Yemen’s political stalemate persists, as Houthis gain influence

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More than three years after the outbreak of the Yemeni revolution, a political stalemate remains as official parties refuse to cede power to the Houthis, despite their increasing influence.

Yemeni political stakeholders do not seem to have any intention of holding democratic elections soon, despite the fact that such elections are the most pressing democratic need since the uprising in early 2011, and its subsequent political agreement that brought Yemen into a consensus period stretching beyond the date set for the end of the transitional period in February 2014.

At the end of 2013, the General People’s Congress (GPC) increasingly demanded on carrying out presidential elections, which were supposed to be held at the end of the transitional period. The demands did not hold up for long, though. The party itself was not ready for elections, and the international community, the sponsor of the political process, would not have agreed to hold presidential elections as long as the transitional period had only expired time-wise while the remaining missions were still pending. On the other hand, other powers called for holding parliamentary elections, but these demands also did not last long, perhaps because they were not serious or because the electoral process was not possible in the first place.

All political parties in Yemen are calling for the implementation of the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, and thus the discussions of other issues have been postponed. These issues include presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as a cabinet reshuffling or the replacement of the current government with a government that encompasses competent members

Rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood

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The political consensus provided a great opportunity for parties to expand and strengthen their strongholds. This was most exploited by the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (al-Islah) through its popular influence and official alliances. Al-Islah was able to emerge as an official and popular force, which raised everyone’s concern, including its political allies. Fear of the emergence of new forces prompted the government parties, which had agreed to share power, to keep the consensus in force. Remaining in office would hide many of their losses, and avoid being placed under a popular test through elections, gioving them more time to try to recover.

The main political forces in the country are facing a difficult dilemma represented by the Houthis’ military and political expansion in the north of the country. This expansion is to the detriment of everyone. Some of the tribal regions were under the influence of the GPC (the party of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh) and al-Islah (including the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen and numerous tribal leaders and prominent figures). These are the two most powerful and organized parties within the country, but they lost these [tribal] regions when the Houthis forcibly imposed their control after multiple and limited sectarian and tribal wars. This enabled the Houthis to expand their control all the way to the outskirts of the capital, Sanaa, which, for a long time, had been dreading [the Houthis’] arrival.

Clashes were taking place between two parties, but neither openly declared waging that war. Al-Islah claims the war between the Salafists and the Houthis is sometimes a sectarian war, and at other times it described it as a tribal war between the Houthis and the tribes refusing their expansion in their regions. In contrast, the Houthis claim that the war is nothing but a popular revolution in the tribal regions against the influence and domination of the al-Ahmar tribe, which is backed by al-Islah.

Following these wars, the Houthis gained almost full control, but the other force representing the GPC in those regions did not make any announcement. Numerous talks were heard, according to which prominent GPC figures provided facilities to the Houthis and helped them in their expansion wars to vex their adversary al-Islah. This does not mean, however, that they are benefiting a lot from this situation, as they also have an old feud with the Houthis. Six wars have erupted in Saada against the Houthis, during which sectarian slogans were raised and members affiliated or merely deemed to be affiliated to al-Islah suffered from widespread abuses. The GPC was the ruling party at that time and its position on these wars was clear and public.

The former ruler wins … and loses

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his party have lost a lot of political, military and security positions, but he started playing a political and social opposition role against al-Islah and its tribal forces, in particular in the northern regions of the country. Al-Islah has started to infiltrate and take over centers of political and social influence since the political settlement agreement entered into force. All this happened at the expense of Saleh and his party.

Even though Saleh and his party are still present and influential, the expansion of the Houthis represents a threat to the remaining influence they have. This is due to many considerations, including that the Houthis were an active player in the 2011 uprising and have yet to participate in the political and administrative quota system of the country. Moreover, they exploited the injustice they had suffered during the six wars as well as the sectarian slogans raised by their opponents. Assuming that there is cooperation between the [GPC and the Houthis] against a common adversary, it seems obvious that the Houthis’ power is growing while Saleh tries to take advantage of the errors committed by al-Islah to restore his popularity, and this would lead to a competition between him and the Houthis.

On the other hand, the Houthis claim continued loyalty to the popular uprising known as the Revolution of 2011, whose primary objective was overthrowing Saleh. This means that they are adopting this same objective to prove their loyalty to the revolution, while other political revolution partners betrayed people’s aspirations.

When participating in the coming parliamentary elections, the previous powers will not win over these regions. This is almost true for the southern provinces witnessing a political movement that demands secession and returning to what was before the establishment of the Republic of Yemen in May 1990. These large, sparsely populated provinces did not actively participate in the elections in the past two decades. In the 2006 presidential elections, opposition candidate Faisal bin Shamlan won more votes than the ruling party’s candidate, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in a number of these provinces. However, his victories there were useless given the low population in these provinces and the reluctance of many to participate, compared with the population density in northern and central provinces.

Delegating the president

For his part, the consensual president of the transitional period, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, will not miss the opportunity to form a supporting political and social force, especially in the southern provinces. Hadi hails from a southern province and many southern figures are appointed in influential military and security positions.

In light of turbulent and unsafe political circumstances, the consensual president cannot hope for anything better than being delegated by the National Dialogue Conference to remain in power and strengthen his influence. Any future election will not give him the same opportunity unless the consensus continues and is quantitatively and qualitatively used in Hadi’s favor. Hadi never stops reminding all Yemenis that he took over power at the moment when the country was on the brink of civil war and he spared the people this fate.

Left-wing parties holding on to possible scenario!

Only left-wing parties have nothing to gain or lose. They have lost their presence and popularity during the past two decades, which witnessed the alliance of traditional forces represented by the GPC and al-Islah. When these two forces parted ways, the left-wing parties allied with al-Islah, no longer in power. Thus, al-Islah remained a winner and maintained its power positions, while left-wing parties have only obtained since 2011 a small group of political and administrative positions, as a reward for the political settlement that followed the popular uprising. The left-wing parties will seek to maintain these positions and will therefore be relieved from the burden of relying on elections to achieve an official presence backed by popular legitimacy.

On another note, any future elections will not bring gains for the popular movement in the south, west plain (Tihama) or the central provinces and regions. This movement in all its levels and regions is not organized in hierarchically structured entities and cannot form political organizations having projects and demands. Its presence, however, would not allow other forces to achieve significant electoral gains. It is worth mentioning that the southern movement is characterized by its popular mobilization ability.

The popular demands for change in 2011 led to the creation of a political situation rejecting change. Even the demand of reshuffling a cabinet described as a failure was not met; only the minister of interior was changed, while the oil minister had already resigned. The reshuffling, had it happened, would have led to the introduction of the Houthis as a new party in the unity government. This seems to be a concern to all parties to the government. No one is willing to assign a part of its stake, and no one agrees to see the Houthis, stretching out across the country, filling official positions.

The above article was translated from As-Safir Al-Arabi, a special supplement of As-Safir newspaper whose content is provided through a joint venture of As-Safir and Al-Monitor.

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Found in: yemen, revolution, political conflict, national dialogue conference, houthis, elections, abed rabbo mansour hadi
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