Just as the swift takeover of a third of Iraq by Daesh caught the intelligence community on the hop, Houthis in Yemen have staged a coup while the world was napping. It wasn’t so long ago that Houthis were considered to be a clan of ragtag insurgents nipping at former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s heels along with Al-Qaeda and southern separatists.
The fact that they are now holding the country hostage is surreal and certainly does not bode well for the future of this Arab heartland with a 65 percent Sunni majority population. In recent months, Houthis took advantage of anti-government protests and sit-ins, triggered by rising fuel prices, to launch a full-scale bloody anti-government rebellion.
Weak government and an absence of security contributed to the Houthi territorial expansion; they currently enjoy total administrative control of Saada, Al-Jouf, Hajjah. And in September, they shocked the region by succeeding in taking over the Yemeni capital Sanaa, despite the government’s attempt to appease demonstrators with a variety of measures.
Astonishingly, security forces in Sanaa stood back as rebels went on the rampage engaging in street battles and hoisting their flags over government buildings, banks, the airport, ostensibly to prevent civilian casualties and damage to property. In the same way that the Iraqi Army fled from Mosul, thus handing it gift-wrapped to just 10,000 terrorists, Yemen’s police and army failed in their duty. It was clear that the Houthi uprising had nothing to do with reduced state subsidies or greater freedoms, but was rather focused on dominating the political scene; the first step toward the creation of a Shiite state, supported by Tehran, in northern Yemen. For many predominately Sunni Arab countries, a militarized state would present an unacceptable threat in the region. Aware of the danger, the Saudi Arabia has strengthened its 1,800 kilometer-long border with its increasingly unstable neighbor
For now, the Houthis are content with calling the shots in Sanaa’s corridors of power in the same way that Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, possesses the political upper hand and acts as a state-within-a state on the orders of the ayatollahs in Qom.
Iranian officials are already gloating, as evidenced by their statements. Lawmaker Ali Reza Zakani, a trusted adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei, has boasted that Sanaa has become the fourth Arab capital under Iranian influence. Sanaa now joins “three Arab capitals (Beirut, Baghdad and Damascus) which are already a subsidiary of the Iranian Islamic revolution” and “the greater jihad,” he said. An Iranian newspaper, owned by the country’s Supreme Guide, has published articles hailing the Houthi “victory” while urging rebels — some carrying posters of Ali Khamenei — not to surrender their weapons. The UAE has serious concerns. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash has accused Iran of interfering in the internal affairs of Arab states “most recently and dramatically in Yemen.”
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi appears to have taken the line “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” And given his nation’s weak-kneed security forces, his choices are limited. He’s thrown up his hands in despair and accepted counsel from the United Nations for a power-sharing government even after Houthis tore up an earlier pact requiring rebels to give-up their weapons and withdraw from the capital. The Sunni Al-Islah party has also given up the ghost after its headquarters in the city of Ibb came under attack during which three lost their lives and many more were injured. All political blocs have signed-up to this new political reality, but it’s doubtful they did so with any real enthusiasm.
A unity government of technocrats may sound reasonable on paper and has a nice “inclusive” ring about it to western ears, but when one side holds a sword on the neck of the other or, in this case, threatens to form an alternative government, the word “unity” is nothing but a con. The UN believes its mediation has saved the day; that’s either a spurious or naïve assertion. The days and weeks ahead will be fraught with squabbling over who takes crucial ministerial posts and, if the outcome isn’t to the Houthis liking, “all revolutionary options” will remain on the table.
Hadi, considered by the White House to be an important ally in its counter-terrorism operations against Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, has been abandoned by the superpower. President Obama’s aides have consistently expressed their boss’s admiration for the president, while condemning the Houthis “and other parties who have resorted to violence.” For the Yemeni people seeking peace and prosperity in one of the poorest Arab countries, those words of praise and support will be cold comfort indeed.
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