The exit of the late Kuwaiti emir and crown prince in August 1990—when Iraq invaded Kuwait—is considered the most important step in killing off invader Saddam Hussein’s dream of eliminating the legitimacy of the Kuwaiti state. After invading Kuwait, the then-Iraqi president tried all possible means of imposing his legitimacy. He declared the Gulf state an Iraqi governorate but failed, then tried to assign a Kuwaiti as a ruler but he was not recognized by any party.
The same is happening in Yemen with President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s escape from his Houthi captors, who imprisoned him in the presidential palace to force him to either be their employee or to sign a deal giving up the presidency. His escape to Aden maintained his legitimacy.
Of course, Yemen is not exactly Kuwait, and the Houthis are not Saddam. The Houthis are part of the Yemeni forces, although they are linked to the Iranian regime, and Aden is a second capital of Yemen. Hadi’s escape is a major blow to the rebels as they have lost the game of compromise.
The president’s move to the city of Aden will mean a Yemen contested by two governments and two capitals. Hadi has been recognized by all Yemeni political forces, including Houthi ones, and the United Nations recognizes him to this day.
This struggle may divide the country into at least two Yemens, unless the Houthis and their ally, conspirator and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, realize that the game has become more difficult and dangerous, and that they should back down.
In Aden, there will be a government recognized by the United Nations and the international community. Even major powers were prepared for Hadi’s escape from house arrest by closing their embassies days earlier.
There will be a semi-government representing the Houthis and their allies in Sana’a, but with no one recognizing it domestically or internationally. Most probably, the Houthis and Saleh will disagree because this semi-government will not have sufficient resources to confront the growing popular uprising against it.
Hinting at besieging those who staged the coup has helped UN Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar in strengthening his stance. He will try to convince the Houthis and Saleh supporters to be part of a legitimate government instead of challenging it.