Hadi’s return is a game changer
Hadi was quick to assure the Yemeni people that he was still in charge. His resignation is now a thing of the past, although the Houthis and the Popular General Congress (PGC) of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh reject this. Hadi’s escape has dealt a blow to Houthi efforts to force their own agenda on various Yemeni political players. Hadi declared that all resolutions taken by the Houthis since their occupation of Sanaa and most northern governorates were invalid. This meant that the constitutional declaration, which dissolved the Parliament, and attempts to create a transitional ruling council had come to an abrupt end. But so did the political dialogue sponsored by UN envoy Jamal Benomar.
Hadi’s sudden return to the political scene has upset the Houthi momentum. But it is not clear what will happen now. The president’s power is limited to the southern part of the country, although his influence extends beyond that. The Houthis continue to control most of the north. They have access to heavy weapons and enjoy the backing of army officers and presidential guard, who remain loyal to Saleh and his son.
Hadi has reiterated his commitment to the outcome of the national dialogue and to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative on Yemen. His legitimacy is not in question abroad and he enjoys the support of most Yemenis, especially the youth. In spite of their control of most government institutions, the Houthis will not be able to govern the country by themselves. Moreover, their alliance with Saleh is under pressure and may not hold for long. Protests against their coup are erupting in Sanaa and other towns on a daily basis. Even if Hadi does nothing for now, except to insist on his demands that the Houthis withdraw from the capital and other towns, the rebels’ grip on power will begin to wane soon.
On the other hand, Hadi’s resurfacing is good news to the Gulf states and the GCC should extend support to the legitimate president of Yemen. But one wonders if the GCC’s initiative for a solution remains valid and workable under the new circumstances.
There are four major powers intersecting in Yemen today. First, the president and the various political parties and powers that support him. He has to tread carefully so as not to push the country closer to civil war and eventual partition. There are fears that the current stalemate could last for a long time. It is doubtful that his call for dialogue between all parties away from Sanaa will be accepted by his enemies. Second, the Houthis have become a major player despite their small numbers. Their ploy to dictate their own political agenda has failed and they must now weigh their options. Some of their demands, such as revising the president’s plan to divide the country into six districts can be met, but they must show good will by ending their military presence and restoring parliament. They must not be allowed to derail efforts to pass a new constitution.
Third, the Southern Hirak, a secessionist movement, which calls for an independent south, will put pressure on Hadi, especially if the Houthis do not back down. Already the south is moving away from the status quo and is refusing to deal with Sanaa and its captors. And fourth, there is Al-Qaeda, with its strong presence in the south. It remains a potent player; especially when more Yemenis believe in an Iranian plot to control their country by backing the Houthi movement. Fighting Al- Qaeda is a priority for the United States and its Arab allies.
Hadi, who was elected in 2012, has been described as weak and indecisive. Even though, he remains Yemen’s best hope for restoring stability and ending the Houthi takeover. But he must free himself from local and regional pressures and present various political players with a new roadmap. For now he has the support of most Yemenis, but he must use the street to put pressure on the Houthis, who would hesitate to open fire on thousands of peaceful protesters.
Benomar’s efforts to keep all parties engaged are vital. He must convince the Houthis that Hadi’s reappearance is a game changer and that legitimacy in Yemen must be restored if national consensus is to be achieved. The Houthis must realize that failing to accept the changing realities will push the country closer to civil war and eventual partition. Their ties to Iran will come at a heavy price for them and for Yemen. Their bullying has come to an end and they must now rejoin the political process as partners, not as masters.
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