Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Houthi movement has rejected the appointment of a new prime minister by Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, as reports say rebels belonging to the Shi’ite group are advancing on the strategically important Bab El-Mandeb Strait to the southwest of the country.
President Hadi appointed one of his top associates, Ahmed Bin Mubarak, as the country’s new premier on Tuesday, part of the conditions set by a UN-brokered deal with the Houthis, who have taken control of large parts of the capital Sana’a in recent weeks following a series of massive month-long protests there by their supporters amid an almost total absence of security or military personnel in the city.
“Based on our adherence to the concepts of partnership and consensus and the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference we announce our categorical rejection of such a decision,” the Houthi Ansar Allah group said of the decision in a statement on Tuesday, describing Bin Mubarak’s appointment as one imposed on Yemen by “outside powers.”
An official Houthi statement also appeared to reject the choice of premier, saying that Bin Mubarak’s appointment did “not naturally reflect the internal will as much as it was an external decision.”
Another statement by the Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi is expected later on Wednesday, during which he will directly address his supporters regarding the new appointment.
The appointment of Bin Mubarak comes on the back of intensive deliberations between President Hadi and representatives of different political parties in Yemen, an informed source speaking on condition of anonymity told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“President Hadi asked all parties to put forward their candidates for the prime minister. He was given a list with the names of 23 candidates, but Dr. Bin Mubarak won consensus in the final list in which three candidates competed,” the source said.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat Yemeni presidential advisor Dr. Faris Al-Saqqf said the decision to name a new prime minister came out of Hadi’s concern that the crisis would drag on and affect the agreements that have been signed with the Houthis.
Last month, Yemen’s central government and the Houthis signed a UN-brokered deal to appoint a new prime minister and government, with the Houthis agreeing to retreat from the capital to their stronghold in the highlands once a new government is formed.
Born in 1968 in the Aden governorate, Bin Mubarak holds a doctorate in business administration from Baghdad University. He was previously the director of the presidential office, earlier serving as the secretary-general of the National Dialogue Conference that hosted the country’s political representatives to introduce reforms in the country.
Meanwhile, militias loyal to the Houthis are reported to be advancing on the strategic Bab El-Mandeb Strait connecting the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea, informed Yemeni sources who spoke on condition of anonymity told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“For years Iran has been seeking to control strategic waterways surrounding the Arab world,” economist Mohamed Abdo Absi told Asharq Al-Awsat, arguing that “3 million barrels of oil per day” were being transferred through the Bab El-Mandeb, which is also an international commercial passageway.
Absi said the Houthi takeover of the strait would have catastrophic consequences on the countries that use it, “with Arab Gulf countries being most hard-hit, since they would be under the mercy of Iran.”
The source maintained that the majority of those believed to be advancing on the strategic strait are from Taiz, south of the capital, where the Houthis have in recent years been backing key political and tribal figures in order to secure a foothold on the region.
Elsewhere, the Shi’ite group has mobilized thousands of its fighters in Al-Hudaydah, with public efforts under way to prevent access of the militants to the eastern governorate, local sources maintained.
Additional reporting from Sana’a by Hamdan Al-Rahbi.