Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi resigned yesterday, throwing the country deeper into chaos days after Houthi rebels battled their way into his presidential palace.
Hadi stood down abruptly shortly after prime minister Khaled Baha had offered his government’s resignation, saying it did not want to be dragged into “an unconstructive political maze”.
Houthi tribesmen yesterday continued to occupy the presidential palace and surround Hadi’s private residence.
The president’s decision marked an abrupt turnaround after he had agreed on a power-sharing deal acceptable to the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God).
Houthi politburo member Mohamed al-Bukhaiti had said the fighters would withdraw if the government carried out step-by-step implementation of the deal, signed last September after the Houthis routed the army and seized control of the capital Sanaa.
The draft constitution was to be amended to incorporate Houthi demands for full partnership in government and the creation of a federal state without, for the present, defined regions. State institutions, schools and universities were set to reopen, and air and sea ports in the southern city of Aden have resumed work, following a day of suspension.
Fearing the overthrow of Hadi, an ally in the "war on terror", Washington positioned two vessels to evacuate the embassy and US citizens. Riyadh called an emergency foreign ministers meeting of the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) comprising Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait.
‘Coup against legitimacy’
The GCC condemned the Houthi takeover in Sanaa as a “coup against legitimacy” and “terrorist”. The GCC vowed to “take all necessary measures to protect Yemen’s security and stability”. The ministers said if the Houthis met these demands, a GCC envoy would be sent to Sanaa to discuss the power-sharing deal.
Yemen could become a failed state and split into at least three warring areas: the north, including Sanaa, ruled by the Houthis; enclaves along the Red Sea coast where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) is strong; and areas in the south, where secular leftists have long advocated secession from the republic, formed by the 1990 union of the Yemen Arab Republic and South Yemen.
The rebels denied they had carried out a coup against Hadi, who has US, GCC and UN Security Council support, although their leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, has accused Hadi of ignoring popular demands for reform.
Over the past decade, the Houthis, who adhere to the Zaidi branch of Shiism, have staged revolts with the aim of winning autonomy for the northern Saada province. They stepped up their campaign last summer, defeating the army, militias affiliated with the Sunni fundamentalist party, Islah, and Aqap.
The latter could benefit from the Houthi takeover by securing Sunni recruits and the backing of Sunni tribesmen in the battle against the Houthis.
The rise of the Houthis, said to be backed by Shia Iran, is a nightmare for neighbouring Sunni Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly intervened politically and militarily in Yemen over the past 60 years. In Yemen, the Sunni Saudis also face Aqap, which seeks to overthrow the monarchy, and a growing presence of Islamic State (IS) elements vowing to strike at US interests and allies.
Riyadh considers the Houthis a far more serious threat than Aqap or IS due to the tribesmen’s alleged connections with Iran.
Riyadh has felt itself under siege by Iran and has accused Tehran of seeking regional hegemony since the 2003 establishment by the US of a pro-Iranian Shia fundamentalist regime in Shia-majority
. Saudi fears were strengthened by the 2011 uprising in Bahrain by the Shia majority against the Sunni ruling family.
The Saudis responded by sending troops into Bahrain, launching a proxy war in Syria, and by interfering in Lebanese politics to weaken the Shia Hizbullah movement, supported by Iran and Syria.
These moves have sharpened Sunni-Shia divisions and led to the steep rise of sectarianism across the region.