January 26-February 2: Talks continue, Houthis issue new ultimatum

Editor's note: This week we welcome a new contributor to the YPP blog, Shuaib Almosawa. Shuaib is a freelance journalist based in San`a; his reporting is regularly featured in The New York Times, among other publications. Over the next few months he'll be providing our readers with weekly summaries of ongoing and emerging stories. You can also find him on Twitter at @shuaibalmosawa. Yemen’s political parties have for the past week been holding UN-brokered talks to fill a vacuum caused by Houthi forces’ January offensive, which led to the resignation of both the government and President Hadi. The Houthis, who stormed the capital in late September taking control of all government buildings, had objected to a constitutional draft that divides the country into six regions. On January 17 they kidnapped Ahmad Awadh bin Mubarak, President Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi’s office director. Two days later, Houthi Popular Committees clashed with Hadi’s Presidential Guards. The Houthis have since put Hadi and key ministers under house arrest.

The sudden takeover by the Houthis, as well as increasing demands by Hirak factions for southern secession, have necessitated another round of UN-brokered talks that include the Houthi leadership and other main political powers. Talks aim to agree on a presidential transitional council that will address the constitutional draft and prepare for elections.

Concerned over the Huthis’ tightening grip on power, the GCC countries, which sponsored the 2011 agreement that installed Hadi as president, have called the recent events a coup. The events have also led France’s embassy in Sana’a to close to the public this Monday; the US and UK embassies have also reduced their staff and services.

University students and youth activists have also staged rallies denouncing the Houthi coup. Protests have been met with violence, and arrests of activists and journalists by Houthi militiamen.

In his recent speech after Hadi’s resignation, the group’s leader, ‘Abd al-Malik al-Houthi, called for a peaceful transition of power, echoing a US White House official who commented on the Yemen situation. After speculation that recent events could bring the US drone campaign to a halt as America’s preferred ally is out, eastern regions of Yemen have over the past week seen three drone attacks against suspected al-Qaeda militants. There have been no public talks between American officials and Houthis.

Simultaneously with the UN-brokered talks, the Houthis held three massive meetings of supporters and allies in capital, the last of which ended on Sunday. It gave a three-day ultimatum for the political powers to come up with a solution. “Otherwise,” read the meeting’s final statement, “the Revolutionary Committees will take necessary actions.”