The UN Security Council has come to a rare consensus on rejecting the Houthi seizure of power in Yemen. But there’s no real appetite for military action or for dropping the quest for reconciliation, which UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar is trying to achieve. There is actually more than one reason to avoid a military confrontation and just settle with a political solution.
The first reason is that foreign military intervention could weaken Houthi militias in the areas they have seized, but this will not be enough to restore the legitimacy of the transitional authority, nor usher in an alternative authority. Rather, military action could strengthen the party of ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been conspiring with the Houthis in a bid to return to power and has been playing a destructive role in post-revolution Yemen. Ironically, Saleh recently expressed his rejection of the Houthis, whom he helped occupy Sana’a so that they could later propel him to power.
A military option could therefore expel the Houthis but it will not liberate the capital. The second reason is that no one wants to see Yemen turn into another Afghanistan, involving foreign powers in its tribal and partisan struggles. This is a long and rough road and success is by no means guaranteed. Another reason is that a political solution is still viable, despite the UN envoy’s lack of success and the Houthis’ failure to stick to their promises.
What if the Houthis are able to buy time and consolidate their hold on power and tighten their grip on state institutions? In this scenario, will it be possible to defeat them, especially after ruling out international military action?
I think the people of Sana’a will eventually rise up against the Houthis, the invaders who came from the north. There’s a clear pattern of tribes turning against the movement in north Yemen. People from the south of the country are also openly rejecting the Houthi presence and are preparing to confront the movement and deprive them of any oil resources they might be able to get their hands on. These three parties will weaken the militias of Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, who has shown he is incapable of presenting a political project that enables Yemenis to form an all-inclusive government. This man thinks actually believes he is a national leader and that what is happening in Yemen is a revolution. Truth be told, he’s a militia leader and the crisis currently gripping Yemen is essentially an armed robbery resulting from a power vacuum. This vacuum emerged after the ouster of former president Saleh.
Even with the help of Iran and Saleh, the Houthis will not be able to provide the most basic of needs of the Yemeni people, whose living conditions have deteriorated since the revolution against Saleh’s regime erupted at the beginning of 2011.