Fractures in the Houthi-GPC alliance

We're very pleased to publish the second of two guest posts on the tensions within the Houthi-GPC alliance. The author is an activist based in San'a, who writes anonymously for personal and professional reasons. The views of the author do not necessarily represent those of the YPP.

Yemen is in the midst of the third year of its civil war. Starvation and disease are rampant in the poorest country in the Middle East; there is still no light on the horizon. In seeking to understand this war, we cannot find satisfying and logical answers without first asking the right questions. Hence, this piece will be humbly dedicated for laying bare some personal thoughts, as an ordinary citizen in this perplexing war-torn country, and specifically in San’a. 

Undoubtedly, there are differences between the members of the ruling alliance in San’a, the General People's Congress (GPC) and the Houthi group, but these differences do not yet amount to the threat of a break-up.

Recently, the internal conflict has taken the form of a dispute over the senior positions of governmental institutions, and fundamental differences between the two parties in their vision of the way of running the State, as the GPC party sees the need to work within the constitutional framework they jointly formed—such as the House of Representatives and the Supreme  Political Council—while the Houthis insist on working through their previously-formed Revolutionary Committee, which has been in control since March 2015 according to the post-coup “constitutional declaration.”

Obviously, what was hidden underneath has begun to float to the surface. The conflict between the GPC and the Houthis over the state positions is producing increasing mistrust, especially from the GPC side, who have been concerned by the wild replacements of their members in positons of power with Houthi loyalists. Ordinary GPC members condemn this Houthi practice and consider it an insult to them, as they see themselves as veteran statesmen. Consequently, GPC figures started publicizing the Houthis’ misuse of power and corruption. Moreover, the two parties have begun holding separate public demonstrations in different parts of San’a: GPC supporters rally in al-Saba’in Square, while pro-Houthi crowds demonstrate on Airport Street (the street by which they entered San’a for the first time), which indicates the gap between the two parties at the level of supporters. In al-Saba’in Square demos, Houthi supporters are denied from putting up their flags, slogan, and leaders’ pictures.  

In response to this escalating conflict, Houthi leader Abd al-Malik al-Houthi, threatened in his recently aired speech to purge the state institutions of what he described as a “fifth column” who spread rumors to weaken the internal front. This threat has been taken by GPC’s affiliates as a direct threat to them, to the extent that oneGPC members filed a complaint against Abd al-Malik al-Houthi’s speech to the Attorney General, considering it a life-threatening violation of political norms. 

As the dispute deepens, the Houthis mobilize their supporters to demand the implementation of the directives that their leader mentioned in his speech, such as the imposition of the state of emergency and the confrontation of the “fifth column.” This is a well-known procedure adopted by the Houthis as a display of a popular mandate for carrying out their resolutions, with the goal of imposing further restrictions on people’s freedoms, consolidating control of the media, and arresting opposition activists and trying them in courts under Houthi control, as well as to use the state’s revenue and resources to fuel their war effort.

However, there is a believe that this dispute still has not gone so far as to threaten to break up the close alliance between the two parties, and it seems clear that they will come out with some sort of understanding, albeit with constant ups and downs.

Apparently, the Houthi movement is relatively more united and stable than the GPC. Conversely, the GPC suffers from deep clashes between its affiliates, either at the level of leadership or the members. There is a belief that former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is quietly purging from his party members whose loyalty to him is suspect. Considering the recent military and political developments, obviously, Saleh rearranges the political scene according to the trust given to his loyalists. Bearing in mind the possibility that some GPC leaders may renounce allegiance to the coup and join the pro-Hadi GPC faction’s ranks if they got tempting reconciliation, like Hadi’s current prime minister Ahmad Obeid bin Daghr who is working on luring the party’s leaders. Therefore, Saleh gives the green light for Houthis to deal with the untrusted GPC members. And this is another scenario to explain the recent changes that Houthis executed in the state institutions, and the recent assassinations of GPC members, if we consider Saleh the mastermind.

This leads us to the latest event in San’a, the appearance of the so-called “Ahrar San’a movement,” which posted fliers and videos in April raising the possibility of armed resistance to the Houthis inside San’a. The movement’s emergence in April raises questions. First of all, nearly nobody knows their identity. Who is Ahrar San’a? Why have they just recently announced themselves? What do they really want? Undoubtedly, they are not a product of the 2011 uprising for many reasons: in their first announcement, and video, they affirmed their loyalty and intentions to regain the 1962 revolution’s visions; they disregard the 2011 uprising; they did not mention Saleh as part of the coup alliance. Definitely, they are not AQAP, as AQAP has its own well-known methods and channels of communication.

In spite of the suspicious circumstances around Ahrar San’a, Houthis took series of defensive measures; they changed most of their “musharafin” or supervisors in charge of controlling various parts of the city, and replaced them with very humble people. Furthermore, they announced an evening curfew, followed by the announcement of the campaign against the “fifth column.”

Another point of view suggests that Ahrar San’a is a new tool of the GPC to prepare the ground for a new coup against Houthis.

The bottom line is, no matter who Ahrar San’a are, people will not stand behind an unknown group, unless they are trusted and respected by the communities. Unfortunately, the only exit that people foresee, for now, is the political solution, as a result of the absence of trusted national figures who would risk their positions to lead the country to a safe and fair path for the sake of the homeland and future generations.

To sum up, generally speaking, alliances like the one between the Houthis and the GPC involve many complicated dimensions: social, economic, and political, as well as regional, sectarian, and tribal concerns. Taking that into account, Houthi-Saleh alliance is more resilient and stronger than we think.