The Houthis are nothing more than a rebel movement in Yemen that has gotten out of control, attempting to become a state within a state. Recently, the movement found the opportunity to seize more territory as a result of internal and external political circumstances too tempting to resist, occupying the city of Amran less than 30 miles north of the capital Sana’a.
The Houthis have created a new reality in Yemen, one comparable to that of Hezbollah in Lebanon. In reality the Houthis are a terrorist organization masquerading as a political party. But they have little by little, transformed themselves into a party, one with all the attendant privileges this position brings.
Why else would anyone believe the statement a Yemeni official made to Asharq Al-Awsat recently that Sana’a represented a “red line.” This begs the question. For what are we to say about an entire governorate, Saada, which has been occupied by the Houthis since 2011—was that not a red line too?
As for Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, the leader of the group, he continue to attack President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi because the president did not “praise the uprising by the public and the masses,” as Houthi called it.
Houthi blames the country’s president because he did not welcome the group’s occupation of Amran. President Hadi sent his army to fight Al-Qaeda and left his back totally exposed to the Houthis, allowing them to reach the outskirts of the country’s capital.
The Gulf states achieved remarkable success when they sponsored the Gulf Initiative and managed to get all Yemeni parties to sign up to it, with great international support. Eight months of difficult and complicated negotiations followed, but eventually the efforts succeeded in ending the bloodshed and the danger which threatened the Yemeni people during the rule of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
However, the Gulf states abandoned Yemen after the success of its previous mediation. It is true that they currently have no desire to interfere in the internal affairs of a neighboring country, but leaving the issue to deteriorate in this dangerous manner could be seen as a move that could destabilize the region, one that allows terrorist organizations to attack Yemen in its own backyard.
The main objective of the Gulf Initiative was to preserve the unity of Yemen and relieve the political tensions that had reached such dangerous levels, and which almost led the country to a civil war along tribal, sectarian, and regional lines—a situation now not necessarily far off for Yemen. What kind of state allows terrorist organizations to challenge its stature and authority?
Gulf states can certainly be blamed for abandoning Yemen in these difficult circumstances. But it is difficult for them to play any political role at the current time. In contrast, the Gulf Initiative was more clear-cut in terms of its backers and its main opponent, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In Yemen today, the responsibility for finding a solution to the current impasse falls on the Yemeni state itself, which has been divided and fragmented thanks largely to Saleh, who warned his opponents that they had “missed the boat.” Today, it is Yemen that has missed the boat.
It will be no surprise if Yemen becomes a failed state, and this is a prospect which remains possible as long as the arena is left open to Al-Qaeda on the one side and the Houthis on the other. These two organizations are not that different from each other. The Houthis have even matched the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in terms of the degree of bloodshed in areas under their control: Members of the army, police, nor civilians have been spared.
ISIS displaces Iraqi Christians and Houthis displace Yemeni Jews. The Houthis will not spare any effort to impose their sectarianism in Yemen, just like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Yemen is in dire need of a national plan that can bring stability and restore the authority of the state. This requires retaking the areas now currently under Houthi control, dismantling the country’s branch of Al-Qaeda, and ending the influence of tribes who challenge the state’s authority.
We should also not forget the influence of former president Saleh; the solution to the situation in Yemen requires his legal immunity be removed.
The crisis in the country is complicated; one knot cannot be untied without unraveling all the others. Saving Yemen cannot fall solely on the Gulf states—it is the responsibility of the international community as a whole.