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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Houthi rebels take control in Yemen

Yemen's Houthi rebels announced that they had taken over the government on Friday. Several cities saw rallies opposing the decision. The Houthis are a Shiite group while the majority of Yemenis are Sunni.

The conflict in Yemen and the growth in Houthi power has been accompanied by the strengthening of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP) who not only oppose the Houthis but have gained allies among some Sunni tribes to help stop the advance of the Houthis into Sunni majority territory. The Houthis also are hostile to the US and to the Saudis a well. The group is supported by Iran, a fact that further complicates the politics of the situation. In spite of all the unrest the US has continued its drone program. Eric Schultz said it was " deeply concerned with this unilateral step" but would continue with its counter-terrorism efforts. Al Qaeda has admitted one of its leaders was killed in a strike and there have been several drone strikes of late. However another report says that some counter-terrorist operations have been hurt by recent political developments. 
While there were demonstrations against the Houthi move, supporters also filled the central square in Sanaa where they celebrated the coup. The celebrants set off fireworks and waved banners that said: "Death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews and victory to Islam." The Houthis moved beyond their base in the north and by last September had advanced to the west and to the south to take the capital Sanaa. Many believe that the Houthis are aided by former president Saleh who still has considerable influence in the armed forces. The Houthis often advance without facing significant armed resistance. However, recently there have been fierce clashes between Sunni tribes in some areas where the tribes have sometimes allied with AQAP to confront the Houthi advance. In January, the Houthis raided the presidential palace in Sanaa and have surrounded the house of President Mansour Hadi who resigned on January 22 after being unable to form a government that would be approved by the Houthis. He is still under house arrest it seems. 
The Houthis have mounted the coup after political factions were unable to reach an agreement on the composition of an interim government. The Houthis set a deadline of last Wednesday for the factions to agree on a new government. Al Arabiya News reported that the factions had agreed to resume talks on Saturday. The Houthis were unwilling to wait that long. The talks had been overseen by United Nations envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar. The Houthis had acted so far as if they wanted to remain key power brokers in a political solution that would see a government formed that fitted in with their interests. The Houthis are a minority and are unlikely to be able to rule without the support of the Sunni majority and tribes from the south. 

The Houthi move may encourage southern separatists to break off entirely from the rest of Yemen and form their own country of South Yemen as existed before May 1990. A civil war was fought not long after unification in which the south lost its attempt to secede from the union. Already prominent secessionist Saleh Said, announced that he wants an independent state in the south again. Several southern cities have already said they would refuse orders from Sanaa. The 15 member UN Security Council reacted negatively to the Houthi move: "The members of the Security Council declare their readiness to take further steps if U.N.-led negotiations are not immediately resumed." The Council also demanded that Yemen's president, prime minister and cabinet be released from house arrest. The acting authority in Yemen has been declared to be the Revolutionary Committee lead by Mohammed al-Houthi. More details of what the Houthis have planned can be found here: 
 The declaration dissolves parliament and forms a transitional national council consisting of 551 members that will replace parliament and include elements not represented in it. The national council elects a presidential council consisting of five members who will take over the president’s powers, to be confirmed by the Revolutionary Committee headed by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi. The national council will also form a transitional government of national competencies. Furthermore, subsidiary revolutionary committees will be formed for all Yemeni governorates. It is not clear how exactly these 551 members are to be chosen. Perhaps they are to be appointed by the ruling Revolutionary Council. 
The different possible scenarios following the Houthi move are outlined in this article ranging from an accommodation with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council and relative peace to outright civil war. The Houthis were participants in the 2011 Yemeni Revolution against former President Saleh. They also participated in the National Dialogue Conference.The Dialogue was part of the deal reached with former president Saleh to resign in return for immunity. The Dialogue was designed to allow the various parties to plan for a transition to democracy in Yemen. The Dialogue extended from March of 2013 to January of 2014. While the Houthis did not accept the terms of the agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council in November 2011 that granted Saleh and his cronies immunity for any crimes they committed during the 2011 Revolution, they did participate in the Dialogue at first but withdrew after two of their delegates were assassinated. They rejected the results also especially the decision to divide Yemen into six federal areas. 
Southern separatists also rejected that division. Ironically, Saleh is now allied with the Houthis and although the southern separatists agree with the Houthis about the federal divisions envisioned in the dialogue, they reject Houthi rule in Sanaa. Yemen politics is consistently contradictory. Whatever his faults Saleh has a keen understanding of the difficulties of ruling Yemen, which he describes as "like dancing on the heads of snakes".

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