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Adel al-Ahmadi

Houthis: Winning the battle but losing the war

The Houthis extended their control over Yemen in January [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 9 February, 2015

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Analysis: Yemeni parties waiting on the side-lines of the crisis find the Houthi's latest plan unpalatable. Could this be the end of Houthi power?

The Houthis' constitutional declaration, described by opponents as the announcement of a coup, appears to have united other Yemeni parties against the largely Zaydi group.

On 6 February, the Houthis further extended their control of the country by dissolving parliament. 

The Houthi group are understood to want a transitional council to run the country.

'Coup declaration'

The fact the Houthis' declaration met widespread criticism has put the movement in a difficult position, whether they press on or retreat.

The stance of the General People's Congress (GPC), the party of former president Ali Abdallah Saleh, is crucial. Being the largest party in Yemen, the former ruling party has been accused recently of having collaborated with the Houthis during their takeover of the capital.

From September 2014, the Houthis have cemented their control of Sanaa, and, through their militias, extended their control over other parts of the country.

In January, they took over the remaining political structures not under their command, leading to the resignations of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Hadi and his cabinet.

One day after party leadership deliberations, the GPC appears to have adopted a more conciliatory position to avoid escalating the crisis.

The party now seems to consider that any "encroachment" on the constitution to be an power grab against "all national accomplishments" and likely to shatter the unity of Yemen. The GPC also sent a clear message that a dialogue-based solution to the constitutional crisis is essential.

The Houthis' former allies now appear to have taken a stance that aligns themselves with other political parties and forces in the country.

Mass rejection

Public opinion in most Yemeni governorates and cities, as well as the local governments in the southern and eastern governorates, appear also to have rejected the Houthis' political takeover.

The GPC's decision appears to have further isolated the Zaydi movement and limited its options. On the international scene, there is almost universal condemnation of the Houthis' actions, including from the GCC, the UN, and most of the West. 

Owing to the speed of the takeover, and confusion it led to, many parties were late in expressing their stances, hoping that the situation would become clearer to avoid further instability. Many waited until Houthi leader Abdulmalek al-Houthi delivered a speech on 7 February.

In the televised speech, Houthi made thinly veiled threats to opposition forces and asserted that any talks to solve the crisis should be hinged to its constitutional declaration.

The speech has pushed the Houthis deeper into isolation, making it more difficult for them to reconsider their options.

Yemen's parties, particularly the GPC, appear to be pursuing a strategy that encourages the Houthis to continue on its current path, and keep making the same mistakes. It is hoped this will push public opinion further away from the group.

A political source, who was involved in previous negotiations with the Houthis, expects the group to press ahead with its constitutional plans alone.

     The most likely outcome to the current crisis is that a military council will be declared.

The source, who refused to be named, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that "those close to the group's leaders believe it likely they will continue their adventure and coup - although all signs say what they did was a leap in the dark".

One indication that this might be true is the appointment of Mahmoud al-Juneid as director of the presidential office by the Houthi Revolutionary Committee.

Junied is a leading Houthi figure and replaced Ahmad Awad Bin-Mubarak, recently kidnapped and held for ten days, reportedly, by Houthi militiamen. 

Houthi power grab

Yahya Badruddin al-Houthi, Abdelmalek's brother, has asked house of representatives members to join the Houthis in a "national council" meeting.

The meeting is scheduled for the coming days, and, with almost universal opposition to the movement, it looks as though the Houthis will forge ahead with the initiative alone.

If the Houthis insist that parliament is dissolved and hold negotiations based on its "coup statement", then other political forces might be forced to resort to other options.

This could involve mobilising the public on the streets and encouraging governorates to rebel against the Houthis. This would be a gamble but could lead to the Houthis' eventual loss of control.

The most likely outcome to the current crisis is that a military council will be declared. This would have the tacit support of parliament who are eager to counter the Houthis' power grab.

This step might force the Houthis to concede power to other parties, or it could force them to confront them more directly. 

No solution in sight

Either way, it is obvious that most parties are trying to avoid such a situation, however how long this crisis lasts.

A breakdown of law and order in parts of Yemen and the rise of separatist sentiments spreading in the south could lead to a more confrontational approach to the Houthis.

As loose as the anti-Houthi alliance might be, it appears to have the backing of the United Nations. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for "restoring legitimacy to Yemeni President Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi" on 8 February.

"The situation is seriously deteriorating with the Houthis taking power and making a vacuum in government," Ban said during a speech in Saudi Arabia - a country with major interests in neighbouring Yemen.

Ban's statement coincided with the return of Jamal Benomar, the UN special envoy to Yemen, to Sanaa, where he resumed talks with political parties.

Crisis talks could have been the key to ending the deadlock, but with two parties refusing to take part due to "threats from the Houthis" it appears that Yemen is continuing along an uncertain path.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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