Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen appointed a new prime minister on Monday, a day after the Houthi movement now in control of Sana’a and other parts of Yemen strengthened its presence in the capital as celebrations got under way for the Shi’ite festival of Eid Al-Ghadeer.
Yemen’s official news agency, SABA, announced that President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi had chosen the country’s representative to the UN, Khaled Bahah, as prime minister.
The nomination of Bahah, also a former oil minister, comes after Hadi’s previous choice, Ahmed Bin Mubarak, withdrew last Thursday after the Houthis came out against his candidacy.
Bin Mubarak asked to be “exempted” from the task of forming a new cabinet in order to safeguard “national unity” and avoid “any divisions and disagreements” that could arise from his appointment, the state-owned SABA news agency reported.
A UN-brokered agreement was signed between Hadi and the Houthis on September 21, one day after the group’s takeover of the capital, which followed a month of mass protests by its members across Sana’a, demanding the resignation of the government and the restoration of fuel subsidies.
Under the terms of the agreement, a new government will be formed until elections can be held, and the price of fuel was slashed. However, the Houthis have remained in control of Sana’a, and the movement and the government have struggled to reach a consensus on the make-up of the new cabinet.
The Houthis welcomed Bahah’s appointment, according to press reports, as he was one of three candidates for the premiership that the movement had suggested for the job last week.
“We believe [Bahah] is the right person,” Abdelmalek Al-Ejri, a member of the Houthi political bureau, told Reuters. “His appointment will help the country overcome the difficulties it is going through.”
The movement, largely made up of Zaydis, who belong to a minority branch of Shi’ism, sent fighters and affiliated tribal militias into the city in order to safeguard the celebrations, which come after the Sunni extremist group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula launched a series of suicide bomb attacks against the Houthis in recent weeks, killing dozens of its members.
The festival of Eid Al-Ghadeer celebrates the day in the Islamic calendar on which Shi’ites believe the Prophet Muhammad officially declared his cousin and son-in-law Ali Ibn Abi Talib as his successor as leader of the nascent Muslim community in Medina.
The succession to the Prophet is the main point of contention between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, with the latter believing Ali should have been the first leader of the Islamic community after the Prophet’s death.
The Houthis had previously only celebrated the day publicly in their traditional stronghold of Saada in the country’s northwest, with celebrations in the capital taking place in secret.
Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi gave a televised address aired by the Houthi-affiliated Al-Maseera channel on Sunday morning as celebrations began in the capital.
He told “the leaders of the South”—in an apparent reference to Southern secessionists—that conditions were now “ripe for resolving the Southern issue, and we are ready, as a popular revolution, to stand beside them to solve whatever problems they may have.”
Meanwhile, the Al-Islah Party, considered one of the main rivals to the Houthi movement, called on the country’s army to protect citizens from what it called the Houthis’ “violent attacks” on the capital and its residents.
“Armed Houthi militias continue to break into homes of leadership figures in Al-Islah in the capital, searching and looting them in a way that contradicts the basic principles of human rights and the morals and customs [of Yemen] amid the absence of state institutions, which have neglected their basic duty to protect citizens and their property,” the party said in a statement.
Houthi rebels have been accused of storming into the homes of a number of political and military figures in the capital and throughout the rest of the country in recent weeks, including the home of top military figure and adviser to President Hadi, Brig. Gen. Mohsin Al-Ahmar, in Sana’a shortly after their takeover of the city on September 20.
According to independent figures from rights groups in Sana’a, Houthi rebels have broken into more than 211 state buildings, 29 of which belong to the Al-Islah Party, in addition to 62 homes of figures affiliated or belonging to the party.
Meanwhile, disputes continued between President Hadi and his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh after Hadi refused to allow the Yemen Today TV channel back on air. The channel is affiliated with the party to which both men belong, the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC).
The channel was shut down in June on Hadi’s orders after airing material deemed critical of the president.
This latest development reflects tensions within the GPC, with two main rival blocs apparently emerging, one loyal to Hadi and the other to Saleh.
The Houthis had recently announced that they had formed alliances with former members of Saleh’s regime, which was the main power in Yemen for more than three decades until Saleh’s resignation in the face of massive public protests in 2012, as well as Saleh himself, claiming that these GPC members had helped them take over Sana’a.
Critics of the group, however, including President Hadi, allege it is following a “foreign agenda,” believed to be a reference to Iran, and has committed numerous human rights violations in the capital.