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Yemen's president steps down in effort to end 7-year civil war

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The president of Yemen, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, stepped down this week in an effort to end a bitter seven-year civil war. He transferred his power to a presidential council on Thursday that will replace his decade-long reign. Yemen's been embroiled in what's basically a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Iran-backed Houthi rebels fighting a Saudi-led coalition there. More than 14,000 civilians have been killed in the war, which has set off one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Nadwa Al-Dawsari is a Yemeni analyst and nonresident scholar at the Middle East Institute who joins us. Thanks so much for being with us.

NADWA AL-DAWSARI: Thanks, Scott, for having me.

SIMON: How significant do you find this transfer of power by the president of Yemen?

AL-DAWSARI: It's very significant, and it came as a surprise to many of us Yemenis.

SIMON: Could it lead to an end of violence and maybe the civil war?

AL-DAWSARI: That's a far-fetched assumption. In reality, this has been a Saudi-UAE arrangement imposed on Yemenis. None of the participants in the Riyadh conference knew about it. Even members of the presidential council did not know that they were selected. And even Hadi did not know until that night. He was practically forced to transfer his powers, which is not a bad thing. Hadi was an extremely incompetent and corrupt leader. And because of his lack of leadership, we've been in a political and military stalemate.

Having said that, there are two sets of, you know, challenges. One, the Houthis do not recognize the council. They never recognized Hadi. They basically called the council a recycle of Saudi mercenaries. The Houthis are not interested in ending the violence, and that's one of the major problems that will face this council and any efforts to reach peace.

On the other hand also, members of the council - there are eight - they come from different backgrounds. They have different objectives. So it will be challenging to bring them together, to agree on issues, and they will have to agree on major issues.

SIMON: Yeah.

AL-DAWSARI: These members have been handpicked by the Saudis and the Emiratis, so they will be more accountable to their regional backers more than the Yemeni people. What happens when they disagree? Is Yemen going to become even a platform for proxy war between the Saudis and the Emiratis? - and how that will manifest in Yemen. So I think it's too early to be optimistic.

SIMON: The U.S., of course, is a major supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia, which has fueled the violence in the war. Does the United States have a have a role now?

AL-DAWSARI: The problem with the U.S. are two things. The U.S. is selling weapons to the Saudis and the Emiratis unconditionally. The U.S. should have put conditions on selling the weapons, not only on - you know, that these weapons should not be used to harm civilians, but also that there should have been a plan, a clear plan by the Saudis and the Emiratis about their military intervention in Yemen.

The second problem with the U.S. role is that the U.S. does not have leverage on the Houthis. And that's a problem because the Houthis are the main obstacle to peaceful negotiations.

SIMON: Do you see any event occurring over the next few weeks or development that could let us know if the new coalition is - the presidential council is working out?

AL-DAWSARI: There's been some rumors that there has been some back-channel agreements between the Houthis and the Saudis. I wouldn't be surprised if it happens because clearly, the Saudis are very desperate to leave Yemen and their role in the country. They just want the cross-border attacks to stop. So we might see something like that. We might not see something like that. So that's something to watch for.

SIMON: Nadwa Al-Dawsari is a Yemeni analyst and nonresident scholar at the Middle East Institute. Thanks so much for being with us.

AL-DAWSARI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.