Reporting from Sana’a, journalist Yousef Mawry says that the recent tumultuous events in Yemen are a victory for the Shia Zaidi Houthis and a defeat for the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. But if the Houthis don’t form an inclusive national government the country could become the next Iraq or Syria, with Al Qaeda waiting in the wings.
There is no doubt that the Houthis, who adhere to a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism and who make up one-third of the population, are the new power in Yemen politically and militarily.
In recent months they have also managed to gain mass public support with their slogans of ending government corruption and restoring the dignity of the Yemeni people.
However, there are many experts who believe that their recent takeover of Sana’a was supported by the previous ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh. In fact, not a lot of people can reject this notion because thousands of Saleh supporters took to the streets with Houthis in their anti-government rallies in the heart of the capital.
Both Ali Saleh and the Houthis share a vested interest in removing the Muslim Brotherhood branch in Yemen (the Islah party) from power, as well as their key army figure – General Ali Muhsun al-Ahmar, whose military base is now under the control of the Houthis.
It is clear that the Islah party has suffered a severe blow politically and militarily, and most of the tribes loyal to Islah were defeated by the Houthis in the north of the country. In addition, their armed forces have been completely dismantled after a four day battle in Sana’a with the Houthis.
Ali Muhsun has flown out of the country and the Islah party have lost all political momentum. They had no other choice but to agree to the Houthis’ demands and accept the fact that the Houthis have beaten them across the board.
The situation now is that the Houthis are indeed running security in Sana’a and other northern provinces. Many Yemenis don’t have a problem with this, however there are also many who want the Houthis to immediately withdraw from Sana’a and end their month long sit-ins the capital.
In his televised speech on Tuesday, the Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi called for a national partnership and extended his hand to all political factions in the country to take part in building a new Yemen free of government corruption.
This is an indication that the Houthi leader knows that there are those who will want to label this a “Shia takeover” which I don’t think is the case; however, if people hold this perception it could cause problems.
International pressure has also begun to mount on the Houthis with the U.S. Secretary of State calling on the Houthis to withdraw forces from Sana’a and hand over all the heavy weapons which they captured in their latest victory to the army forces of Ali Muhsun al-Ahmar. But the Houthis say their sit-ins will continue until a new government is formed which means they will remain in Sana’a for another month.
The biggest problem the Houthis face now is from Al-Qaeda who are powerful in the south of the country. According to the UN-backed agreement signed between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, the new government will make the fight against Al-Qaeda its main priority.
But what people don’t realize is that Al-Qaeda will actually become more powerful if the situation in Yemen somehow turns into a conflict between the Houthis and Sunnis. This is why the new Yemeni government must be established upon a true national partnership to avoid a sectarian conflict like what happened in Iraq.
That said, it’s a real possibility that the situation in Yemen could take a turn for the worse and become a similar situation to that of Syria and Iraq. Nothing will motivate Al-Qaeda more then to fight a Houthi-backed government.
So Yemen could soon witness foreign militants making their way to Yemen to fight the new government. And perhaps this is what Western powers are yearning for.