Yemen’s capital Sana’a has been both attacked from the outside and stabbed in the back by insiders. The prime minister and the interior minister staged a coup against the state in favor of the assailants, while Houthis shelled the city from all sides. Sana’a suffered a sad and difficult night, opening a new era in which the whole country is now placed in danger. As to why and how such a situation arose, there are many factors that led to the siege and the collapse of state authority.
First of all, let’s keep in mind that the overthrow of Yemen’s longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh was not going to be quick and easy. Two years on, he has succeeded in disrupting the country’s domestic situation indirectly. Among his allies are the Houthis and the Houthi Ansar Allah organization, which share some traits with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and which rejected reconciliation and declared its leader a caliph.
The objective of former president Saleh’s supporters is to sabotage any alternative to their rule in the hope that they will return to power. The Houthis’ plan is to control the northern strip of Yemen with Iranian support. They have therefore triggered the crisis by attacking cities and staging protests and confrontations to obstruct government services in the capital.
Although evil powers have left their mark everywhere, we must note that in Yemen there are rivals—Northern, Southern and tribal factions and political parties—who cannot come together in one government with ease. It seems that Saleh and the Houthis—the new Yemeni regime’s biggest enemies—succeeded in taking over most of the capital on Sunday, and they may succeed in taking control of the rest of Yemen. However, their success will only be temporary, as the parties that accepted the outcome of the reconciliation process will later reject any Saleh–Houthi–ISIS domination.
Saleh was removed from power due to massive popular protests and amid something approaching a consensus among most political parties and tribes in the country that he had to go. Ever since his removal, he has not stopped trying to sabotage the Gulf Initiative, the agreement that united Yemen’s different factions around a plan for a reconciliation process and a political transition. This may not have been a perfect solution, but it was only intended to be temporary, until such time as the transition is completed and crises are overcome.
During the current crisis, United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar has sought to broker a political agreement to end the current disputes, and managed to attain many concessions to satisfy the Houthis and those who stand behind them. He can now see that their aim was not to so much to find a solution as it was to pave the way to their taking power by force. This raises questions for the UN, which sponsored the transition and reconciliation process. The UN reassured Yemen’s pro-secessionists in the south, prevented the division of the country, and urged Yemen’s neighbors as well as global powers to help protect the state from collapsing in order to prevent a political and humanitarian crisis. The question is: what will Benomar do now, now that the Houthis and their supporters have betrayed him?
Keeping silent over the Houthis’ takeover of Sana’a is similar to accepting the ISIS takeover of Iraq’s Mosul. The Ansar Allah group is composed of religious extremists who want to impose their beliefs on other Yemenis. Their presence in Yemen will inevitably mean that disturbances will last for many years. This is the aim of Iran, the Houthis’ foremost funder. The same goes for Saleh’s supporters, who spread chaos and benefit from the naïveté of the Gulf Initiative which left the door open for him to leave with all his money and men, even though he was well-known as the fox who slyly ruled Yemen for three decades and kept state funds stored outside the country.
One of the Gulf Initiative’s mistakes was that it accepted one of Saleh’s men as his successor—Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a man with no character, skills or political knowledge that could qualify him to manage a country with problems as serious as Yemen’s.