Ansar Allah consolidates power

Friday brought the culmination of Ansar Allah's slow-motion coup. Following last week's ultimatum in which 'Abd al-Malik al-Houthi essentially threatened to impose a solution if Yemen's other parties failed to hand him the throne, the Houthis have done just that. At a ceremony in San‘a, a spokesman for the Houthi movement read a "constitutional declaration" which outlined the governance structure of the Houth-controlled state. In short, Yemen's parliament has been dissolved. It will be replaced by a 551-member Transitional National Council, the members of which will be appointed by the "Revolutionary Committees" throughout Yemen. The National Council will then appoint a five-member presidential council, which will, it seems, serve as the formal head of state. The presidency will then form a transitional government. This situation will remain in place for a maximum of two years.You can read the official Arabic document here, and an unofficial English translation by Haykal Bafana here. According to the declaration, the work of the National Council, the Presidential Council, and the government is to be "guided" by the so-called Revolutionary Committees. This means that even thought the Houthi leadership and its allies are going to hand-pick the members of these new institutions, Ansar Allah--through its armed wing--will retain the power to veto any and all decisions by force. There's an interesting tension on display within Ansar Allah right now between the group's obvious determination to take control of the state, and 'Abd al-Malik al-Houthi's desperation to maintain a facade of legality and legitimacy in all that he does. All of his statements are full of patriotic rhetoric; he has praised Yemen's valiant military (too valiant to fight him) ad nauseam, and he repeatedly called upon Yemen's somewhat-legal authorities to come up with a solution to the crisis he brought about, rather than just seizing power outright. But President Hadi's resignation (probably deliberately) forced al-Houthi to clean up his own mess, and here at last is his decisive act. Even now though, 'Abd al-Malik will not install himself in the seat of power. As much as he loves to deliver speeches, he didn't even issue his own pronouncement today. Instead, taking a page from Hadi's playbook, he had a respected newsreader do it for him. Unsure what the response to his power grab will be (and perhaps afraid to leave his mountain fastness in Sa‘dah), he will lurk behind three layers of ostensibly "constitutional" transitional authorities, at least for now.

The next phase of the Houthi soap opera will focus on two questions: how Yemen's neighbors and "friends" will react, and how much longer the alliance of convenience between al-Houthi, 'Ali Saleh's GPC, and the northern tribes will last.