News Update 29 January 2015

Highlights:
How the Houthis Did It
Foreign Policy — 23 January 2015
Abubakr al-Shamahi, who until recently worked as a researcher in Sanaa, says that Hadi’s decision to resign was inevitable given this week’s events, but may not have been what the Houthis ultimately wanted given that their modus operandi has been to chastise Hadi for neglecting to address the population’s economic grievances and policy failures. Yet, the Houthis don’t seem intent on governing: thus far, they have failed to provide practical alternatives and have never showed a keen interest in ruling, preferring rather to pull strings from behind when convenient. After all, trying to lead Yemen is not a task for the faint of heart. “It puts them in a bad position. Who else do they have to blame? The president’s gone,” said al-Shamahi, who also reports for London-based newspaper al-Araby al-Jadeed.

In Yemen, Violence Pays
New York Times — 28 January 2015
Throughout a six-month Houthi onslaught last year, Mr. Hadi refused to send army reinforcements to fight the Houthi militia in the north. Instead, he set up a series of mediation committees to try to arrange cease-fires as well as involve the Houthis in the political process. This approach made sense to Mr. Hadi and the United Nations — they wanted to avoid outright civil war, and thought diplomacy would work. But Yemen moves to a different rhythm. In our country’s culture of tribalism, a party to a conflict must engage in the ritual of violence, if only for the sake of saving face, and leave it to third parties to negotiate. Mr. Hadi’s repeated failure to punish Houthi aggression and his tepid calls for peace were read as weakness.

Yemen Conflict Alert: Time for Compromise
International Crisis Group — 27 January 2015
The current situation is dire, but it offers opportunities as well. All political groups, as well as the majority of average citizens, are dissatisfied with Hadi’s stewardship of the transition. Since the September takeover, especially, he is widely perceived as weak and unable to put the political process back on track. His departure, while destabilising, offers a chance to Yemenis to select a more broadly acceptable and effective leadership. This, in turn, would make it possible to forge the informal political consensus necessary to implement and clarify existing transitional agreements. Until now, the Huthis have had little incentive to compromise. As the victors, they have increasingly been enforcing their interpretation of existing agreements, while claiming to speak for all Yemenis. In doing so, however, they are alienating and even radicalising their opponents, particularly Islah and southern separatists. Under the current circumstances, any attempt by the Huthis (Ansar Allah as they prefer to be called) to form a military or presidential council without genuine buy-in from other parties would result in a significant domestic and international backlash against them.

Politics:
Who is in charge in Yemen?
Al-Jazeera — 29 January 2015
The vast majority of Yemenis appear to be stuck between forlorn anger and hope for a deus ex machina. International actors, including the U.S., the European Union, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Nations, are engaged in a fraught process of damage control, furiously attempting to broker a new deal and to get key players to adhere to the conditions they accepted in September. Frustrations with the country’s troubled political transition and the international community’s ham-fisted handling of it have been mounting for so long that many Yemenis are simply numb at this point. On the streets of Sanaa — despite continued Houthi sieges of key government buildings and crackdowns on now daily protests against their takeover of the city — life goes on. But no one has the scarcest idea of what tomorrow will bring.

New body seen as step toward unifying south
Yemen Times — 28 January 2015
Following its formation in Aden on Monday, prominent southerners have announced their support for the National Southern Body for Liberation and Independence. The body was created by 13 Southern Movement factions, including political parties, student organizations and unions, and aims to unify the many different factions within the pro-secession Southern Movement. Ahmed Bamualem, the deputy head of the body, estimates there are a total of 30 to 35 factions or groups within the Southern Movement associated with a few different leaders. Included in the 13 factions that formed the National Southern Body for Liberation and Independence, are the Supreme Peaceful Southern Movement Council For Liberation and Independence, the Free Arabian Southern Union, Aden National Studies Center, and the Southern Writers Union.

Are popular committees all Houthi?
Yemen Times — 28 January 2015
Popular committees existed in Yemen long before the Houthis’ rise to power. However, since the group took over Sana’a on Sept. 21, the term “popular committee” has been commonly used as an equivalent to “the Houthis” in areas under the group’s control. While Houthi popular committees have clearly mushroomed in recent months, it is often unclear what happened to regular neighborhood watch groups that formed during and after the 2011 uprising in Yemen.

Talks to end Yemen’s political crisis falter
Reuters — 25 January 2015
Talks aimed at ending Yemen’s political crisis faltered on Sunday when three of the country’s main political parties quit negotiations with the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Houthi group, raising the prospect of growing chaos. The parties, which are seen as close to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, said they walked out of the talks after the Houthis reneged on previous promises. Hadi, who was backed by the United States and seen as an ally in its war on the Sunni Muslim militant group al Qaeda, resigned on Thursday after Houthi fighters crushed his presidential guards and deployed outside his home. In an effort to prevent Yemen slipping further into tribal unrest and turmoil, the various political forces agreed to talks to try to overcome the gathering crisis. However, the Islamist al-Islah Party, the Socialist Party and the Nasserist Party swiftly decided to abandon the negotiations, accusing the Houthis of reneging on a previous agreement to reject Hadi’s resignation.

An introduction to Yemen’s emergency
Open Democracy — 25 January 2015
As of 24 January, the Huthis are keeping the President and other senior leaders under house arrest. Formally, the successor to the President has to be the speaker of the Parliament, Yahia Ali al Ra’i, a firm Saleh loyalist who called for a meeting of Parliament for 25 January, a meeting which was then cancelled after southerners refused to attend; this meeting is necessary to accept or reject the President’s resignation. Negotiations are being held, presumably to persuade Hadi to withdraw his resignation. However keeping him incommunicado (his telecoms are monitored/controlled) is hardly likely to persuade him to withdraw it. Meanwhile, the alliance between Huthis and Saleh holds, but this is unlikely to last. Where the balance of power lies within this alliance will determine the future.

Thousands stage anti-Houthi protests across Yemen
Reuters — 24 January 2015
Thousands of Yemenis took to the streets on Saturday in the biggest demonstrations yet against the Houthi group that dominates the country, two days after President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s resignation left the country in political limbo. Houthi gunmen shot and wounded four people at a protest in the Red Sea port of Hodeida, residents said. In Sanaa, two intelligence agents were shot dead by gunmen on a motorbike, two security sources told Reuters.

Yemen’s Houthi leader says wants peaceful transfer of power
Reuters via Yahoo! News — 28 January 2015
The leader of Yemen’s Houthis who control the capital Sanaa said on Tuesday his group was seeking a peaceful transfer of power after the resignation of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and urged all factions to work together to solve the crisis. Abdel-Malek al-Houthi’s conciliatory remarks in a televised speech came less than an hour after his supporters released Hadi’s chief of staff, whom they seized last week in an attempt to gain leverage in a dispute with Hadi over the constitution.

Yemen Rebels Open Fire on Demonstrators, Protesters Say
Bloomberg — 28 January 2015
Yemen rebels opened fire on demonstrators who had gathered outside the university in the capital, Sana’a, to denounce what they called a “coup” against President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi, protesters said. Three demonstrators were wounded and two others were beaten by armed Houthis wearing the uniforms of government security forces, Ali Ahmed Abdullah, a protester, said by phone. Houthi gunmen also arrested 30 of the demonstrators outside Sana’a University, he said.

Islah, Nasserist and Socialist parties refuse to resume negotiations
Yemen Times — 26 January 2015
As of Wednesday evening the Yemeni Socialist Party and the Islah and Nasserist parties continue to refuse talks over Yemen’s political future, saying they will only begin negotiations once three conditions are met: An end to the house arrests of members of government, the withdrawal of Houthi gunmen from the Presidential Palace, and non-interference in peaceful anti-Houthi protests.

Armed Houthis enter Ministry of Electricity
Yemen Times — 26 January 2015
On Sunday armed Houthi members entered the Ministry of Electricity and Energy and took the minister’s official stamp. No Houthis were subsequently stationed inside the ministry and work resumed as usual on Monday. “At 10 a.m. on Sunday eight armed Houthis entered the minister’s office. I was surprised when I saw them and asked what they were up to. They responded they wanted the minister’s stamp,” said Abdullah Hajar, a high-ranking manager at the ministry.

Houthi leader calls for national dialogue on Friday
Yemen Times — 28 January 2015
In a televised speech delivered on Tuesday night, Houthi leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi called for a meeting to be convened on Friday to discuss the current government crisis. Al-Houthi called on religious scholars, academics, politicians, tribal leaders and others citizens to take part in what he called “an exceptional meeting” to address the current deadlock, following the resignations of President Hadi and the Cabinet on Jan. 22.

Tensions mount in Aden as three killed in clashes
Yemen Times — 26 January 2015
Tensions remain high in Aden governorate following the resignation of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and the Cabinet on Thursday. Clashes broke out early on Sunday between Southern Movement popular committees and the government’s Special Security Forces, leaving three soldiers killed and four wounded on both sides, according to local sources.

Bin Mubarak release unconditional, Houthis say
Yemen Times — 28 January 2015
Tribal leaders and Houthis confirmed on Wednesday the release of Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, the director of the president’s office, the previous day. Mubarak was apparently released without condition following negotiations with tribal leaders from Al-Nasab district in Shabwa governorate. Mohammad Al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi Political Office in Sana’a, said mediations were headed by Sheikh Awadh Bin Wazir Al-Awlaqi. Following Mubarak’s release, Al-Awlaqi told Al-Jazeera that he was reunited with his family and had been moved to Shabwa. “We call on the Houthis to end their siege on the president and his cabinet, we are in an unsafe and insecure situation,” he said.

President and Cabinet members remain under house arrest for sake of “security”
Yemen Times — 26 January 2015
President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and members of his technocratic Cabinet, all of whom resigned last Thursday, remain under house arrest by Houthi popular committees. A source with the Houthi Political Office talked to the Yemen Times on condition of anonymity, saying that members of the group and its popular committees have not been authorized to comment on the current situation. “Rumors that only some Cabinet members are under surveillance are not accurate—in fact, all of them are being kept under house arrest, for several reasons,” he said, referring to reports that only seven ministers were being restricted by the group.

Security:
Al Qaeda militants kill Yemeni soldier in southern Yemen – official
Reuters — 28 January 2015
Al Qaeda militants attacked a military checkpoint in southern Yemen on Monday, killing a soldier and wounding two others, a local official told Reuters. Two of the gunmen were also killed. The gunbattle occurred on the outskirts of Mahfad in Yemen province, where government forces have for years battled Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the local branch of the Islamic militant group.

The U.S. Fight Against Al Qaeda in Yemen Just Got Harder
Dateline — 28 January 2015
But what happens when the local partner loses power? Last week, Yemen’s American-backed president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, resigned along with the country’s prime minister and entire cabinet. The resignations came after Houthi rebels, who have tightened their grip on Yemen’s capital Sanaa since last September, surrounded the presidential palace and demanded concessions. The Houthis now effectively control Sanaa, although it remains unclear who is in charge. And the political crisis comes just weeks after AQAP claimed credit for the deadly attacks on the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.

Yemen unrest will not derail plans to close Guantánamo Bay prison
Guardian — 26 January 2015
Ongoing instability in Yemen should not derail plans to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, Barack Obama’s former envoy for the closure urged on Monday. Clifford Sloan, who resigned on 31 December as the State Department’s special envoy for shuttering the infamous detention center, said the 47 Yemenis currently approved for transfer would not be returned to their home country. “The focus with regard to the Yemenis at Guantánamo has been on resettling them to other countries, because of the perilous security situation in Yemen. That was true before the very recent events as well as since the very recent events,” Sloan told the Guardian in an interview on Monday.

Dozens killed in two days of clashes in Rada’a
Yemen Times — 26 January 2015
At least 14 people were killed on Sunday night in the Rada’a district of Al-Baida governorate in clashes between Houthis and tribesmen backed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). On Sunday night, eight armed Houthis were killed and one was injured in an ambush on a Houthi patrol vehicle set up by tribesmen in Hummat Sarar village of Qaifa area, Rada’a district.

White House: ‘We cannot be an occupying force in a place like Yemen’
Washington Post — 25 January 2015
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on Sunday sought to shore up the Obama administration’s message on recent events in the Middle East, stressing that the collapse of Yemen’s central government will not derail strategic counterterrorism operations in the region. “I think it’s very important to recognize that governance in Yemen has always been difficult,” McDonough said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We will continue to press on the ground, including today, to make decisions transparently, pursuant to a political agreement, so that we can work with them to keep on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

Obama defends U.S. counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen
Reuters — 25 January 2015
President Barack Obama on Sunday defended his administration’s drone-based counter-terrorism strategy against al Qaeda militants in Yemen, saying the alternative would be to deploy U.S. troops, which was not sustainable. “It is not neat and it is not simple, but it is the best option that we have,” Obama told reporters at a news conference in New Delhi. Four months ago, Obama hailed Yemen as a model for “successful” partnerships in the fight against Islamic militants. But last week, the country’s U.S.-backed government collapsed, and Iran-backed Houthi rebels took over.

Shiite Rebels Capture Yemen Military Base
AP via Wall Street Journal — 29 January 2015
Yemeni officials said that Shiite rebels have captured a key military base south of the capital, where U.S. advisers had previously trained counterterrorism forces. They say that the Republican Guard camp captured on Thursday was used by American experts until 2012 to train local forces battling al Qaeda’s powerful Yemeni affiliate. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Yemen back to square one
BBC News — 28 January 2015
The Houthis are not enamoured with the US policy in Yemen, nor drones. But even the Houthis seem to recognise the potential value of Monday’s drone strike that allegedly killed three al-Qaeda operatives. But being the enemy of an enemy only goes so far. The relative ease with which the Houthis gained strength in recent months, took over de facto control of the capital and became the country’s new kingmaker is remarkable and undoubtedly disconcerting to Yemen’s primary backers, the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Houthis refuse to return seized weapons
Yemen Times — 26 January 2015
The Houthis’ ascent to power was accompanied and often propelled by the movement’s continuous stockpiling of heavy weaponry. In spite of signing an agreement with the government on Sept. 21 stipulating the group’s disarmament, Houthi leaders have so far shown no intention of returning seized weapons. On the contrary, their armory keeps on growing.   While the power of Yemen’s Zaydi Shia Houthi movement has long been restricted to the northern governorate of Sa’ada, its members further expanded their sphere of influence in a series of battles in 2014. By September of last year, the group had taken control over Amran, Al-Jawf, Hajja, and Sana’a governorates.

Did Obama’s Drone War Help Cause Yemen’s Collapse?
Slate — 28 January 2015
A U.S. drone strike hit a vehicle in central Yemen on Monday, killing three members of al-Qaida according to a representative of the group. The strike was the first since Yemen’s U.S.-backed government collapsed last week, in what’s been widely seen as a major setback for efforts to combat the powerful al-Qaida affiliate that took credit for the Charlie Hebdo attacks. But what if the drones themselves are part of the problem? It’s not unreasonable to ask whether U.S. attacks in the past six years, and particularly the civilian casualties they have caused, helped to hasten the Yemeni government’s fall, contributing to the headache now confronting U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

Saudi Arabia:
Yemen crisis is first big test for Saudi Arabia’s King Salman
Reuters — 26 January 2015
However, the fact that he is 11 years younger than Abdullah, and able to give more direct attention to the big issues, may mean Saudi policy will become more proactive, particularly in Yemen, where there have been years of quiet disengagement. “I think they’re going to go to Yemen with open eyes and will try to contact all parties in the crisis and not exclude anyone,” said Mustafa Alani, a security expert with close ties to the kingdom’s Interior Ministry. After decades buying the support of tribes, politicians and clerics in Yemen, the Al Saud watched as their patronage network fell apart during a 2011 uprising and have now fallen back on a defensive security policy.

Economy:
City farming in Sana’a: A hobby with potential
Yemen Times — 26 January 2015
Hajj Mahdi Muhammad lives in the Al-Sabaeen neighborhood of Sana’a city. He moved to the capital in the early 1980s to work with the military, and is originally from Utma, a green and mountainous region in western Dhamar. Within a few years of settling in the capital, Mohammad says he became nostalgic for the rustic life he led in Utma. Eager to recreate what he could of its rural environment, he began rearing sheep in his front yard.

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