Embassy closures shake Houthis' confidence

On Tuesday afternoon, the US State Department announced that its embassy in San‘a had closed, and that all embassy staff had been evacuated from Yemen. The United Kingdom's mission and several other European embassies quickly followed suit. Official statements cited the "security situation" in San‘a as the primary reason for the closures. On Twitter, UK Ambassador Jane Marriott took the leader of the Houthi movement personally to task for security problems, recalling that Ansar Allah had promised to protect foreign missions after its takeover of much of the capital in September. 

It seems another reason for the closures of many of the so-called G10 states' embassies is that foreign diplomats no longer believe they have a trustworthy counterpart in Yemen's government. Yemen's Ministry of Foreign Affairs appears to be firmly under Houthi control. In another tweet, Ambassador Marriott bristled at the behavior of a Ministry official during a meeting this week.

According to sources cited by The New York Times, Houthi fighters confiscated the vehicles and weapons of US embassy staff at the airport, and there have been reports of looting at the embassy.* But the same Times article indicates that Ansar Allah officials were caught off-guard by the severe diplomatic backlash their coup has inspired:

A senior member of the Houthi political bureau, speaking on the condition of anonymity as a matter of policy, expressed regret about the American move. “We didn’t want them to go, and we were ready to work with the American Embassy on measures that would ensure their protection and facilitate their work.”

At this point, the Houthis may be falling victim to their own success. When President Hadi and his government resigned following the armed seizure of the Republican Palace and presidential residence, Ansar Allah was left to clean up the mess. Now, facing opprobrium from other Yemeni factions and the international community, they will likely have to soften their stance if they want to cobble together a credible--or even minimally functional--state. Meanwhile, the group is using the parts of the state it already controls--including Yemen's official press agency, SABA--to simulate legitimacy. After the EU's Foreign Affairs Council issued a stern rebuke of the Houthi coup, SABA published a heavily edited version of the EU statement, removing all mentions of Ansar Allah and its responsibility for the current crisis.

[UPDATE: For the record, the US Marine Corps says that no weapons were taken from embassy Marine Security Force. Rather, all large weapons were destroyed ahead of time, and all rifles and pistols were individually smashed with hammers at the airport prior to the Force's departure.]