The first step towards the current abysmal state of affairs in Yemen was taken when President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi announced the conclusion of the Movenpick Hotel meetings (1) and obliged political party representatives to sign a document transforming Yemen into a federal system with six regions. The subsequent downfall was a consequence of accumulated mistakes and the product of silent advisers and restrained political parties agreeing to desires of president Hadi that were not a reflection of reality, nor based on research or national consensus.
The last step was taken when Yemen’s president and political parties signed the Peace and Partnership Agreement (2) in the early morning hours of September 21, 2014. In the most miserable of scenes, Yemen’s President and political parties waited for the representatives of Al-Seyyid (3) to arrive.The Houthis had delayed their participation until they successfully coerced General Ali Muhsin out of his military camp and into Riyadh. President Hadi, who had refused to send any reinforcements to aid Muhsin, signed the treaty in the presidential palace in the presence of Hussein Al-Izzi, the representative of the Houthis, and Jamal Benomar, then UN’s Special envoy to Yemen. This moment triggered a disastrous string of events, culminating in president Hadi and Ali Muhsin both taking refuge in Riyadh. (4)
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the UN Security Council had no objections to the agreement in consonance with the wishes of President Hadi. Remarkably, the agreement stemmed from irrational -and markedly- subjective influences, as well as a short-sighted vision to eliminate anyone who dared to question the merits of president Hadi. Ergo, under the banner of “neutrality of the military”, Hadi left Brigadier General Al-Quoshaibi to meet his fate at the hands of the Houthis inside Amran’s military camp. He waived all his constitutional rights as the head of state when he enabled the Houthi rebels’ capture of the capital, Sana’a. This was done with the goal of marginalizing Ali Muhsin and shutting down the Salafi University, Al-Iman.
The ruling elite attempted to downplay President Hadi’s complicity by claiming that he was not in control of the armed forces. This is a complete condemnation of his leadership and his years in administration, during which he isolated himself from everyone except for a few advisers who did not care for the nation nor possess the courage to alert him to the series of errors that he -consciously or unintentionally- committed. In either case, he bears full responsibility for the Houthis’ gain in power and influence.
President Hadi even failed to see the the Houthis’ agenda when they rejected his prime ministerial nominee, Dr. Ahmed Bin Mubarak, who was his office director then, and instead nominated current Prime Minister, Khaled Bahah. This was a clear indication that the Houthis would not set President Hadi free until he handed over the rest of the state, either by allowing members of the Houthi party to assume key posts, or by allowing them to assign the posts to whomever they deemed fit.
The fall that resulted in the destruction of Yemen’s fragile state-structures was marked by the Houthi enforced house arrest of President Hadi, Prime Minister Bahah and the rest of the cabinet. Their work was assumed by institutional “revolutionary” committees composed of Houthi supporters. Effective political parties, like Islah, General People’s Congress, Yemen’s Socialist Party and other marginal parties were all docile to the political developments enforced by the Houthis as they were engaged in serious negotiations to formulate a new equation in which the Houthis would become authentic partners in governance, under the auspices of UN’s special envoy.
The Houthis’ lack of ability to make logical political decisions was then exposed when they allowed President Hadi to escape and Prime Minister Bahah to travel. This was hastily followed by “revolutionary” decrees that subjected the entire state to Houthi will, which was far removed from cohesive national interest. In fact, their decisions were divisive, fueling sectarianism and regionalism. Senior appointments in the state made by the Houthis and their allies were solely based on the person’s absolute loyalty to their faction; furthermore, the Houthis deliberately humiliated and insulted their opponents, including those who accepted to work under their supervision.
The Houthis committed a series of miscalculations beginning with underestimating the extent of Iran’s willingness to support them in Yemen. They did not comprehend the geopolitics at play and did not understand that Iran is a nation with its own separate interest, remote from that of a rogue group. The Houthis were not in tune to the worry they generated by their movements and political statements. Besides, they surprised everyone when they carried out a military maneuver on the Saudi border: the act that transformed an internal conflict into an international one. The Houthi rebels had passed the point at which they could reconsider their actions and limit the scope of the conflict; they believed -and still do- that they carry a message that needs to be instilled on earth.
When the Houthis rushed south, moving outside of their natural sectarian habitat and encroaching on the city of Aden, it became apparent that the concept of divine power ruled all their movements. This was evident in their resistance to the bombing campaign led by the Arab-Coalition and to the ground battles with the Popular Resistance forces. Indifferent to the bloodshed, this militia continues to accept heavy material losses and appalling human casualties, motivating their forces with rhetoric that invokes divine power.
After the Houthis were forced out of Aden, they directed all their efforts into the city of Taiz, which is currently experiencing a severe humanitarian catastrophe. The horrors of the atrocities taking place in the country will only be revealed once the war comes to a halt. The most tragic consequence of this chaotic new scene has been the rupture of Yemen’s unique social fabric. Without a doubt, undisciplined armed factions with transnational ties will continue to spread and grow and it will be difficult to restore the traditional political status-quo. The Libyan model, with all its particularities, is quickly being replicated in Yemen.
In a few days, a new round of negotiations is set to commence in Geneva. Indubitably, the external actors cannot continue the war effort endlessly, but the heavy loss of life and material caused by the Houthi rebels and their supporters cannot be compensated for. Considering the plight of the past few months, a truce may facilitate the restoration of hope to the citizens of Yemen. However, it is too hopeful to assume that a truce would restore stability. Those involved in the internal conflict have a long way to go before they are able to overcome their enmities, grudges and desire for vengeance, further complicated by the fact that amongst all Yemeni factions are mercenaries who specialize in the art of war and benefit from the continuation bloodshed.
What Yemen needs today is a faction that represents the overwhelming majority of its citizens who are caught between the hammer of the Houthis and anvil of the expatriate government’s legitimacy. The bare minimum restoration of calmness and stability will allow millions of Yemenis to voice their disapproval of those who control the ground and their disdain for those who escaped under the blanket of legitimacy.
(1) The Movenpick Hotel was the headquarters of UN’s Special Envoy, Jamal Benomar, and was the Location where all of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) meetings took place. Amongst Yemenis, these meetings became known as “the movenpick meetings”; the NDC’s residence was later dubbed the Movenpick planet.
(2) The Peace and Partnership Agreement was was a treaty committing the president to to share power with the Houthis/Ansar Allah and other political parties.
(3) Al-Seyyid is used here to commonly describe Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi movement known as Ansar Allah. A Seyyid is anyone who traces his lineage to the prophet and claims to be a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed; this term can be used for Shi’a and Sunnah.
(4) A few months later, president Hadi was placed under house arrest where he submitted his resignation. Then he fled to Aden where he withdrew his resignation and claimed that he was coerced into doing so by the Houthis. Shortly after, president Hadi fled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he took refuge in the same city as Muhsin.