Will the Islah Party Abandon its Policy of Secrecy?

An Analysis of the Evolving Dynamics between Political Forces
Dr. Ahmed Sinan
July 9, 2024

Will the Islah Party Abandon its Policy of Secrecy?

An Analysis of the Evolving Dynamics between Political Forces
Dr. Ahmed Sinan
July 9, 2024

The discussion surrounding the relationship between the Yemeni Islah Party and the Houthis has once again taken center stage, this time with a unique perspective from the Great Wall of China, which we will delve into later.

The relationship between the Houthis and Islah has roots that can be traced back to a significant event in Yemen's recent history. When the Houthis gained control of the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, it marked a turning point in the country's political landscape. It was during this period that Zaid al-Shami, who held the position of the head of the Islah parliamentary bloc, made a noteworthy visit to Sa'ada in November 2014. The visit holds significance as it symbolizes an attempt to engage in dialogue and bridge the gap between the two factions. The office of Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi confirmed the meeting, highlighting the presence of a delegation from the Yemeni Reform Bloc. The stated objective of this encounter was to collectively work towards moving beyond the challenges of the past and foster an environment of trust, confidence, and cooperation in the process of building a stronger and more stable state.

According to journalist Nabil Al-Soufi, who used to serve as the media advisor to Tariq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, the nephew of the former Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who served as the commander of the Yemeni Republican Guard, that there are claims of a conversation between a mediator representing Islah and the Houthis. In one of the alleged excerpts, Mohammed Al-Yadumi, the head of the Supreme Commission for Islah, is said to have expressed a desire for an alliance with Mahdi Al-Mashat, the current President of the Political Council in Sana'a, back in 2015. Al-Yadumi reportedly stated, "We are a group present throughout Yemen, and you have effectively become the rulers. Let us reach an agreement without making it public." This suggests that secrecy offers a certain level of protection for Islah, a notion that the Houthis appear to reject.

It was possible that the relationship between the two parties could have been easily established if they had been willing to make certain concessions. These concessions would have likely revolved around securing a substantial portion of power. For the Islah Party, such compromises would not have been unprecedented. In the past, they have formed alliances, like during the 1948 revolution, with Abdullah Al-Wazir, a member of the Imamate family. These alliances were based on specific principles and aimed to overthrow the rule of the Imams, leading to what was known as the Constitutional Revolution.

China has emerged as a cross-sectional and impartial mediator, taking into consideration the interests of different parties with a certain degree of objectivity. In contrast, the United States often positions itself as both a mediator and an active participant in conflicts and various issues. This dual role can create complications and raise concerns about potential bias or conflicting interests. As a result, some parties may be hesitant to accept the United States as a mediator.

Indeed, the comparison between the alliance of Houthis and Islah and the support provided by the Muslim Brotherhood in the past is quite significant. The Muslim Brotherhood initially played a role as a founding member of Saleh's regime, but they only openly opposed him at the beginning of the new millennium when he attempted to curtail their influence. This opposition was driven by various reasons. In his renowned interview with Al Jazeera in 2008, Sheikh Hamid Al-Ahmar, a leader in the Islah Party, emphasized the importance of his tribe and the protection provided by Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ahmar against Saleh. At that time, Al-Ahmar underscored the significance of tribal allegiance rather than solely relying on popular support, aligning with Islah's perspective that tribes hold a central position in the political and social equation. In such situations, the principle of necessity becomes the guiding reference, as the pursuit of power itself is often considered the utmost necessity.

Melting of Accumulated Ice

In March, there were reports in the media about a secret visit by a delegation representing Islah to Tehran, with the encouragement of some regional parties, aimed at arranging post-war arrangements. This visit undoubtedly paves the way for a safe passage for mediation between the Houthi group and Islah, especially since Saudi Arabia seems to place great hope in the upcoming role of Islah, provided that the latter manages to rid itself of its rebellious wing.

Simultaneously, another delegation from the same party was holding secret meetings with "American, British, and European officials," discussing the interests of those countries in suppressing what they referred to as "Houthi escalation in the Red Sea."

Concerns will undoubtedly arise regarding the prevailing ideology that could shape the political landscape if either the Houthis or Al-Islah emerges as the dominant force once the war in Yemen concludes. Some argue that employing financial and diplomatic incentives may help mitigate the influence of these ideological factions, but others view this as a temporary solution that may not address the underlying issues.

Furthermore, certain sources suggest that the United States' perceived failure in effectively curbing Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, or its reported withdrawal from such efforts as mentioned by Al-Arabiya channel, has played a decisive role in Saudi Arabia's decision to seek China's mediation between them and the Houthis, also known as "Ansar Allah". Notably, China, rather than the United States, has successfully thawed the accumulated tensions in the Saudi-Iranian relationship, thus enhancing the credibility of Chinese diplomacy in the region.

Given these recent developments, it prompts the question: why not capitalize on China's newfound regional influence to address other complex issues in the Middle East, considering the interconnected nature of various conflicts and tensions in the region? Such an approach could potentially bring fresh perspectives and approaches to resolve these thorny issues.

In fact, China has positioned itself as a trusted economic partner, which is why we see its influence expanding in Africa, surpassing the historically acquired Western dominance through colonialism. China smoothly and effortlessly expands its presence in Africa's infrastructure, showcasing modern and environmentally friendly cities and utilizing the latest technologies. Diplomatically, China has emerged as an impartial mediator, considering the interests of various parties with a degree of objectivity, unlike the United States, which lacks this quality and presents itself as both a mediator and a party simultaneously in different conflicts and issues. This explains why many powers are hesitant to accept China's mediation. The request made by Hamas for Russia to act as a guarantor in negotiations with the United States and Israel can be seen as a vivid example of this.

The differences in multiple objectives

Now, let's turn our attention to the visit of the Islah delegation to China. Some speculations suggest that the large delegation was sent to China by Saudi Arabia to facilitate the positioning of the Muslim Brotherhood in the upcoming resolution of the crisis in Yemen. This indicates Saudi Arabia's desire to regain some of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood influence alongside the newly formed committee. On the other hand, other speculations suggest that the Yemeni Congregation for Reform has come to realize the growing influence of the Houthis, especially after the Red Sea confrontation as I previously mentioned the stage of repositioning among the political factions.

The media affiliated with Islah, which is known for its secrecy, portrays the visit as a state visit aimed at discussing the bilateral relations between our country and China. The delegation includes almost all the ministers of the Islah party in the legitimate government, in addition to influential figures from the parliamentary councils. All the news circulating on Islah news websites present the delegation as representing the government more than the party. Without delving into the legitimacy of certain entities, a pressing question arises: Does one party have the right to speak on behalf of a government that consists of multiple parties? And has this been authorized by the Leadership Council or the Council of Ministers?

In order to facilitate a settlement, according to media sources, "Riyadh has requested Beijing's contribution to support the convergence between Yemeni factions, particularly between the Islah party and the Houthi group." It had previously highlighted the surprise visit to China by the Saudi Defense Minister prior to the arrival of the Islah delegation.

Furthermore, the visit also justifies the relationship between Islah and the Chinese Communist Party, emphasizing a close relationship despite our prior knowledge of the stance of Islamic groups towards communist parties and systems and we still remember the position of Islah leaders at the Beijing conference on women.

However, contradicting these reports is the objection raised in parallel with the Islah delegation's visit to China, stating: "The Yemeni government today signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese company for energy and electrical equipment (TBEA Co., Ltd.) in the Xinjiang province of China. The memorandum aims to 'revive, renew, and develop Yemeni-Chinese relations in the fields of traditional and renewable energies and electrical equipment, in various areas falling within the scope and specialization of the company.'" The agreement was signed by the Yemeni ambassador in Beijing, while it would have been more appropriate for the Minister of Industry, who is a member of the visiting delegation to China, to sign it.

Some media outlets have discussed the information provided by the American Monitor website, stating that the purpose of this delegation's visit is "to push China to play a major role in the Yemeni issue, as Saudi Arabia prepares to resume peace negotiations with the Houthis." It is also mentioned that "Saudi Arabia's move to involve China is part of steps aimed at resuming normalization negotiations between Sana'a and Riyadh."

The visit raises questions because, according to media sources, "Riyadh has requested Beijing's contribution to support the convergence between Yemeni factions, particularly between the Islah party and the Houthi group." It had previously highlighted the surprise visit to China by Saudi Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman, who is the key official handling the Yemeni file, prior to the arrival of the Islah delegation.

Indeed, the media outlets close to Islah did not overlook this visit and, through their analysis and promotion, they emphasized that it has sparked the anger of forces funded by the UAE in Yemen, represented by Tariq Saleh and the Southern Transitional Council. This is because the Yemeni Reform Party, being the largest political component of Yemeni legitimacy, has revealed the existence of "strong relations" with a major foreign country that is prepared to play a mediation role in supporting regional and international efforts to achieve a peace agreement in Yemen. Naturally, when any party boasts about its relationship with a major foreign country outside the framework of its own state, it remains a subject of questioning for us.

In conclusion, the current situation in Yemen is marked by the fragmentation and disintegration of forces that once championed the country's modernization project. This has paved the way for the emergence of certain groups embracing pre-state structures. These groups are capitalizing on the opportunity, while other factions are actively pursuing their own projects with explicit regional support. The shift in dynamics is now openly acknowledged, as various currents compete for influence and power within Yemen. The complexity of the landscape has increased as new players, backed by regional powers, vie for control. The ultimate outcome of these power struggles remains uncertain, and only time will reveal their true impact on the future of Yemen.

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