Five days before the Republic of Yemen marked its 52nd birthday, on September 21, Sanaa woke up to a huge blow. The capital has not yet recovered from its conquest at the hands of the armed Houthis who hailed from the north and penetrated all the way into the heart of Sanaa.
September 21 was indeed a decisive day in the history of Yemen. The republic, which rid itself of the rule of the Imams more than five centuries age, has almost fallen into the grip of the armed Shia Houthis group, which is seen as a natural and historic extension of the rule of the Imams in Yemen believed to have been ended for good following the 26 September 1962 Revolution.
Contrary to the group’s public discourse, their literature shows that they do not believe in the existing republican regime. Nor do they believe in the Yemeni constitution or law. They consider the Yemeni revolution a coup against the regime of the Imam and against legitimate rule. As such, the door remains wide open to three possibilities that seem more logical than all other possibilities when it comes to the future of Yemen.
The first possibility: sliding into civil war
The potential for Yemen to slide into a civil war that is of a sectarian nature is quite strong taking into consideration the existence of a fertile environment for the emergence of racial groups. Such groups are spearheaded by the Shia Houthi group and the Ansar Al-Shariah organisation which is an Al-Qaeda affiliated organisation. Both groups are ideological contrasts.
Signs of this potential conflict have already appeared. One day after the Houthi seizure of Sanaa last Sunday, an Al-Qaeda organisation claimed responsibility for a car bomb which killed more than 40 Houthis in Al-Baqaa region, a Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen.
Last Tuesday, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula organisation issued a statement threatening what it called the “Shia rejectionists”, a term used to describe the Houthis, with open warfare. It also called on the “the Sunnis to carry arms” promising them “immediate victories that will heal the chests and comfort the heart”.
Al-Qaeda attacked the forces that consented to the participation of the Houthis in the national reconciliation conference and accused the leader of the Houthis, Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, of being “the commander of the march of the demolition of mosques, the burning of educational books and of deceit and deep rooted hatred against Ahl As-Sunnah wa Al-Jamaah [Sunnis].”
Such strong language by Al-Qaeda may imply that it intends to spearhead the forthcoming strife with the Houthis at a time when other Islamic forces are endeavouring to avert entering into a sectarian conflict with the Shia Houthis because they fear such eventuality will pose a major threat to social and civil peace.
Al-Qaeda, a radical Sunni group, does not enjoy much popularity within Yemeni circles. Similarly, the Houthis have not been able to attract other Shia Yemeni forces. In fact, the Zaidi, which is the religious sect the Houthis follow, are hostile to the Houthis and regard them as an Iranian influenced political project that has nothing to do with the moderate Zaidi in Yemen.
The second possibility: President Hadi transfers to Aden
President Hadi has denied he has any intention to abandon Sanaa in exchange for Aden in the south. He made this position clear in a press conference he held last Tuesday at the President’s Office in Sanaa. He described these claims as rumours. Yet, this possibility is still being proposed, especially after the Yemeni president managed to bring calm to the southern communities and get several leaders of the Southern Dynamic on board.
Those who propose this option stem from the fact that the conflict raging in the north is a northern tribal conflict among the centres of power and influence and that the south has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Hence, the Yemeni president may just depart Sanaa if the conflict were to enter into a phase where he is no longer able to exercise his duties as president of the country.
However, it would seem that this possibility has lost much of its plausibility since many parties prefer not to confront the Houthis and have left this to the state. Hadi signed a peace agreement with the Houthis which dictates that they must withdraw their armed forces from the streets of Sanaa in exchange for giving them the opportunity to participate in the forthcoming ministerial composition.
The third possibility: dividing Yemen into mini states
Despite having been brought up within some Yemeni circles, this option is unlikely, at least thus far, because the international community and regional powers will not allow Yemen to slide down the abyss of fragmentation and division as this would threaten the world, and particularly the Gulf states.
The truth is that the international community has been pushing in the direction of a federal system that encompasses a number of provinces and considers this to be more appropriate for Yemen in order to break the monopoly of the central government (within the capital Sanaa) and its hegemony over other provinces and so as to involve local communities in the decision making processes and bring about a fair distribution of power and wealth among the people of Yemen.
Some observers believe that the hegemony of the centres of power and influence within Sanaa over the country’s resources, while neglecting distant areas, is what led to the collapse and the eruption of conflict among the powers that seek to control the country’s resources.
Yemeni analyst Yassin Al-Tamimi, who writes for a number of local and regional Arab publications, believes that the three possibilities may concur and materialise together. Once the political hegemony of the Zaidi in Yemen escalates and leads to exclusion and marginalisation against the rest of the components of Yemeni society, this would inevitably lead to the eruption of civil war of a sectarian nature as well as to the shredding of the country into mini states and this would consequently result in President Hadi losing his powers.
Al-Tamimi added: “What happened in Sanaa had already been planned by the Americans, the British and the Saudis and agreed upon by these parties. The evidence is that the Friends of Yemen meeting which was held last Wednesday in New York did not condemn the Houthis’ armed invasion of the capital. This points to international collusion with what the Houthi militias did.”
He added: “I am more convinced than ever that what happened in Sanaa was a pre-planned counter revolution. This was meant to take the form of a popular uprising so much so that the Peace and Partnership agreement signed by the Yemeni parties recently under UN auspices came to replace the Gulf initiative and the UN Security Council resolutions. What this implies is that all the talk about those who hindered the settlement, the talk about UN sanctions and the talk about those who were embroiled in killing the youth of the revolution has now become part of the past.”
Translated from Arabi21, 27 September, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.