Yemen in Turmoil, Emergency Parliament Session Planned

Yemen’s parliament is scheduled to hold an emergency session Sunday following the resignation of the president and the government.  Armed Houthi rebels stormed the capital, Sana’a, earlier this week, plunging the country into further turmoil and triggering protests in the south.  

Houthi rebels surrounded the presidential palace for several days in the lead up to the president’s resignation.

President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi announced he was stepping down because the rebels had failed to honor a peace deal signed earlier in the week.

In the capital, there is much fear of what lies ahead.  Sana’a resident Aidaros Al-Mehthar called for an inclusive dialogue.

“We would like the political and national powers to hold a national meeting which includes all the political groups in Yemen,” he said, “so the country does not fall into huge conflict,” said Al-Mehthar.

The well-armed rebels patroling the streets say they are not seeking conflict.  Murad Mohamed is one of them.

He says the Houthis are here to serve the Yemeni people and provide security and safety, to serve all the people.

The president’s resignation, however, has left a dangerous power vacuum, says Yemen specialist Kate Nevens of the conflict prevention group Safer World.

“The Houthis are actually unlikely to want full administrative power themselves,” said Nevens.  “I think they are unlikely to want to be held accountable as a formal government.”

The Houthis make up around a third of the Yemeni population – and adhere to the Zaidi branch of Shia Islam.  In a televised message Tuesday, the Houthis’ leader, Abdel-Malek Al-Houthi, demanded greater political representation.  

He said the political powers that were in authority paid attention only to the way of accomplishing further gains for themselves, and not the Yemeni people.

In recent months, the Iran-backed Houthis have gained territory from Sunni tribes – and fought militants from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.  They first stormed the capital in September, forcing President Hadi to sign a compromise deal.

The Houthis have received backing from Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down following mass anti-government protests during the Arab Spring.  The Saleh family could be poised for a return to power, says Nevens.  

“Obviously that could be problematic in terms of the kinds of changes that the majority of the population were seeking,” said Nevens.  “Particularly back in 2011, when we had a popular uprising, they were really seeking changes to how politics was run.”

In the south of Yemen, the Houthi takeover was met with protests Friday.

One demonstrator said they were on the streets in protest against the coup and against the Houthi militias in Sana’a, and they have joined a new revolution.

The United States had given its backing to President Hadi – an ally in Washington’s drone missile program targeting al-Qaida militants in Yemen.


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