"I am optimistic that Biden is prepared to work politically and diplomatically to put an end to the suffering of Yemenis caused by this war and to help them find a solution," says Karman.

Appealing to U.S. President Joe Biden
Tawakkol Karman: Ending the Yemen war requires U.S. action

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman says the time has come to pressure Saudi Arabia and the UAE to withdraw from Yemen so that the country can resume the peace process and restore a Yemeni state. Interview by Rafiah Al Talei

What role do you expect the Biden administration to play in ending the war in Yemen?

Tawakkol Karman: On a personal level, I am optimistic that Joe Biden is prepared to work politically and diplomatically to put an end to the suffering of Yemenis caused by this war and to help them find a solution. Ideally, this would prepare the country to complete a political transition process. The Trump administration blindly supported the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It is also possible that the new administration may reactivate the role of the UN to defend a serious and tangible solution to ending the war. I see a U.S.-led international mobilisation to pressure the warlords, their Saudi and Emirati leaders in the coalition, as well as the Houthi militias in Sanaa to reach a solution – this is key to ending the war in Yemen.

Everyone knows what ambitions Saudi Arabi and the UAE harbour in Yemen: a continuation of the war, so that the coalition can – through blockade, destruction, and tutelage – remain in control in the situation. This, in and of itself, strengthens the Houthis' position, thanks to public and clandestine support from Iran. Saudi Arabia and Iran are controlling the war in Yemen to the extent that it aligns with their interests. These interests clearly do not include a limit to Yemen’s suffering, or any consideration for Yemenis who might one day want to return home.

With regard to destructive Saudi and Emirati policies, the coalition is overseeing another coup in Aden and in several other governorates, which it claims to have liberated from Houthi control. These areas have been handed over to coalition-aligned militias, whose violence the coalition has legitimised in the process.

The Saudi-led coalition has prevented the president and the internationally recognised government from carrying out their objectives inside Yemen, while pursuing its own coalition agenda of annexing the island of Socotra, controlling Balhaf gas and oil facilities, and establishing a new militia on the western coast and in Al-Mukha.

The grim reality of the coalition’s role illustrates that international pressure is the main route to ending the war in Yemen and allowing the Yemenis to rebuild their country. Rebuilding the Yemeni state and restarting the political process can only happen if the international community exerts pressure on Saudi Arabia and the UAE to withdraw and lift the blockade. I think the new U.S. administration has a real opportunity and there is hope in Yemen that it will adopt this role. We need true support from the international community to stop this suffering.

Do you imagine the post-war era to be based on the principles and aspirations of the 2011 revolution?

Karman: The transfer of power agreement that was presented during the “Gulf Initiative” and the outcome of a national dialogue were both results of the 2011 popular revolution. They are the two primary sources for a guiding process to reinstate a legitimate state. Moreover, the outcome of the Houthi coup was rejected by UN security council decisions, with the latter intended to guarantee international respect for Yemen’s security, stability, and unity.

This war was aimed at dividing Yemen, reverting us to an imamate and the continuation of an occupation by the Houthis and Saudi hegemony – something our people rejected. The end of the war for us means the return of Yemen and a unified federal Yemeni state. Just as we reject war, we refuse to accept a phony peace that legitimises Saudi and Emirati hegemony or a Houthi coup. Neither option represents peace, but rather a continuation of war.


The counter-revolutionaries, operating alongside Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, oppose the same ideals. Once this Saudi war against our people is over, the road map will – as agreed – be the complete transfer of power, a referendum on a new constitution, and the implementation of elections.

What future role do you think political parties currently involved in the conflict (be they the Houthis, the Reform Party, the Popular Council Party) will have? Can these parties move from division to unity?

Karman: Firstly, the war began because the Houthi coup caused the collapse of the government, its parties, and its control over Yemen. Today we have Houthi militias in Sanaa and transitional militias supported by the coalition in Aden. It falls upon them to lay down their weapons and join the rest of the protagonists and political parties to conclude a national dialogue and finalise a road map for political settlement and an end to the war.

The war has failed. These militias have brought the people nothing but death, hunger, displacement, and division. They have transformed our cities into segregated spaces, prisons of degradation, oppression, and looting. The time has come to put weapons aside and to lobby in the interest of Yemen and the Yemeni people – and reject external tutelage from Riyadh and Tehran.

How do you see the future of Southern Yemen; do think independence is a viable option?

Karman: Several militias exist that are aligned with the transitional council. Established and supported by the UAE, with the help of Saudi Arabia, these militias are part of the same separatist movement that was active before the 2011 popular revolution. They do not have what could be practically described as a presence in the southern governorates today.

Most people in the south reject these militias. They are not accepted in Hadar Al-Mot, Shabwa, Abeen, Al-Mahra, or Socotra. In the governorates of Aden, Lahaj, and Al-Dalia, they experienced widespread rejection after their slogans lost meaning. Let us not forget, the people there had a chance to test their trustworthiness and governing style during the years they ruled those three governorates.

These militias also acted to trigger a new conflict with legitimate forces in the two southern governorates of Shabwa and Abeen. Requiring the intervention of hundreds of Emirati tanks and an Emirati plane, which shelled the Yemeni forces of mostly southern fighters on the outskirts of Aden and put down the popular uprising there, this conflict thus cemented the transitional militia's control. It also triggered painful memories of the southern separation and the war of 1986.

Most southern governorates support a united Yemen that does not rely on the kind of violent subjugation that occurred under the Saleh regime. Most southerners want a Yemeni state that fulfils their hopes of peace, stability, equality, and economic opportunity, rather than transitional militias who are against them and the concept of a legitimate Yemeni government.

Interview conducted by Rafiah Al Talei

© sada | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2021

The English translation is an excerpt from a longer interview – available in Arabic – conducted on 25 January 2021

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