Houthis change tack after president flees

Houthis change tack after president flees
4 min read
26 Feb, 2015
Comment: Hadi's moonlight flit to Aden has upset the Houthis' plans, as they stood on the brink of entering into new political negotiations.
The Houthis ransacked Hadi's house after his escape [Anadolu]
Only in Yemen do political events sometimes become unexpectedly and horrifying dramatic. At other times they become comical because they extend beyond our rational comprehension, forcing us to laugh at their absurdity to protect ourselves from despair.

The Houthi takeover of state institutions on 21 September 2014 was a horrifying political development that took a dramatic turn when the government handed in its resignation to President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who in turn handed in his resignation to the parliament.

The Yemeni government ended up in the hands of the armed Houthi militia that placed the president, prime minister, and defence and foreign ministers and others under house arrest.

Events have since taken a dramatic turn, as Hadi escaped in the middle of the night from his besieged home in the capital, Sanaa, to the southern city of Aden, cementing the darkly comic character of Yemeni politics.

     Like most events in Yemen's political history, Hadi's escape is shrouded in mystery and subject to much debate.

Delving into the details of Hadi's escape will not give us a real picture of the political forces currently shaping events in Yemen.

However, like most events in Yemen's political history, his escape is shrouded in mystery and subject to much debate.

As well as the confusion it created among political forces, the timing of Hadi's sudden escape on 21 February, the same day he was elected president in 2012, is noteworthy.

Did Hadi choose this date to try and restore his shaken legitimacy? Did he keep a few remaining political cards up his sleeve so he could coordinate his departure? This is especially significant as the Houthis have complete control over the capital, including over the houses of the president and prime minister.

Undermining talks

Hadi's escape has undoubtedly bewildered Yemeni political forces, especially the Houthis, as it came at a time when they were entering into direct negotiations with some political forces.

Media leaks from leading Houthi officials also suggested they were close to reaching an agreement on the formation of a presidential council to rule alongside Hadi, for parliament to keep its current form, and the formation of a "transitional council" to "help" parliament with its legislation.

However, recent developments have shown the Houthis are no longer in complete control of Yemen's political scene, regardless of what they would like us to believe.

Negotiations between political forces led by Jamal Benomar, the UN special adviser on Yemen were suspended after Hadi's departure.

This is because the Houthis were relying on Hadi's house arrest to give them political strength.

With Hadi's escape, the Houthis have inadvertently found themselves in a new political crisis that puts them in direct confrontation with the only legitimacy recognised by the majority of Yemenis - that of the president, regardless of any issues they have with his past political performance.

The Houthis will also have to face the masses that reject its militia authority in a number of governorates.

Hadi's escape to the south, meanwhile, may provide him with southern and northern popular support and unite many political forces on the basis of "preserving" the legitimacy of a southern president.

     Hadi's escape is a final victory for the symbolism of the beleaguered Yemeni state he represents.

Hadi's escape is a final victory for the symbolism of the beleaguered Yemeni state he represents.

His statement against the coup and all the unilateral procedures that have been implemented by the Houthis since they took control of government institutions have raised hopes the move to Aden could pull the rug from under the Houthis and expose them as merely an armed group that staged a coup against the legitimate political authority.

The move could also expose other political forces that have negotiated with the Houthis in order to achieve their own non-nationalistic interests.

As much solace as the president's statement gave Yemenis who fear a further deterioration in the political and economic situation, there are fears Yemeni political forces will fail to use this opportunity to restore legitimate order and start a dialogue about the future of Yemen away from the coercive power of militias and armed groups.

There are also concerns about how the Houthis will react to these latest developments.

We cannot predict what will happen, but what is clear is that Yemenis will experience further dramatic and comical political events.

They may even witness the fall of political elites and the rise of forces that cannot defend the country against the warring militias, with armed groups fighting to control the future direction and resources of the country.

Yemenis will also have to ask themselves whether they now have a president that can actually govern them at all.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.