a spate of assassinations and bombings that targeted Western and foreign citizens some ten years ago.
It is the Saudi Crown prince and his security aide's misfortune that al-Qa'ida's cells are modest compared to Islamic State's (ISIS) cells, which have announced their responsibility of the bombings in al-Qatif and ad-Dammam. This is because these are local cells that draw their support from the poorer sectors of society. Moreover, they are members of a 'state' that has a presence close to the Saudi borders; has created an entity within two powers that used to be major regional states – namely Iraq and Syria; conquers new cities almost every other month; captures hundreds if not thousands of tons of weapons, ammunition, tanks and armored vehicles; adds to its financial resources other sources such as oil and gas wells, phosphate mines, and invaluable priceless historical relics (in Tadmur [Palmyra]); and acquires new citizens who have to pay taxes to fill its coffers.
Undermining the Kingdom's stability tops this dangerous and bloody organization's list of priorities. And the first step in its scheme to sow the seeds of [Sunni/Shiite] sedition is to strike at Shiite mosques and Husseiniyyas in the hope of 'radicalizing' the hard-line Shiites, pushing them into taking up arms on the pretext of self-defense. That, in turn, would lead to sectarian confrontations, which may ultimately drag some foreign party (Iran) to provide them with financial and military aid as it is now doing in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. There is no need for a lengthy explanation of what may happen as a result.
Anyone following the social media pages of Saudi Shiite activists, especially those living outside the Kingdom, would detect a tangible tendency towards forming popular committees to defend the mosques and the Husseiniyyas, and a reluctance to rely on the Saudi security forces' abilities. If this development elicits a response – and there is some belief that it will –it will have dire consequences.
Certain regional and international parties want to implicate Saudi Arabia in a series of domestic and foreign wars in order to hemorrhage it in financial, human, and political terms, especially in Yemen and Syria, and soon in Iraq. One possible sign of this is the fact that Yemen has been transformed into a domestic Saudi affair that entails an extremely costly security and financial burden that may last for decades. And this is happening at a time when oil returns have fallen to half their previous levels, the deficit in the annual Saudi budget is growing, and the commitment to intervention in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and other Islamist countries is growing. We have to bear in mind here that Yemen's population is larger than Saudi Arabia’s, but with one major difference; namely, the absence of infrastructure and record levels of poverty in Yemen.
[Fugitive] Yemeni President 'Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi's agreement to attend the Geneva [Yemen] conference planned for June 14th without any preconditions may be the beginning of Saudi Arabia's realization of the extent of its predicament in Yemen and an attempt to escape the crisis there as soon as possible in order to cut its losses. The previous terms for any negotiations such as the Houthis' withdrawal from the cities they have captured, handing over their weapons, and the exclusion of former president Ali 'Abdullah Saleh and his General People's Congress party from any negotiations, are all impossible preconditions that have only proven to further complicate the problem rather than creating the climate required for solving it. Their mistaken nature and the shortsightedness of those behind them have by now been exposed. The most important evidence of this is the U.S.'s intervention in this dossier, and the fact that it has launched a dialogue with the Houthis without consulting with President Hadi or anyone else.
Saudi Arabia has implicated itself, or rather has been implicated by others, in a bottomless Yemeni pit, without being provided with a ladder to climb up. Its more reasonable leaders must act in order to find such a ladder before it is too late. And there are many reasonable people in the Kingdom who only need to find someone to listen for the chance to express their views and offer their recommendations.
The domestic threats are much greater than the foreign ones. In fact, the situation may develop in such a manner that the two threats merge into one. This would be a catastrophe. And when U.S. State Department Spokesman John Kirby says that ISIS is very dangerous and destroying it may take three to five years, then – even though this assessment seems modest in our view – it is a nightmare for Saudi Arabia. After all, ISIS believes that its 'caliphate' can only be complete after capturing Mecca and Medina.
Like millions of others, we hope that the Friday prayers will pass without any bombings or shedding of innocent blood. At the same time, we also hope that all the previous policies that have provided the appropriate climate for these bombings will be subject to a review.
"And we confine ourselves here to this simple wish," concludes 'Atwan.
3-On knife’s edge
In the most critical Turkish elections in over a decade, the result hangs on a couple of percentage points in one direction or another, says Mohammad Noureddin in today's Emirates’ al-Khaleej
As Turkey heads for one of its most momentous general elections in over a decade this Sunday (June 7th), it is clear that the elections will be decided by a tiny percentage of the vote, notes a Lebanese commentator on Turkish affairs. In particular, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) may lose both its majority and its leader's plans to amend the country's constitution if a relatively small Kurdish party manages to secure 10% of the vote.
THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTIONS: "In three days' time, Turkey faces one of the most important elections since 2002 when the AKP first came to power and has remained there till today," writes Mohammad Noureddin in Friday's UAE daily al-Khaleej.
The importance of these elections does not stem from who will attain first, second, or third position; that is already known. Their importance stems from the fact that depending on certain minor factors, the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) may either lose its monopoly over power or even power itself; or it may consolidate and strengthen its grip on government; or the current status quo may continue.
Nonetheless, this is the first time that the possibility of the AKP losing power has been seriously raised. Led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AKP has achieved one victory after another since 2000 and with large majorities that gradually increased from 34% in 2002 and reached 49% in 2011 – almost half the total vote. To this the party added its victories in all municipal elections as well as the presidential elections of 2007 (when Abdullah Gul became president) and 2014 when Erdogan took the presidency chosen directly by the people.
After these last presidential elections, the AKP's frontman changed. Erdogan was no longer president of the party or head of the government. Ahmet Davutoglu was chosen as head of both party and government with full backing from Erdogan who anointed him as his successor in these posts.
This is one of the main characteristics of the current elections: The AKP will fight elections without Erdogan at the helm for the first time. The second factor is that, in the current elections, the party lacks all its known MPs and leading figures who have helped to secure its glories over the past twelve years. This is because the AKP's internal rules, as drafted by Erdogan, do not allow any MP to remain in their post for more than three successive parliamentary sessions.
Another factor is that the party is fighting these elections with no significant role for one of its most important founders– Abdullah Gul – after he left the presidency in 2014 and made room for Erdogan. Furthermore, the party is fighting the elections at a time when it is up to its ears in corruption scandals. Although they have had no effect on the municipal elections, their influence will be felt in the current elections.
The AKP is also fighting the upcoming elections against the background of an economic recession and a drop in the standards of freedom and democracy, especially when it comes to freedom of the press. The latest scandal in this regard was the revelation of the content of trucks carrying weapons to Syria that Erdogan has always insisted on denying, claiming that the trucks were only bearing humanitarian aid to Syria's Turcoman. No one knows what effect this will have on the Turkish voter, especially in light of the damage done to the credibility of Erdogan and Davutoglu's discourse.
As for the opposition, it is distributed over four main parties:
- The first is the secular Republican People's Party (CHP) that has come second in all elections with around 27% of the vote. The party does not aspire to dramatically increase its share of the vote this time around; but it is trying to present itself as more open to the religious sector and is promising the voters vast economic projects, such as building a new city in Anatolia or the Black Sea, which would be an international center.
- Next in line are the hard-line right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with around 17% of the vote. Although the MHP's ideological tenets are close to those of the AKP, it is more secular and strongly opposes Turkey's involvement in the Syrian crisis and in Iraq by protecting Iraq's Turcoman.
- Then comes the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in fourth position in the country as a whole. In the past, the HDP did not run in elections; instead, its candidates used to run as independents. The party, which supports Abdullah Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is fighting the current elections as a party in the hope of passing the 10% electoral threshold that allows it to enter parliament. If it does not pass the threshold, it will remain outside parliament.
- The fifth party in the country is an alliance between the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi) the heir to Necmettin Erbakan, and the Great Union Party (BBP). These are two small Islamist parties which together may get around 3% to 4% of the vote.
These are crucial elections for Recep Tayyip Erdogan who wants the AKP to achieve a sweeping victory that secures two-thirds of the seats (367 seats out of a total of 550) so he can amend the constitution and change the regime from a pluralist parliamentary to a presidential one that concentrates all power in the president's hands and may even cancel the post of prime minister and ministers.
If the AKP does not secure 367 seats, then the least that Erdogan wants is 330 seats. This is the necessary figure for passing constitutional amendment in order to bring the presidency to a popular referendum. Erdogan can wager on such a referendum to change the political system in such a case.
All eyes are focused on the Kurdish HPD. If the party succeeds in crossing the 10% threshold, it will win 55 to 60 seats, but if it fails, the majority of these 60 seats will go to the AKP, which would increase its power and allow it to get close to and perhaps exceed the 330 MPs or more if it wants.
The HDP's success will constitute a blow to the AKP, and its failure will be of great benefit. And all this turns on a sole factor: that of the HDP securing 10% of the vote. Current polls indicate that the HDP is standing on knife's edge somewhere between 8% and 11%. In other words, a percentage point or two, or even half-a-point, could be decisive for the presidential system's success or failure.
But there are other possibilities, if the HDP wins 10% of the vote and the AKP's share falls to below 42%, for example, it is likely that the AKP would not secure absolute majority – half the votes plus one (276 MPs.) In that case, it is very likely to be unable to monopolize power alone.
"In other words, a point or two up for the HDP or a point or two down for the AKP, will determine the results and decide Turkey's future. So in which direction will the Turkish voter veer?" asks Noureddin in conclusion.
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