Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)
Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Sanaa sinks into chaos

With transitional President Hadi now cornered, Yemen’s Houthi have cemented their position as kingmakers and spoilers, writes Nasser Arrabyee

Sanaa sinks into chaos
Sanaa sinks into chaos
Al-Ahram Weekly

One day of real war recently erupted in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. It was not like the previous wars that this city and the country as a whole have witnessed over the last four years.

It was a symbolic war — a war to show who is stronger, and who rules Yemen. The relatively low casualty rates (about 10 killed and 40 injured) should not be taken as an indication of how dangerous the war was or wasn’t. In terms of showing who is ruling whom, it was the most dangerous yet.

The war at first took place only at the gates of the Presidential Palace, and at the gate of the private home of transitional President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, between the guards of Hadi and Houthi fighters from the Shia group that took control of Sanaa last September.

It ended with an even stronger position and stronger voice for the Houthi, who want Hadi to do at least three things to make the Houthi the real decision-makers.

With the capture of the Presidential Palace, the United Nations Security Council met on Tuesday to discuss the Yemeni crisis. The UN meeting ended with the call for a ceasefire.

WHY THE WAR HAPPENED? The war happened after Hadi and Houthi reached a deadlock about who should be taking decisions for the country. It also came after Houthis kidnapped the director of Hadi’s office, Ahmed Bin Mubarak, the president’s most important aide. Bin Mubarak has a substantial international support as a successful secretary general of the national dialogue that resulted in a draft constitution, which was rejected by the Houthi.

Bin Mubarak was taken to Saada, the Houthi group’s stronghold, in the north of the country. The Houthi said the kidnapping was just an arrest, or a necessary seizure to forestall or prevent Hadi and his aides from imposing a constitution that would divide Yemen into six parts or regions.

The constitution, the war in Mareb, and partnership were the three main things behind the deadlock, as well as the kidnapping and the one-day war. The Houthi leader, Abdul Malik El-Houthi does not want Yemen to be divided into six regions. Perhaps he sees that prospect as something that would weaken him and his influence, and his ambition to continue as supreme leader or kingmaker. He says it is an external conspiracy.

Al-Houthi accused Hadi of supporting Al-Qaeda and tribesmen loyal to the Sunni Islamist Islah Party (the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood) that have been camping out in Mareb for more than three months in opposition to Al-Houthi. Almost all defeated enemies of Al-Houthi assembled from everywhere and came to Mareb to take revenge.

Their military and tribal and religious leaders, including General Ali Muhsen, Hamid Al-Ahmar and Abdul Majid Al-Zandani, are still supporting these fighters in Al-Suhail and Nakhla areas of Mareb. These anti-Houthi fighters have threatened to invade and take control of Saada, the main stronghold of the Houthi, which is near Mareb, the oil-rich province.

Al-Houthi says Hadi helped these fighters plunder the army’s heavy weapons earlier this month, leading to the defeat of the Houthi, or at least force a balance between them and the Houthi. They say Hadi is using “divide and rule” tactics.

WHY ARE THE HOUTHI ACTING? The Houthi is a very new group but very strong in terms of the number of its force and their experience in fighting. It is not yet a political party, unlike other groups, such as the Sunni Islah, the General People’s Congress (Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party) and the Socialist Party.

Al-Houthi feels that his partners from these old groups are procrastinating — which means they are betting on time. Al-Houthi is not recognised, as they are. Some players from the international community are encouraging this procrastination, because they see Al-Houthi as having no legal authority.

However, Al-Houthi believes smarter than all others and is using his “revolutionary legitimacy” to push his partners out of the game. The Houthi came to Sanaa last September in an alliance with Hadi, who wanted them to defeat military leader Ali Muhsen and tribal leader Hamid Al-Ahmar, who were disloyal to Hadi.

The Houthi defeated the two leaders, who are now in exile in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The Houthi are strong enough to bear the price of months of war with Al-Qaeda and tribesmen loyal to these two exiled leaders.

At the end of the one-day war at the gate of the Presidential Palace, a committee was announced to supervise a ceasefire. The committee is headed by Houthi leader Saleh Summat and has other Houthi leaders as members. The minister of defence and minister of interior were added as the only members from Hadi’s side.

The ceasefire appears set to continue, because nothing remains to fight about. The Houthi took control of the Presidential Palace by occupying the hills overlooking the palace, the only place in Sanaa that was not under the control of the Houthi.

The army’s position is the same as when the Houthi entered Sanaa last September, if not weaker: seemingly neutral, watching and doing nothing, if not cooperating with the Houthi.

The ceasefire committee failed to secure the release of Bin Mubarak. Minutes after the committee was formed on 19 January, the Houthi satellite TV channel, Al-Masirah, aired an audio recording of an apparent conversation between President Hadi and Bin Mukarak, his chief of staff and confidante.

The two men were talking about how they would impose the six regions. They were laughing loudly and using insulting words when referring to some officials. The recording may have been made, and released, by intelligence officers loyal to the Houthi.

Shabwah, the southern province from where Bin Mubarak originates, is threatening to cut oil and gas if Bin Mubarak is not released.

But sacking Bin Mubarak will be easier than other, more costly, options. Al-Houthi wants Bin Mubarak out of the presidential office. Someone recommended by Al-Houthi would replace him.

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