The dynamics of the Houthi-GPC alliance

We're very pleased to publish the first 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.

The intensifying conflict in Yemen has created a complex political situation with overlapping factors imposed by the nature and structure of the conflicting forces within Yemen. We believe that this political situation can only be understood by analyzing the contexts in which these events and reality were born, as well as the reasons behind them. This article presents a perspective on the political situation in Yemen and the role of the conflicting parties within Yemen, particularly in areas under the control of the Houthis.

The emergence of a political and military alliance in San’a:

The political alliance in San’a between the Houthi movement/Ansar Allah and supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh arose because of the convergence of these two groups’ interests. After the Houthis took control of San’a, members of the General People's Congress Party (GPC) suffered from marginalization and dismissal, especially in administrative, security and military positions, despite the facilities provided by Saleh to the Houthis to enable them to take over San’a. The exceptions to this marginalization were GPC members from Hashemite families who were supportive of the Houthi movement.

The sectarian and political dimensions of pre-2014 Yemen laid the groundwork for this alliance. Ali Saleh's goal was to eliminate the reality created by 2011’s “February Revolution,” a goal that could only be achieved by eradicating the Islah party, the most prominent of the revolution's actors and the owner of the largest popular base. For the Houthi movement, the elimination of the Islah Party meant not only the removal of a political and military rival, but also the means to remove the influence of the Wahhabi doctrine from Yemen, a goal of the movement since the 1990s. Therefore, the interests of Ali Saleh and the Houthis first met in the elimination of the Islah Party, which entailed the physical removal of its members, mass arrests, and looting of their homes and properties. Ansar Allah also took control of all private property associated with the party and its leadership, including commercial institutions, banks, hospitals, universities, and other companies. These properties were seized by Houthi leaders who appointed individuals with broad and absolute powers to either steal or nationalize their revenues. Following these behaviors, members of the Islah party were forced to flee the country or to hide in villages.

Despite their current collaboration, there is a sharp contrast between the two parties that form the San’a alliance. The GPC is a political creature, and like most succesful political parties it transcends sectarianism and regionalism and aims only to absorb as much of society as possible. In contrast, the Houthi movement represents a sectarian religious ideology, which divides the Yemeni society based on an ethnic basis that distinguishes Hashemites from the rest of the population. This system deprives the people of their political, cultural and individual rights. However, the roots of this alliance go beyond mere common interests and immediate goals of the two parties, and extend to the historical, regional and tribal dimensions. These interests revolve around keeping the power within the central authority in San’a and the Zaydi regions and in the hands of their elite figures and sheikhs who have always tightened their grip on the country's resources for the benefit of the few. This alliance is also an extension of the agreement forged between Republican revolutionaries (including Saleh) and the Hashemites following the September 26, 1962 revolution and the power division established thereafter.

Establishment of a Revolutionary Council in San’a:

The Houthi movement derives its nature and approach from the Iranian revolution, since the Houthi movement is Iran's instrument of expanding its influence in Yemen; it is, also, the product of intelligence work for decades. Thus, Ansar Allah started its coup with a “constitutional declaration” to establish a Supreme Revolutionary Committee that supervises and administers the popular and revolutionary committees throughout the country. The Revolutionary Council and its revolutionary committees were established, following the Iranian regime example, to tighten its grip on society and control key institutions that were paralyzed after high-ranking officials fled or stopped working in the midst of unrest after the capture of San’a. The Houthis also worked to attract and gain the leadership of the GPC in the first place, who had a prominent role in running the affairs of the Revolutionary Council and managing its work to gain a good relationship with the influential figures in the Houthi group.

Establishment of the Supreme Political Council:

Following their capture of the capital, the Houthi movement emerged as the only actor in the State. The dreamers among Ansar Allah’s youth thought they were working under a leadership that understood the dangers and conspiracies threatening Arabs and Muslims. Most of Ansar Allah's youth also believed that this movement was inspired by God, a realization of the prophecy expected by the Hashemites. The Houthi movement has instilled these beliefs in the minds of young people over the past years, even intellectuals, through books and secret tracts which cannot be seen except by trustworthy Hashemites.

Ansar Allah's youth initially argued that the corrupt members of the group are few, who got on the wave of Houthi movement and will be held accountable, but that accounting never came. The role of the GPC in the Houthi state became distinguished. There were also disagreements about the form of the partnership between Ansar Allah and the GPC. There were conflicts between prominent leaders affiliated with the GPC and the Houthi leadership, which resulted in the demotion of these GPC leaders.

Eventually the alliance created a formal structure for their partnership. They established a “Supreme Political Council” in August 2016, a move that was condemned by the United Nations and the international community. The Council’s formation was also widely criticized by Ansar Allah youth because it gave the GPC power; many Houthi movement supporters still viewed the GPC as an absolute evil that should be excluded, as it has been always the origin of corruption in the country and their first enemy represented by Saleh.

The failure of the Supreme Political Council:

The aim of the Supreme Political Council was to consolidate the partnership between the Houthi Group and the General People's Congress (GPC) in order to improve the efficiency of the state. However, the Houthi group was less mature, with no political wisdom. Rather than allow the Supreme Political Council to take over government functions, Ansar Allah kept their role in the government institutions through the Revolutionary Committees for fear that they would otherwise lose power to the GPC. As the Houthis continued to work through the Revolutionary Committees and the President of the Revolutionary Council, Muhammad al-Houthi, became increasingly involved in governance, the Revolutionary Council became a point of contention between the two parties. The Speaker of the House of Representatives (HoR) publicly criticized the practices of the Houthis and their mismanagement and repeated interventions through the Revolutionary Council. In addition to that, members of the HoR exposed the corruption of the Houthis and their exploitation of public funds.

The aspirations of members of the GPC fell as the Houthi group continued to lead the country's affairs through the Revolutionary Council and their Revolutionary Committees. It seemed that the political arena had been fully controlled by the Houthi movement. Some of the GPC figures continue to work with the Houthi movement and to benefit from the situation, provided that they are fully loyal to the movement.

The truth behind Ali Saleh’s position in the San'a alliance:

At first, Saleh's position on the Houthi movement was not clear. However, this has changed over time. In more than one speech, Saleh emphasized the depth of the partnership with the Houthis and that they are one front against “aggression.” Questions have been raised among the public: Is the San’a alliance real, or just a facade hiding behind it the total control of Ali Saleh? Some members of the GPC claim Saleh has total control of the party, and that this partnership allows him to purge some of the GPC’s other figures, and exploit the Houthi movement to pass some schemes.

Some believe that Ali Saleh is deliberately insulting the members of the GPC in retaliation for their stands when they abandon him previously, and thus he forces everyone to return GPC leadership to him and then set the preparation for the return of the former regime. On the other hand, a former youth of Ansar Allah, Ali al-Bukhiti, who abandoned the Houthi movement after entering San’a and joined the GPC, revealed that the GPC party had prepared lists of people who harmed the party and cooperated with the Houthis and that measures will be taken against them after the crisis has passed.

The coup and its consequences:

Basically, the coup led by the Houthi movement failed due to the rejection of most of the Yemeni society; besides that, the role of the Arab coalition cannot be disregarded. However, another reason may be the Houthis’ failure to form a fascist military regime led by a higher military council, as happened in Egypt. The main reason is that Ali Saleh did not allow the Houthis to take over the elements of the military loyal to him; and the Houthis do not have effective military leaders who could carry out the military coup without the support of the GPC’s military commanders. Thus, the Houthis were forced to recognize the decisions of the House of Representatives, which totally controlled by the GPC.

The arbitrary actions of the Houthi movement left a stark gap between the affiliates of the San’a alliance. Some GPC members demanded that their leadership eliminate the Houthis and retake power to restore the dignity of its members. And thus, mistrust and suspicion has widened between the two parties. Moreover, each party took a series of protective measures. On the part of the Houthi movement, the movement's leader issued resolutions establishing an emergency law and a nighttime curfew, and announced a campaign to eliminate the "fifth column." However, these decisions were rejected by the House of Representatives, which deepened the differences between the two sides. Each party has its own arena for staging public demonstrations, with their own different slogans. The Saba’in Street demonstrators—GPC supporters—took to the street against “aggression,” while the demonstrators on Airport Street—Houthi supporters—came out in support of the decisions of their leader, Abd al-Malik al-Houthi, related to the Emergency Law and the elimination of the “fifth column.” The term “fifth column” is vague, and it has been taken by different parties to mean different things; GPC members considered it a direct threat to eliminate their leaders, while the remnants of the youth of the Islah party considered it the green light to arrest them, and it was taken by media and public figures as a threat to any opponent of Houthis. It was, simply, the stone that enables the Houthis to hit all the troublesome birds.

Despite all the differences that beset this alliance, it shows a high degree of flexibility and ability to adapt and arrive at satisfactory settlements in the favor of the heavier side, which is that of the GPC.