Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across Yemen’s cities on Saturday to protest against the Houthi takeover of the government. Houthi security forces were also out in force across the capital Sana’a after an explosion outside the presidential palace wounded three Houthi militiamen.
Yemen’s Shi’ite Houthi militia dissolved parliament and installed a new committee to govern the country on Friday following the announcement of a controversial “constitutional declaration.” The Houthis announced that their own “Revolutionary Committee” would act as the country’s interim government, tasking it with forming a new 551-member parliament to be named the National Transitional Council. The committee is led by Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi—cousin of Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi. The committee will also establish a five-member presidential council to assume the responsibilities of the presidency vacated last month by Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
The Revolutionary Committee issued its first decree on Saturday, appointing Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Al-Subaihi as acting defense minister and Maj. Gen. Jalal Al-Rawishan as acting interior minister. Subaihi and Rawishan had both served under the Hadi government.
Al-Houthi had given Yemen’s political parties until Wednesday to form a transitional government, with UN envoy Jamal Benomar leading talks between Yemen’s various political factions to resolve the situation. Although no deal had been reached when the Houthi deadline expired, few expected the Iran-backed militia to take over the state in the manner that it did on Friday.
The latest move puts the Shi’ite militia in virtual control of the Yemeni state, although questions remain over the extent to which Yemen’s political parties will bow to Sana’a’s new rulers.
The group is not in control of all of Yemen, with political parties in the south pushing for southern secession and Sunni tribal forces strongly opposing the Houthi advance in other areas of the country. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) also has a growing presence in the country, largely a reaction to the Shi’ite group’s advance.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat Ma’rib Governor Sultan Al-Arada said: “To be frank, we did not expect the Houthis to take this step, particularly as they have practically been in control of the situation for a while in an unconstitutional manner. However, the so-called ‘constitutional declaration’ that has been put forward is clearly a unilateral decision.”
“With this announcement, [Abdul Malik] Al-Houthi has completely ignored the constitutional institutions in Yemen. By taking this decision, the Houthis have completed their mistake. We did not expect them to reach this level of impatience and rush to take this step in the wrong direction,” he added.
Yemeni political sources, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity said the Houthis decision represents a major blow to rumored ally ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his supporters. Many political observers had believed that the Shi’ite rebel militia was reluctant to explicitly take power in the country, preferring to pull the strings from behind the scenes.
The US said it was “deeply concerned” by the Houthi takeover of Yemen, warning against further violence in the country.
“The unilateral declaration issued by the Houthis does not meet the standards of a consensus-based solution to Yemen’s political crisis,” US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
While the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) strongly condemned the Houthi takeover of the country, describing it as a “coup” according to the state-owned Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).
“This Houthi coup is a dangerous escalation which we reject and is unacceptable. It totally contradicts the spirit of pluralism and coexistence which Yemen has known,” the GCC said in a statement.
Benomar returned to Sana’a on Saturday and is set to meet with the country’s new rulers “to discuss ways to overcome the current challenges facing Yemen and steps to complete the transition period and implement the National Dialogue Conference outcomes and the Peace and National Partnership Agreement,” Yemen’s state SABA news agency reported.