A Poor People’s Revolution
MERIP — Winter 2014
Though the entirety of southern society supports the cause, it is the poor who confront the troops sent by Sanaa. The revolutionaries who brave the bullets are primarily young boys with no shoes. In many squares, meanwhile, it is poor women of all ages who play the most vocal part with their demands for a normal, decent life. It is the poor who organize the demonstrations and attend the lectures in the squares. These places of street-level organizing can be found in almost every district of Aden. The uneducated learn about the city’s history, and the young learn about life before unification, when there were no water and power cuts and every graduate got a job. Occasionally, a preacher is invited, and numerous men of religion have joined the movement, but overall the movement is clear that southerners will not be subordinated with appeals to faith. One of the key demands of the hirak is an apology for the fatwas that reactionary northern clerics have issued against “unbelievers” in the south.
The Breakdown of the GCC Initiative
MERIP — Winter 2014
The Houthi militia’s advance from their base near the Saudi Arabian frontier through Zaydi strongholds in ‘Amran (seat of the Hashid confederation) into Sanaa — and onward into Shafi‘i-majority provinces like Hudayda (on the Red Sea coast) and Ibb (in the mountainous midlands) — must be read as positioning, an intent to renegotiate Yemen’s political regime. As such, a regime is understood by political scientists as a system of rules and norms by which power is distributed across and through state institutions. Yemen’s political regime is in the process of being rewritten. By engaging in armed conflict and political maneuvering around the composition of the new government and revolutionary populist appeals, the Houthis have hoped to influence Yemen’s future regime on several fronts. On another level, Yemen’s convulsions can never be comprehended as separate from the power structures of the Arabian Peninsula, dominated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the other filthy rich petro-kingdoms of the GCC, which in turn are protected by the US military.
Saudi suspends aid to Yemen after Houthi takeover – sources
Reuters — 4 December 2014
Saudi Arabia has suspended most of its financial aid to Yemen, Yemeni and Western sources said, in a clear indication of its dissatisfaction with the growing political power of Shi’ite Houthi fighters friendly with Riyadh’s regional rival, Iran. Yemen, which is battling an al Qaeda insurgency, a southern secessionist movement, endemic corruption and poor governance, has often relied on its richer northern neighbor to help finance everything from government salaries to welfare payments. The Saudis also fear the movement’s strong emphasis on Zaydi Shi’ite rights will aggravate sectarian tensions that al Qaeda could exploit to carve out more space in Sunni areas and launch attacks against the kingdom. “The Saudis have conditioned any aid on the implementation of the (deal). The Houthis have to leave before they pay,” a senior Yemeni government official told Reuters. Continue reading
Army splits that let Yemen’s capital fall augur new risks
Reuters — 27 November 2014
While many details of the surrender of Yemen’s capital by 100,000 Republican Guards to some 5,000 Houthi fighters on Sept. 21 remain murky, the nature of the capitulation bodes ill for President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s fragile grip on power. Home to an al Qaeda branch held responsible by Washington for three attempted bombings of aircraft in the United States, Yemen is close to becoming a failed state, thanks in part to covert maneuvering from its own ousted ruler and Iran. Corruption, internal splits and competing loyalties in the army began before former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted by protests in 2011 and are now reaching a critical stage.
Yemen crisis a boon for people smugglers
IRIN — 20 November 2014
Yemen’s security crisis is leading to a rapid expansion in the people smuggling trade, with thousands of migrants from the Horn of Africa desperate to use the country as a gateway to Saudi Arabia. In September – the most recent month for which statistics have been released – the Nairobi-based Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS) reported 12,768 arrivals – predominantly from Ethiopia. It was more than double the figure for September 2013 and represented the single largest monthly influx on record.
Yemen: Civilian Toll of Fighting in Capital
Human Rights Watch — 19 November 2014
The Houthi armed group and the Yemeni armed forces’ Sixth Regional Command appear to have committed violations of the laws of war during fighting in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, from September 17-21, 2014. The government should investigate alleged violations by both sides and appropriately punish those responsible. Human Rights Watch documented six incidents that resulted in the death of one civilian and injuries to 15 others. In two of the incidents, fighters appeared to have unlawfully targeted civilians. In other incidents, two hospitals came under attack. Continue reading
Houthi expansion puts Yemen on edge of civil war
Reuters — 13 November 2014
An advance into Yemen’s Sunni Muslim heartland by Shi’ite Houthi fighters has galvanised support for al Qaeda among some Sunnis, deepening the religious hue of the country’s many conflicts, with potential consequences well beyond its borders. Yemen’s tribal, regional and political divisions were widened by the rapid fall of the capital Sanaa to Houthi fighters on Sept. 21 after weeks of protests against the government and its decision to cut fuel subsidies. “The Houthi expansion has created a sectarian problem,” said Bassam al-Barq, a Sunni Muslim resident of the religiously mixed Sanaa, attending a protest by local activists held every week to demand the Houthis quit the capital.
Yemen’s Proposed Rehabilitation Center Isn’t Making Much Progress
VICE — 13 November 2014
Yemenis make up the majority of detainees cleared for transfer at Guantánamo. Despite their clearance, these 58 men remain imprisoned at least partly due to concerns over whether Yemen is able to safely reintegrate them into society. And although President Obama has made assurances that Yemen is the model for counterterrorism success during his administration, an initiative to build a rehabilitation center to house repatriated Guantánamo detainees from that country is showing little, if any, progress. In August 2013, President Obama and Yemen President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi issued a joint statement saying that both countries would begin a program to “to address the problem of violent extremism within Yemen, which could also facilitate the transfer of Yemeni detainees held at Guantánamo.” Then, in May, President Hadi issued a presidential decree stating that Yemen had established a committee to look into creating a rehabilitation facility to accept Yemeni Guantánamo detainees who had been sent back.
Economists agree: Yemen’s economy risks collapse
Yemen Times — 6 November 2014
Economic experts agree with the statement made earlier this week by Jamal Benomar, the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, who said that Yemen’s economy could collapse if the new government is not formed immediately. Benomar told the AFP news agency on Nov. 2 that many people who are concerned with the Yemeni economy worry “the government might not be able to pay employees by the end of this year.” According to Mustafa Nasr, an economic expert and the head of the Sana’a-based Studies and Economic Media Center, “the Yemeni economy might collapse during the few coming months, which will cause a complete halt in Yemen’s essential services such as health, education, electricity, and water.” Continue reading
The Trouble With Yemen
Businessweek — 29 October 2014
In interviews with Bloomberg Businessweek Middle East, a number of those manning People’s Committee checkpoints say that they are longstanding members of Ansar Allah, or “Partisans of God”, the Houthis’ preferred name for their movement. But roughly the same proportion say that they joined the movement on or around 21 September, as the Houthi militias were completing their rout of First Armoured. The vast majority of this second group are supporters of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president, and the General People’s Congress (GPC), Yemen’s historical ruling party. Saleh was ousted in a 2011 uprising after leading the country for 33 years. Meanwhile, senior government and diplomatic sources say it is no coincidence that the People’s Committees are split between the pro-Houthi and Saleh camps: they believe that Saleh played an active role in the fall of First Armoured and the takeover of the capital.
A Bloody Conundrum Beckons As Yemen Slides Into Civil War
Newsweek — 29 October 2014
While events in Yemen cannot be reduced to a simple Sunni-versus-Shia binary because they are rooted in historical conflicts of family and tribe, it may end up turning into that sort of war. Houthis militias have expanded southward from the capital and entered territory that is controlled by al-Qaida. The ensuing hostilities have killed dozens of fighters and at least 10 civilians, according to reports. “The average Yemeni is not scared of the Houthis’ military checkpoints. But the average Yemeni is scared of the suicide bombings,” says Sarah Jamal, a Sanaa-based independent researcher. “When we hear news on the radio that the Houthis are battling al-Qaida in the countryside, people’s first reaction in Sana’a is to worry that al-Qaida is going to get us back here in the city.”
Abaad Report: The south’s separation countdown
Yemen Times — 21 October 2014
According to a report released last week by the Abaad Studies and Research Center, southerners in Yemen feel that after the Houthis seized control over Sana’a their time has come to achieve independence from the north. The Houthis are an armed group prevalent in the north that effectively took control over Yemen’s capital on Sept. 21. “Yemenis in the south feel now is their chance for self-determination and separation from the north,” the report read. Continue reading
Who Lost Yemen?
Politico — 15 October 2014
The Huthi’s stunning rise to power is mainly the result of four factors: the incompetence of the interim government installed in 2011, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s desire for revenge against those who ousted him in 2011, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s sharp turn against the Muslim Brotherhood and the astute political leadership of the Huthi movement itself. Just who is playing whom in this complicated game of Yemeni politics is not clear. The Huthi themselves may have neutralized much of the military though astute leadership and by gaining the loyalty of key military leaders. The Saudis and the Saleh clan were happy to see their former allies in Islah destroyed, even if by an adversary with close ties to Iran.
Houthi victories in Yemen make Saudi Arabia nervous
Al-Monitor — 15 October 2014
What concerns the Saudis the most is the Iranian connection to the Houthis. Saleh alleged Iranian help to the rebels as early as 2004, but it wasn’t until 2012 that US officials began confirming that Tehran was aiding the Houthis. Iran, with its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, has been shipping small arms and ammunition to the Houthis for several years now and also providing limited quantities of financial aid. Last month, the Yemeni authorities deported to Oman two Iranians whom they accused of being members of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force arrested in Yemen assisting the Houthis. Whatever the extent of Iranian aid to the Houthis, Riyadh believes it is extensive and critical to their success. A senior Saudi prince recently told me that the kingdom is now surrounded by Iranian proxies. He said Iran’s assets control four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. The Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat this month editorialized that “Iran is encircling Saudi Arabia.”
Shifting balances of power in Yemen’s crisis
Washington Post — 26 September 2014
This week’s events in Yemen have been mischaracterized in a variety of ways: A sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni groups; a second revolution that finally removes the pre-2011 actors from power; a counter-revolution backed by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party and his tribal affiliates; and a self-staged coup condoned by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to weaken his political opponents. Given the rapidly evolving events, the malleable and shifting alliances, and the profusion of backroom deals among the main political actors, such a menagerie of competing explanations – each of which contains a nugget of truth – is not surprising. Nevertheless, a longer look at how political actors in Yemen balance against each other, and at how a shift in such balance of power between groups that is not reflected in the distribution of power in the government, provides a better explanation for the crisis. It also provides lessons about how to avoid similar escalation in the future. Continue reading
Al Qaeda Militants Flow Into Yemen’s Capital
Wall Street Journal — 14 September 2014
Scores of al Qaeda militants have moved into Yemen’s capital San’a in an attempt to exploit swelling political unrest and destabilize the government, officials said. While President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government is bogged down with protests in the capital by the Houthis—a Shiite Muslim political and militant group—at least 60 al Qaeda militants have slipped in over the past few weeks and joined sleeper cells, according to Yemeni officials.
Houthis’ contradictory path in Sanaa
Al-Monitor — 15 September 2014
The group’s rule represents the worse and most oppressive model of governance, as it runs Saada as a radical religious armed group that bans music, for instance. Pictures taken at Houthi sit-ins show that women are absent. Al-Monitor attended a sit-in on Aug. 30 next to the Interior Ministry, and asked the media officer of the Houthis why no women were present; the answer was that women should stay home. However, at the NDC, the Houthis supported the demands of the women’s movement, including the quota (Houthis supported the demands of women to have a fixed share of political participation). NDC member Thurayya Damaj told Al-Monitor, “The Houthis’ position vis-a-vis women in the capital Sanaa is completely different than their position as a ruling authority in Saada. They supported the quota in Sanaa, but tightened women’s freedoms in Saada governorate by imposing restrictions on their movement and clothing.”
Building a Shared Vision for Economic Reform in Yemen
CIPE — 16 September 2014
The unprecedented level of consultation and input with the private sector, civil society, and political parties ensured a high level of legitimacy and buy-in for reforms. The involvement of the private sector in the National Dialogue is an important achievement because it strengthens the role of business in national policymaking and enables the Yemeni government to tackle mounting economic concerns with a better understanding of the microeconomic conditions in the country. As Yemen enters the next phase of its transition, the private sector will continue to implement reforms through legislative advocacy strengthen the economic platforms of political parties, and directly address concerns identified in the Private Sector Vision. Continue reading
When Yemeni lords were ‘comrades’
Al-Monitor — 3 September 2014
As a result of Saudi Arabia offering financial backing to clan elders, followers of Sayyed Hussein al-Houthi sought Iranian financial backing. And, to confront the militias formed by clan elders, they managed to gain the loyalty of some competing elders. As a result, during the early years of this century, the Houthi movement was transformed into an Islamic political movement to confront Islamic Sunni political movements. It gradually mutated in subsequent years into an armed militia that could face the army in six wars between 2004 and 2010. While most of those who took part in the wars of the Houthi militias were clansmen, a significant part hailed from Hashemite lord families. This indicates that a new [social] class was formed by the latter — a class endowed with social and cultural characteristics that differed from the traditional stereotype of their ancestors, who historically were viewed by other clans as non-aligned and refrained from participating in any fighting.
With its Economy in Freefall, Yemen Secures IMF Lifeline
Wall Street Journal — 3 September 2014
Spurred by a rapidly deteriorating economy, the International Monetary Fund has approved a three-year extended credit facility worth $552 million with Yemen, the impoverished Arab nation that has become a breeding ground for the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The lifeline will provide some relief for Yemeni authorities who face a myriad of political and security challenges that continue to drag on the economy. An amount equivalent to about $73.8 million is available for immediate disbursement to Yemen, while the remaining amount will be phased in semi-annual disbursements, subject to six reviews, according to the IMF.
Yemen fuel subsidy cuts hit poor hardest
IRIN — 25 August 2014
In an internal document seen by IRIN, Yemen’s Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (MoPIC) estimates that the decision to cut fuel subsidies could lead to an additional 500,000 Yemenis falling under the breadline. More than half Yemen’s population – in excess of 12.5 million people – currently lives in poverty. To prevent such a disastrous situation the government had promised to redirect any savings made from cutting subsidies – which historically benefited the country’s wealthiest people – towards welfare payments for the poorest. Sana’a announced in early August that it would add 250,000 people to the list of those receiving unconditional cash transfers from the Social Welfare Fund (SWF) – the state-run body that organizes the payments – bringing the total number of people covered by the fund to 1.75 million. Individuals would receive quarterly handouts up to YR12,000 ($60). But SWF, which is supported by a number of foreign governments and international institutions including the World Bank, has not made regular payments to its beneficiaries since the beginning of the year, SWF officials confirmed to IRIN. In early August the fund finally made its first payment in 2014, providing people with money that was due in January. Continue reading