Yemen: Saudi Arabia recognizes new balance of power in Sanaa as Houthis topple Muslim Brothers

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Yemeni security forces supporting Shiite Huthi anti-government protesters gesture during an anti-government protest in Sanaa on September 12, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Mohammed Huwais)

By: Ahmed al-Zarqa

Published Monday, September 22, 2014

The world will wake today to a new Yemen, whose political features have radically changed after the Houthis managed to abort the configuration set up by the Gulf states together with the US following the resignation of [former President] Ali Abdullah Saleh. The new configuration sees the Qatari-Turkish influence diminished, through the deadly blow dealt to the Muslim “Brothers” in Yemen.

Sanaa – September 21, 2014 will no doubt be a historical day, the day the Houthis controlled all the levers of the Yemeni regime but without seizing power. The Houthis also succeeded in dealing a deadly blow to the Muslim “Brothers” in Yemen, represented by its two symbols Ali Mohsen al-Ahmed and Abdel Majid al-Zindani, and with them, the Qatari-Turkish influence in the country, yet without antagonizing Saudi Arabia, which seems to be resigned to the emerging shift in the balance of power in Sanaa.

At least, this is what the meeting between Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif suggests, as the Yemeni regime was being routed at the hands of Ansar Allah, the Houthis’ umbrella group. The meeting itself and its timing are extremely significant, as well as the statements made afterwards by the two ministers.

Zarif said, “Iran and Saudi Arabia are two neighboring countries that are extremely important in the region. We need to work together to start a new chapter in our relationship, which we hope will serve peace, security, and the interests of the Islamic nation.”

This diplomatic “salute” was seized upon by al-Faisal, who responded even more cordially. He said, “Our two countries sense the seriousness of the moment and what the opportunity allows us to do in this crisis. We are convinced of the need to seize the opportunity and avoid the mistakes of the past. I hope we succeed because the two countries are part of the region, and their cooperation would be for the good of the region and the international community. Next time, we will meet in Saudi Arabia.”

The cordial tone emphasized cooperation and the need to avoid mistakes then, coupled with an invitation for a future meeting in Saudi Arabia, even as the Ansar Allah forces were toppling the institutions of power in Yemen one after the other.

“Peace and national partnership” agreement

Regardless of what this means, the developments on the ground precipitated an agreement between the Yemeni government and Ansar Allah brokered by the UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar. The “peace and national partnership” agreement, which the Houthis signed on Sunday evening, stipulated the formation of a technocratic government in the next few months, the reduction of fuel prices by half of the hike implemented since the end of July, and the appointment of two advisers to the president representing the Houthis and the Southern Movement, in addition to the creation of an economic committee a week after the government is formed, in return for a ceasefire and an end to the Houthi-led protests.

According to the Turkish Anatolia news agency, the Houthis refused to sign the “security appendix” to the agreement, which contains 17 clauses requiring the Houthis to: hand over the government institutions they had seized back to the government, withdraw their fighters from Sanaa and the province of Imran; end their armed manifestations and remove protest camps from the capital; and implement the recommendations of the National Dialogue regarding disarmament of all sides. According to sources in the Yemeni presidency and government, the Nasserist Unionist People's Organization and the Salafi Rashad Union Party refused to sign the agreement after the Houthis rejected the security appendix.

The agreement was preceded by a complete shift in the balance of power in favor of the Houthis, who were able to take control of the heart of the Yemeni capital and seize the headquarters of the government, the Ministry of Defense, and the army’s general command, in addition to a number of ministries, the state radio and television building, and the central bank, after the army forces tasked with protecting them retreated following orders not to engage the Houthi militants.

The quick collapse of sovereign and military institutions in Sanaa following the Houthi offensive surprised many observers. It also demonstrates that there could be a long-term plan involving multiple parties. Indeed, it seems that the decision of the Yemeni government to lift subsidies on fuel was the signal propelling the decision to seize Sanaa amid the disintegration of the ruling elites and their corruption. In this context, Ali-Bukhaiti, member of the political council of Ansar Allah, said that the group’s fighters deployed around the prime minister’s office and the radio, and took over the two buildings, without any resistance from the army forces charged with protecting them.

In conjunction with the Houthi takeover of the government and security institutions, the head of the government of national reconciliation Mohammed Salem Basendwah submitted his resignation, claiming that this was to “give an opportunity for an agreement between President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Houthi group.” Following his resignation, Basendwah made a statement in which he complained about having been marginalized by the Yemeni president, who he said had robbed him of his powers and did not involve him in security, military, and diplomatic affairs.

Militarily, the official spokesperson for Ansar Allah Mohammed Abdel Salam declared that the group’s fighters had seized the headquarters of the 1st armored division, led by Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who seems to have managed to escape, after fierce fighting that lasted for about 24 hours, in which light to heavy weapons were used, claiming the lives of dozens on both sides. Abdel Salam said, “The Popular Committees declare having completely purged the headquarters of the disbanded 1st division, and that Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar is wanted for justice.”

Meanwhile, scores of students and faculty fled al-Iman University, which is affiliated to the leader of the Islah Party Abdel Majeed al-Zindani, after the Supreme Security Committee told them it was unable to protect them from the Houthi gunmen besieging its campus for the last three days. The university was shelled, and flames were seen rising from the campus on al-Sitten Street. The militants also seized all offices of the Islah Party in the north of the capital, while the Science and Technology Hospital affiliated to al-Islah leaders was evacuated from all patients and staff at the request of Houthi fighters.

On his Facebook page, Abdel Salam declared that all official buildings were in the hands of his group. He wrote, “Military and security authorities that ‘supported the popular revolt and sided with the people’ are the General Command of the Armed Forces, the Radio and Television Complex, and the official institutions in the Tahrir area and the prime minister’s office.”

In a move that reflects how much control the Houthis have on the ground, the Minister of Interior Major General Abdo Hussein al-Tareb asked all employees of the ministry to avoid friction with Ansar Allah, and to cooperate with them to impose order and preserve public and government properties, which he said belonged to the whole people, deeming Ansar Allah “friends of the police” for the sake of the public interest of the homeland.

The agreement concluded on Sunday night puts an end to a month-long crisis, which had erupted after the Yemeni government decided to lift subsidies on fuel. Afterwards, thousands of Yemenis took to the streets in demonstrations organized by Ansar Allah in Sanaa, as the Houthis erected sit-in camps along the capital’s entrances, making a set of demands, including the resignation of the government, reversing the decision to end fuel subsidies, and implementing the National Dialogue recommendations. However, the Houthi protest movement escalated at the instructions of the group’s leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi. In recent weeks, the crisis reached boiling point more than once, before the militants finally raided the capital and took over government buildings.

The end of the role of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar

The role of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmed has come to an end. What has been a dream for a broad segment of the Yemenis became reality on Sunday, after the leader of the northwestern military region and the 1st Armored Division fled from his headquarters, when Ansar Allah prevailed in the military confrontations on Sunday.

A video recording posted by a social media activist showed a number of cars and military crews passing through a street in Sanaa at great speed, reportedly the convoy of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar after the Houthis took over his headquarters.

Ahmed (born on June 20, 1945), who joined the Yemeni army in 1961, was a strongman who served the Yemeni regime beginning with the tenure of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 1978, he thwarted a military coup staged by the Nasserist Party. He was the regime’s number one man in Yemen, and Saleh relied on him as the man of difficult missions, before he defected following the revolution of 2011.

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

This is not a failure of the Qatar-Turkey plan. It is just a new and more realistic agreement to allow Shias and Sunnis to share power in Yemen. Iran is in favor of a Moslem Brotherhood-Houthis reconciliation that somehow decreases Saudi Arabia's influence in Yemen and may bring peace.

What is surprising is that Saudi Arabia has agreed to relinquish control of its southern neighbor in favor of Iran and Qatar. It is quite possible that they have received assurances that there will be no attempt to create trouble in Saudi Arabia and promises by Iran to actively fight ISIS in the region..
If successful, is this plan going to be applied in Syria with a Alawite (Iran)-Sunni (Qatar) sharing of power ?

True...Iran has played a very beneficial role here....While Saudi foreign policy is in tatters as in they just throw the money to create mayhem without any parameters and consequences..Iran is using its greatly matured foreign policy that is not prevalent innArab Nations.
As said if this plan works ...peace is on the cards....
The Arab nations have to wake up and balance their approach and cooperate with Iran and solve the Issues in Muslim countries.
The West is just there for their own ends and as seen ..they justify everything with their rotten values....

May peace prevail...

Hussein
Tanzania

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