Yemen and the failure of the rebel project
Options in Yemen today are limited as long as the Houthis and Saleh want power
I do not know why Yemen’s legitimate government is angered by the declaration that a presidential council made up of its rivals has been formed, as it is an illegitimate council because it consists of two rebel groups.
On Sept. 21, 2014, Houthi militias took over the capital Sanaa through deceit and the excuse of protesting against the government. They deployed in squares and agreed with deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh to plan a coup against the government, which was formed upon a U.N. Security Council decision and had been recognized by the Houthis and Saleh.
The militias seized control of the headquarters of the Council of Ministers, the Defense Ministry and state radio and TV. They besieged President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s presidential palace and put him under house arrest.
If they had settled with seizing Sanaa and some of the northern provinces, their conspiracy would have succeeded and various powers would have been forced to accept the new reality. A struggle would have most probably erupted between the rebels themselves, especially since Saleh had waged wars against the Houthis between 2004 and 2010.
Hadi escaped from the presidential palace to Aden. Had the rebels accepted what happened, it would have been possible to declare the division of the country, where Saleh and the Houthis would keep the north while Hadi would keep the south. Accepting this would have automatically revived the system of two Yemeni republics.
Options in Yemen today are limited as long as the Houthis and Saleh want power and not only political participationAbdulrahman al-Rashed
In 1990, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, whose capital was Aden, collapsed after the collapse of its ally the Soviet Union. Its then-President Ali Salem al-Beidh decided to go to Sanaa and hand over governance to his rival Saleh as part of a distorted unity plan. Saleh merged the two states, expanded his republic, and managed it the same way he had managed North Yemen.
The strategic mistake, or perhaps it was a deliberate plan, was that the rebels did not stop at seizing Sanaa as they were quick to occupy southern Yemen and besiege Aden. They destroyed large neighborhoods of the city and committed brutal massacres. The president and government members sought refuge in Riyadh, and began a new chapter from there.
Saudi Arabia realized that occupying Aden and the rest of the south meant complete control over Yemen, which would be used to target the kingdom for the benefit of foreign countries, particularly Iran, which had not stopped threatening to open new fronts against Saudi Arabia in response to pressure on Tehran’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
This is what is happening in Yemen today. Statements about the failure of a solution in Yemen due to parties’ inability to reach an agreement are untrue. Iran invented the Houthi militia to threaten Saudi Arabia. Now, Yemeni forces supported by the Saudi-led coalition surround Sanaa and are fighting in several areas.
The rebels are trying to proceed south toward Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which is strategic due to its location on the Red Sea, as they aim to control it, threaten navigation and smuggle arms by breaking the naval siege imposed by a U.N. Security Council decision.
A few days ago, a shipment of advanced weapons sent from Iran to the rebels was seized. Since the war began, the rebels have lost control of airports as the coalition only allows the passage of planes carrying relief. The coalition has also besieged many ports. This does not prevent supplies from reaching the rebels, but it makes it a difficult task.
Options in Yemen today are limited as long as the Houthis and Saleh want power and not only political participation. What they want violates U.N. Security Council decisions, goes against the desire of the Yemeni people who revolted against Saleh in 2011, and violates the pledge the rebels previously signed. They have transformed into groups that work in favor of Iran against Saudi Arabia. All of this means that confronting them is the only option.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Aug. 17, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed