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Houthi takeover of Sanaa deals blow to power-sharing deal

President has said the country is facing a 'conspiracy' and vowed to restore the 'authority of the state'

Paul Crompton

Published: Updated:

Yemen’s Houthi rebels moved on Tuesday to take more control of the capital Sanaa, a day after agreeing with the president on a power-sharing deal, which observers see with a jaundiced eye.

Hundreds of heavily armed rebels set up checkpoints on major roads in the capital while others patrolled the streets, Al Arabiya News Channel reported.

President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi said the country was facing a “conspiracy” and vowed to restore the “authority of the state.”

"Sanaa is facing a conspiracy that will lead toward civil war," he said in a speech.

Under the conditions of the agreement signed on Monday, the present government will resign and President Hadi will appoint a team of Houthi advisors. The advisors would then nominate the members of the governments, while the president retains the right to choose the key ministers of foreign affairs, interior, defense and finance.

The agreement with the Houthis was signed hours after the rebel group seized strategic positions in the capital Sanaa, with President Hadi telling the nation in a televised address that the deal was necessary to “prevent an ordeal for the country.”

Hamdan Al-Shihri, a Riyadh-based political analyst , told Al Arabiya News that the Houthis are unlikely to honor the agreement with President Hadi, despite that it is in their favor.

He said the rebels have realized that they can achieve their goals through military force on the ground, which makes them unlikely to engage in any serious political process.

“Houthis will not accept any treaties. They will keep demanding and they will keep breaking promises,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim Sharqieh, of the Brookings Doha Center, said “the agreement will hold on the short run as the Houthis are in full control of the capital.”

“We have not seen a serious opponent emerging from the other crowds to challenge the Houthis taking over of the government.”

April Alley, an Arabian Peninsula analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think-tank, said that the deal was a “positive step” given that most of the violence had diminished after its signing.

“By doing so, all of the groups avoided – at least temporarily – what could have sparked a civil war with sectarian undertones,” said Alley.

However, the Houthis did not ratify all of the deal. One section that was not signed by the Houthis stipulated that they were to withdraw from Sana and the governments of Jawf and Amran within 45 days.

Additionally, some of the actions of the Houthis after signing the initiative, like surrounding and entering houses of their political rivals – including the residence of the army general who leads the army’s elite 1st Armored Division – “bodes poorly for peace,” she added.

Some experts said that the power-sharing deal may not last long.

“They got what they want, they won the military conflict and are in effect imposing their will on the government,” said Charles Schmitz, a specialist on the Middle East and Yemen and lecturer at U.S.-based Towson University, adding that the agreement was a significant victory for the Houthis.

“But whether the government has the capacity to deliver what the Houthis want is another matter.”

Using popular tension resulting from an increase in fuel prices, the Houthis were able to push the battle toward Sanaa under the excuse of trying to bring about popular demands.

Without significant reform that is able to reach all areas of society, the agreement may collapse, Sharqieh told Al Arabiya News.

“If things do not change and the Houthis continue to control the capital without serious changes that appeal to the larger audience then resistance will emerge and the agreement won’t be able to hold.”

But how did the Houthis gain so much power in such a short space of time?

While the Houthis are sometimes accused of being backed by Iran, according to Schmitz, the group’s backing is largely “homegrown.”

“The Houthis are a local phenomenon and their support is homegrown. Their power is their careful building of political and tribal support in Yemen, not foreign backing,” Schmitz told Al Arabiya News.