Yemen: Two governments and new wartime

Yemen: Two governments and new wartime
5 min read
02 Dec, 2016
Comment: The formation of a new, rival Houthi-Saleh government is steering Yemen towards separation and an increasingly sectarian conflict, writes Khalid Alkarimi
Yemeni supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh [AFP]

A political tornado erupted in Yemen on Monday of this week, as once again, political manoeuvering shattered any sense of hope, rendering the pursuit of peace even more complicated.

Houthi militant group and their ally, Yemen's powerful ex-president Ali Saleh, formed a "salvation government", ushering in a fresh, dramatic development in the war-ravaged country.

This new government is headed by Abdulaziz bin Habtour, the former governor of Aden and a renowned academic who used to side with the legitimate government. But the formation of this government is a bold invitation for more wars. 

For the Houthi-Saleh alliance, this step is in part an attempt to shore up their power on the front lines.

They have also said this government will work to maintain the state institutions, keeping their collapse at bay. In addition, it will function - they say - to maintain stability and security, and provide for the basic needs for the people.

"The formation of the National Salvation Government is of paramount significance. It will consolidate positions inside the country and efforts to provide services to the people," said pro-Houthi media outlet, quoting a statement from Abdulmalek Al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi group on Wednesday. 

While this rhetoric may sound promising, the consequences are grave.

The formation of this government is a bold invitation for more wars

The formation of this government has sparked a wave of ferocious reactions inside the country and overseas. Saudi-backed Yemen legitimate government commented on the move, stating this escalation is aimed at undermining the peace efforts.

"They have dashed any hope for the progress of negotiations and torpedoed all dialogue and peace efforts," President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi in a statement, referring to the Houthi-Saleh alliance.

Hadi arrived this week in Aden, coming from exile in Saudi Arabia. Two days after his arrival, the Houthi-Saleh coalition declared their surprise government. Three days later, he left for UAE, leaving the people to face their fate.  

As the days and months elapse, rifts between the warring sides continue to widen, and the formation of this new government is a case in point. 

Worldwide reactions

The United Nations, the Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and other countries released statements, denouncing the Houthi-Saleh formation of a new government in Yemen.

While this rhetoric may sound promising, the consequences are grave

The UN envoy to Yemen, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, hailed this move as a new obstacle to peace in the country. The UN diplomat has spent the last 19 months struggling to advance the peace process in Yemen.

"The announcement by Ansar Allah[ the Houthi] and the General People's Congress on the formation of a new government in Sanaa represents a new and concerning obstacle to the peace process and does not serve the interests of the people of Yemen in these difficult times" the envoy said in a statement.

For the Houthi-Saleh bloc, the UN's statements have lost their value. Since the beginning of UN-brokered peace talks, there have been countless statements, but genuine progress towards peace is yet to materialise. But the Houthi-Saleh bloc is no longer waiting for the UN proposals, and will not put its trust in UN initiatives.

The formation of a "new" government in Yemen has made people feel that the UN-sponsored Yemen peace talks were purely a waste of time; back to square one. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agrees with UN envoy that this new government is a new hindrance to peace in this Arab impoverished country. 

A rising appetite for secession

Today, Yemen has two governments, one headquartered in the north and another in the south. It seems that the country is taking drastic strides towards separation.

As the Houthis and allied forces do not have supporters in the south, the internationally recognised government has more enemies than proponents in Sanaa, and pro-Houthi northern provinces.

When the war began early 2015, it appeared to be a politically-motivated conflict. Now it has shifted to a sectarian one, potentially preparing the ground for the nation's disunity.

It seems that the country is taking drastic strides towards separation

Those fighting and aspiring to separation can be dissuaded from this idea by adopting one thing: United Federal Yemen. The people in the south cherish the concept of federalism because it can grant them a form of autonomy; an ambition they seek to fulfill.

But the Houthi-Saleh coalition has been a vocal opponent of federalism, reasoning that federalism is a prologue to fragmenting the country. But the reality is clear, and the country is obviously fragmented. There are now two Cabinets; what comes next could be two independent sovereign nations.

The two sides still sing patriotic songs and repeat slogans of unity. But the disintegration of the country appears to be steaming ahead, as Yemenis live with two governments, neither of which are able to provide food, security or medicine. Their efforts are instead devoted to fighters in the battlefield.

It is not clear how long the UN will carry on the struggle in Yemen. Currently, a renewed period of wartime has just commenced. Two governments in Yemen means two presidents, two armies and two nations. As long as they both exist, the ingredients for civil strife will live on.

Khalid Al-Karimi is a freelance reporter and translator. He is a staff member of the Sanaa-based Yemeni Media Center and previously worked as a full-time editor and reporter for the Yemen Times newspaper.

Follow him on Twitter: @Khalidkarimi205

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.