Houthis consolidate power in a destabilized Yemen

Yemen is taking a turn for the worse. There’s chaos in the south and radical changes on the political map

Khairallah Khairallah
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Yemen is taking a turn for the worse. There’s chaos in the south, complete confusion in the Shafi’i center and radical changes on the political map and in the balance of powers in the Zaidi north. Added to that is the presence of a government that doesn’t know what it wants.

Meanwhile the international community, which the U.N. is supposed to represent, is drowned in settling personal accounts that have absolutely nothing to do with what’s happening on ground.


Someone is exploiting the situation and exploiting it to their advantage, especially since the Brotherhood rode the wave of the Arab Spring to gain power. The Brotherhood ignored the complicated nature of the country and failed to understand that succeeding Ali Abdullah Saleh wouldn’t be a walk in the park. They also failed to realize that the collapse of the established formula - which they were a basic part of - would drive them towards bankruptcy. With the collapse of the established order, the struggle shifted to Sanaa’s surroundings.

Trouble in Sanaa

Until recently, Sanaa was the center of the country and the capital. But today, its status is closer to that of a threatened city. The collapse of the system of having a “sheikh and a president,” Ali Abdullah Saleh and Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar respectively, to control the country has very dangerous repercussions on Yemen’s future.

The formula of the federal state and the six regions will not resolve these repercussions because it does not take into consideration the fact that there are parties which cannot be controlled amidst the absence of a centralized state.

One must understand the history to understand the confusion Yemen is currently going through

Khairallah Khairallah

The 1994 war maintained unity but it practically led to the collapse of the balance which reigned between the north and south. This balance was based on a tripartite formula which Ali Abdullah Saleh knew how to control. This tripartite formula included the General People’s Congress, which is Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party, the right-wing socialist party, which practically represented the south headed by Ali Salem al-Beidh and the Yemeni Congregation for Reform headed by Abdullah al-Ahmar. The latter congregation was truly a hybrid gathering, consisting of tribesmen, Brotherhood members, salafists and all sorts of opportunists. But the backbone of the gathering was the cover which Abdullah al-Ahmar provided on one hand and the Muslim Brotherhood provided on another.

One must understand the history to understand the confusion Yemen is currently going through. Ali Abdullah Saleh became Sanaa’s captive after he exited power. This is despite the fact that it’s not possible to underestimate the military power that’s still under his command. The Yemeni socialist party is still suffering from the repercussions of the 1994 defeat and of the separatist movement’s rise in the south. The Yemeni Congregation for Reform, which lost its balance due to Abdullah al-Ahmar’s death towards the end of 2007, lost its raison d’être after al-Ahmar lost the battle they fought against the Houthis in 2014.

The Houthis

There’s currently one rising power in Yemen, and it’s the only power with any coherence or organized military parties which allow it to achieve its aims: the Houthis. This group, which supports Iran, is expanding in all directions and rejects the results of the national dialogue conference and the borders of the six regions. They want the Midi port in the Hajja governorate and they want to control al-Jawf governorate rich in undiscovered resources and underground water wealth.

The Houthis surrounded Sanaa in recent days, and they already have bases inside the city. They did so under the watchful gaze of the world and Yemeni authorities. Still, many observers are only concerned with talking about possible collusion between the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh. It’s true that the former Yemeni president did at one point - around 15 years ago – play a role in encouraging Houthis to establish their own movement. This was due to calculations linked to the historical dispute with the traditional Zaidi institution. But eventually, as of 2004, Ali Abdullah Saleh engaged in several wars with Houthis after they became stronger and after their relations with Iran solidified. The seven wars, during which interests changed, are reason enough to rule out any solid alliance between the Houthis and the former president. Saying that Ali Abdullah Saleh is the reason behind all of Yemen’s problems is tantamount to escaping reality and to avoiding a discussion that seeks to seriously address the situation of a country falling apart.

There’s a Houthi state being establishing in the north. The Houthis seek to make use of the victories they achieved - mainly of the victory against al-Ahmar. They are now at the doors of Sanaa and also inside it. Meanwhile, there’s another reality imposing itself in the south, particularly in the Hadrmout governorate which became semi-independent and which enjoys special Saudi interest for reasons linked to the kingdom’s security and its aspiration to have a port on the Arabian Sea.

Yes, there’s a new situation in Yemen. Ending this confusion cannot be achieved by ignoring the situation of Houthis which many now describe as posing a “Houthi threat.” This situation cannot be rectified by ignoring what’s happening in southern governorates, especially in Hadrmout. Escaping reality cannot be concealed by making statements on the “positive” results achieved by the national dialogue conference which lasted for one whole year and which is still surrounded by controversy.

This article was first published in Elaph on March 17, 2014.


Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer who has previously worked at Lebanon’s Annahar newspaper, he then moved to London and began writing political columns in Arabic language newspapers, including Al-Mustaqbal and Rosa El-Youssef.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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