Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1406, (16 - 29 August 2018)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1406, (16 - 29 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Guarding Yemeni interests

The visit of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi to Cairo underscores the future role Egypt may play in Yemen, writes Ahmed Eleiba


Al-Sisi and Hadi during the press conference in Cairo this week
Al-Sisi and Hadi during the press conference in Cairo this week

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi met with Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Cairo earlier this week. In a joint press conference President Al-Sisi underscored the vital importance of Yemen’s security and stability not just for Egyptian national security but for the security and stability of the region. 

“We will not allow Yemen to become a vehicle for the influence of non-Arab forces, or a platform from which to threaten the security and stability of Arab nations or freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandeb,” he said, alluding to Iranian interventions in Yemen where Tehran is the main backer of the Houthi rebel movement. 

“President Hadi’s visit to Cairo has important strategic dimensions that could affect the future of the Yemeni conflict should Cairo decide to play a greater role in resolving the Yemeni crisis,” says Yemeni political analyst Khaled Aliyan. 

Addressing Hadi during the press conference Al-Sisi said: “Egypt reaffirms its commitment to supporting the stability and territorial integrity of Yemen, and its continued support for the legitimate Yemeni government under your leadership… We resolutely defy all who seek to undermine the capacities of our Yemeni brothers.” 

Noting that Yemen was facing a particularly delicate and critical juncture he observed that the “repercussions of this phase compound the momentous challenges that face the Arab region and pose an unprecedented threat to its security and stability”.

On peacemaking efforts, Al-Sisi said that Cairo supported efforts to reach a political settlement to the Yemeni crisis and to achieve a consensus among its parties. He added that Egypt welcomed the efforts of the UN envoy to Yemen to re-launch negotiations in accordance with internationally agreed-upon frames-of-reference — the Gulf Initiative and its executive instruments, the Yemeni national dialogue, and relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

The pro-Hadi Yemeni News Agency reported that the talks focused on activating the Higher Yemeni-Egyptian Joint Committee and on improving all aspects of mutual relations. The talks also addressed the need to review visa processes, security approvals and fees for Yemeni residence permits, as well as the possibility of resuming EgyptAir flights to Aden and Seiyun in Hadramaut. Yemen’s need for Egyptian medical and scientific expertise, prioritising Egyptian hospitals for medical tourism and treatment of Yemeni war casualties, facilitating the access of Egyptian medical equipment and medicines to Yemeni markets, and furthering cooperation in higher education were also discussed. In addition, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Egyptian and Yemeni central banks. 

One of President Hadi’s goals appears to have been to convince Egypt to play a larger role in the Yemeni crisis. Egypt contributes logistically to the Saudi-led coalition to restore the legitimate government in Yemen but is not directly involved militarily. Egypt’s concerns are primarily focused on the Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandeb, the southern entrance to the Suez Canal. One of the Houthi’s escalatory tactics has been to target Emirati and Saudi vessels, jeopardising Red Sea maritime routes. The Egyptian-US Eagle Response naval manoeuvres conducted two weeks ago in the Red Sea are significant in this regard. The drills, which focused on anti-naval mining operations in the Red Sea, were attended by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, leaders of the Arab coalition in Yemen.

But what impact can bilateral Egyptian-Yemeni agreements and protocols have while the conflict still flares?

“I believe there has been an official request asking Egypt to play a larger role in Yemen and to end competition on the ground over the reconstruction process,” said Mohamed Al-Mikhlafi, former minister for legal affairs in the Yemeni government. 

“Egypt is a party acceptable to both Arab states and to the Yemeni people,” he said. Al-Mikhlafi noted that “Aden was liberated two years ago yet has seen no improvement in services or the restoration of institutions.”

It is unlikely that the Yemeni president would have proposed reactivating the Higher Yemeni-Egyptian Joint Committee had there not been a green light from other coalition members, not least Saudi Arabia which will presumably be picking up the tab for the reconstruction process. 

Al-Mikhlafi adds: “President Hadi represents Yemeni sovereignty and international legitimacy and this could serve as a beginning for reconstruction even before the anticipated settlement process gets underway. In fact, it could generate impetus for the settlement process, especially considering that the liberation of Al-Bayda and Taiz would generate a larger base of popular support in coalition-controlled areas.”

In Cairo, President Hadi also met with Yemeni political figures and members of the Yemeni community in Cairo. The Yemeni journalist Abdel-Aziz Al-Majidi said the Yemeni community in Cairo was heartened by the points Hadi had brought up concerning their conditions in his meeting with Al-Sisi. 

There are between 700,000 and a million Yemenis in Egypt according to unofficial estimate and measures to expedite their visa and residence documents would come as a great relief. President Hadi held meetings in Cairo with officials from the General People’s Congress (GPC), the former ruling party in Yemen which has been torn by the Yemeni conflict into a pro-government faction, a pro-Houthi faction and a third group that has resisted taking sides. According to Al-Majidi Hadi was supposed to meet with more GPC figures but some refused to attend due to internal rifts in the party since the assassination of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

“The Houthis took over the bulk of the Saleh regime’s legacy in the areas under their control, including the GPC in its capacity as a ruling party embedded in the government bureaucracy,” said Al-Majidi. 

“The GPC in the south is loyal to Hadi by virtue of its members’ positions in local administrations there. On the whole, however, the party has splintered as the Yemeni crisis has progressed.”

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