Red Sea security on Egypt's agenda in meetings with Yemen - analysis

For Egypt, the important issue today is to show that Cairo is serious about its interests in Yemen and the Red Sea.

 A ship seized by Yemen's Houthi rebels off the Yemen's Red Sea coast is seen in a frame grab from video handed out by the Houthi's media center on January 3, 2022 (photo credit: VIA REUTERS)
A ship seized by Yemen's Houthi rebels off the Yemen's Red Sea coast is seen in a frame grab from video handed out by the Houthi's media center on January 3, 2022
(photo credit: VIA REUTERS)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council Chairman Rashad al-Alimi at Al-Ittihadiya Palace in Cairo over the weekend, Egypt Today reported.

There is currently a truce in Yemen that has brought some temporary peace to the country. For years, the Iranian-backed Houthis have been fighting the Yemen government in a civil war. Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in 2015 to prevent Houthi advances. The United Arab Emirates and other Arab states also intervened, however, not all the countries have the same interests.

Recently, US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) has emphasized the importance of security on the Red Sea. This includes the Bab al-Mandab Strait between Yemen and Africa. Egypt cares deeply about these issues of security.

Egypt's view on security

“Egypt has welcomed the [Yemen] truce, expressing hope that this truce would contribute to supporting political solutions and efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement for the crisis in Yemen,” Egypt Today noted.

 Smoke rises from the site of a Saudi-led air strike on the telecommunications compound in Sanaa, Yemen February 14, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/KHALED ABDULLAH) Smoke rises from the site of a Saudi-led air strike on the telecommunications compound in Sanaa, Yemen February 14, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/KHALED ABDULLAH)

Egypt last month also announced new direct flights between Cairo and Sanaa for the first time since the conflict started, the report said. “Early in June, US President Joe Biden hailed the role played by each of Egypt, Jordan, Oman, and Saudi Arabia in making the UN-led truce in war-torn Yemen possible.”

The UN and states in the region also care deeply about keeping the conflict in Yemen – which has caused massive suffering – from growing. Iran has used Yemen as a springboard for attacks on Saudi Arabia and as a testing ground for new missiles and drones.

The UAE has been targeted by Yemen as well. Official Houthi slogans include “Curse the Jews” and calls for “Death to America and Israel.”

Egypt wants to show that it is serious about these meetings and its interests in Yemen and the Red Sea. Saudi Arabia is a key supporter of Egypt, and Egypt has close ties with Jordan. Cairo also works with Iraq. Together with the UAE, Egypt has been open to working with Syria as part of a group of Arab states that want to create stability in the region.

Who is Rashad Al-Alimi

Al-Alimi was born in 1954 and graduated from Gamal Abdel Nasser College in Sanaa in 1969, when Egypt’s influence was important. At the time, Egypt under president Nasser played a role in Yemen when Yemen was undergoing a civil war. Al-Alimi also studied in Egypt in the 1980s during the Mubarak era.

According to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, these are important meetings for the leader of the Presidential Council, as it comes after the council’s formation. The eight-member body now has the power previously held by former Yemen president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

AL-ALIMI ALSO visited Kuwait. His current tour will focus on bilateral relations with several friendly nations, the developments in Yemen and means to garner support for reforms in the country, his press office said, according to the Awsat report.

“He is accompanied by a delegation that includes member of the Presidential Council Faraj al-Bahsani, and the ministers of foreign affairs, planning and international cooperation, transportation, and public health and population.” The report also says, “Al-Alimi traveled to Kuwait as government and Houthi delegations were in the Jordanian capital, Amman, for UN-sponsored talks aimed at reaching an agreement over lifting the militias’ siege on Taiz.”

US-Yemen relationships

In April, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with al-Alimi. The White House said at the time, “Secretary Blinken congratulated President al-Alimi on his new position and welcomed the gathering in Aden this week of the Council, Cabinet, House of Representatives and Shura Council. The Secretary underscored the importance of an effective and transparent government that advances efforts to end the Yemeni conflict and protects human rights.”

The US was also focused on Taiz and the need to open up transportation in the country. In late May, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held a phone call with al-Alimi. They discussed the UN-brokered truce.

According to a UN statement, “The Secretary-General reaffirmed the close relationship between the United Nations and the Government of Yemen and stressed the need to extend and fully implement all elements of the renewable, two-month nationwide truce in Yemen. The Secretary-General also underscored the critical role of the truce in addressing some of the most immediate humanitarian and economic needs to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, including facilitating the freedom of movement of people and goods to, from and across Yemen.”

The meetings in Egypt underscore Cairo’s backing of Yemen and the importance of dealing with the Red Sea and “the need to protect navigation in Bab al-Mandab.” Al-Ain media in the UAE noted, “In a joint press conference after the talks, Sisi said that he agreed with the Yemeni side on the necessity of concerted efforts to protect the security and freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab Strait.”

This matters for the region, including for the Gulf, the US and for Israel. The Houthis have threatened Israel, and Iran has sought to infiltrate the Red Sea. This has had a destabilizing effect. Iran has mined waters in the area, seized ships and used drones against ships. Providing security and subduing the war in Yemen matters to the entire region. The recent trip provides yet another chance to see if the Gulf and Egypt can bring peace to Yemen.