August 25–31: Fighting rages on in Hudaydah, Ta‘iz, Marib, and Shabwah

As another month of war comes to a close, a peaceful resolution to Yemen’s conflict is no closer. UN-backed talks in the Omani capital, Muscat, seem to be doomed to failure; a Scud missile, reportedly fired from Yemen’s capital towards the Saudi city of Jaizan, was seen as a sign of determination and a message of defiance from the Houth-Saleh alliance; a fresh battle is taking shape in al-Hudaydah; Houthis and their allies have regained more positions in Taʻiz; troops from the Saudi-led coalition, deployed recently in Marib, have already advanced on Shabwah and will return to the neighboring governorates of Marib and al-Jawf ahead of the expected Sanʻa battle, while a brigade involving at least 5000 troops from the Southern Popular Resistance in Aden city has been formed to take charge of the city’s security. At least eight cities have been hit by the airstrikes over the past week, where scores of civilians have reportedly been killed, while Houthi-Saleh units continued to intensify their cross-border attacks on Saudi army installations. The UN special envoy, currently based in Muscat, has been pushing for a political settlement since early last week, but the exiled government in Riyadh is sticking to its previous demand that the Houthis withdraw from occupied cities and hand over their arms prior to any further negotiations. The Houthis, however, warned they would carry out “a disastrous response” if the Muscat talks failed. On Wednesday, a Scud missile was fired from Sanʻa, targeting a power plant in the Saudi city of Jaizan.

In the western coastal governorate of al-Hudaydah, clashes erupted in the southern town of al-Durayhimi between tribal fighters from the Zaraniq tribe and Houthis as they were trying to send reinforcement to Taʻiz. Houthi forces seem poised to take control of the road to Taʻiz, where they have also retaken some western districts.

In the southeastern province of Shabwah, Apache helicopters were seen supporting the Saudi-led coalition forces that advanced to liberate the area late on Friday. Dozens of Houthis were reportedly killed. But in the neighboring governorate of Marib, fighting escalated over the weekend, with the Houthis gaining ground after reportedly using rockets and missiles in the battle.


July 20–August 2: Another ceasefire fails

With intensified airstrikes, which have killed scores of civilians, along with relentless fighting over the southern port city of Aden, the situation in Yemen has escalated over the past two weeks in the face of continuing international calls for a ceasefire. On July 25, Saudi Arabia announced a unilateral humanitarian pause, scheduled to go into effect the following day, which Yemenis and international observers hoped would provide an opportunity for badly-needed aid to enter the country. This pause, however, was quickly broken by both Saudi-led airstrikes and ground combat, just two hours after it went into effect. Each side blamed the other for violating the respite, echoing the scenario seen on the first day of a previous humanitarian pause. Pro-Houthi/Saleh forces continued their attacks in Aden city, where they shelled the international airport and neighborhoods recently captured by the resistance. Likewise, Coalition airstrikes continued to pound the bases of those forces in Aden and elsewhere.

Just before announcing the planned ceasefire, Saudi planes bombed civilian residences in the Red Sea coast city of Mokha, killing at least 65 people in an attack that Human Rights Watch has called “an apparent war crime.”

In an attempt to “entirely liberate” Aden and advance into other cities, at least 3000 Coalition-trained Yemeni fighters have reportedly been deployed in Aden—one day after Vice President/PM Khaled Bahah briefly visited the city with six other ministers from the Hadi government in exile. The trip was seen as the first step toward restoring the government’s provisional capital. On the same day, President Hadi issued a decree appointing three new advisors. Hadi has also recently announced plans to unite all local resistance groups into the “national army,” a plan that will likely face resistance.

The leader of the Houthi Movement, ‘Abd al-Malik al-Houthi, made a televised speech on August 2, trying to justify his loss of Aden while continuing to defy the Saudi-led coalition.

Although Aden has been the epicenter of Yemen’s civil conflict, other areas including Lahj, Abyan, al-Baydha, Taʻiz and Marib have seen violent clashes between the pro-Houth/Saleh forces and the resistance fighters over the past week.

Missile attacks across the Saudi border have also continued. Pro-Houthi/Saleh units have recently fired tens of missiles at Najran and Jaizan cities, part of what they have described as “the strategic options.” A number of Saudi soldiers were reportedly killed and captured.

In the capital, Sanʻa, the self-proclaimed local chapter of the Islamic State (IS) has, for the first time, attacked a mosque frequented by members of the Isma’ili sect, commonly known as Bohrah, who are seen by some as supportive of Houthis. At least 10 people were killed and wounded.

July 14–20: Resistance consolidates gains in Aden

Editor's note: I'm filling in for Mohammed Ali Kalfood on this week's press review. Mohammed will return next week. Since launching a major counteroffensive against pro-Houthi/Saleh forces last week, resistance forces in Aden have swept down from the city's northern areas into the districts of Sirah/Crater, al-Ma'ala, and al-Tawahi. As of Monday evening, local sources report that the resistance has control of al-Tawahi--the last district held by Houthi/Saleh forces--and is conducting house-to-house searches for remaining enemy fighters. 

In retaliation for the loss of Aden, Houthi/Saleh forces outside the city limits have been shelling the neighborhood of Dar Sa'd since Sunday. According to Medicins Sans Frontieres, at least 100 people--mostly civilians, including women and children--have died in the bombardment, with hundreds more injured.

The transportation minister of Yemen's government in exile told press on Monday that a technical team from the UAE had arrived in Aden to repair the city's international airport. Right now San'a has the only functioning airport in the country, making it impossible for aid groups to bring supplies into the south by air.

On Thursday, a group of ministers from the exiled government of President Hadi arrived in Aden, escorted by Saudi security forces. The ministers reportedly met with resistance leaders. Following those meetings, President Hadi announced the appointment of Aden's new governor, former deputy governor Nayef al-Bakri, who recently has served as the head of a body representing several resistance groups.

On Sunday, a Saudi airstrike killed 24 civilians in Ibb, and set off secondary explosions that wounded many more.

The UN's refugee agency reported last week that more than 10,000 refugees have arrived in Yemen from east Africa since March. Smugglers are apparently telling refugees that the war in Yemen is over in order to profit from their transport. According to UNHCR, the total number of Yemenis displaced inside the country or seeking refuge abroad is now 1,267,590.

July 7-15: Ceasefire fails, resistance gains ground in Aden

Despite the “humanitarian pause” announced last week by UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Saudi-led airstrikes and ground combat continued in several parts of Yemen last week. Pro-Houthi/Saleh units continued to carry out cross-border attacks on Saudi military bases. UN officials and international aid organizations reported that 21.1 million people urgently need humanitarian relief. On Thursday, the UN envoy to Yemen stated that parties had agreed on a weeklong humanitarian pause, which would come into effect on Friday at midnight. But Saudi Arabia and its allies continued their aerial attacks, claiming that they had not received instructions to stop from the Hadi government, directly contradicting the UN envoy’s statement.

At least 10 cities across the country have been hit over the past week by airstrikes targeting pro-Houthi/Saleh bases in densely populated areas. Over 20 people were killed in Sanʻa in the first two days of the unobserved truce.

Grain mills and water tanks in Aden were pounded by airstrikes, while Houthi/Saleh fighters continued to shell Aden’s oil refinery and the adjacent port. The outpatient clinics of the military hospital in Sanʻa and the Haradh Public Hospital in Hajjah were both knocked out. The national cement factory was struck in Amran. The Health Ministry in Sanʻa reported that “medical services have totally stopped in 11 provinces.”

Meanwhile, fighting on the ground between Houthi/Saleh forces and local resistance groups raged on in Aden, Lahj, al-Dhaliʻ, Taʻiz, Marib, and al-Jawf.

Saudi planes also continued to provide air cover for resistance fighters in those six areas, despite an allegedly botched airstrike on a military base in Hadramout, which killed over 50 soldiers believed to be loyal to Hadi. Resistance fighters in Aden regained control of several areas on Tuesday, including the international airport. This victory has served as a morale boost for the wider resistance. President Hadi’s representatives announced that the exiled president was personally overseeing the Aden counteroffensive, dubbed Operation Golden Arrow. Disputing more credible accounts, the Houthi-controlled state press agency reported on Wednesday that Houthi/Saleh forces had defeated the resistance and were in control of al-Mansurah district.

On the Yemen-Saudi borders, Houthi/Saleh units have continued to launch missile attacks on military bases outside Najran and Jaizan cities. On several occasions, these units have also made forays across the borders to these Saudi bases.

June 30–July 6: UN envoy pushes for humanitarian pause, civilian toll rises

Following last month’s failed peace talks in Geneva, the past week started with renewed efforts by UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to achieve a humanitarian pause during the holy month of Ramadan. Last week the envoy met with the exiled government in the Saudi capital Riyadh, where a seven-point proposal was tendered; on Sunday Ahmed arrived in Sanʻa to discuss the proposal with Houthi and GPC leaders. But a Scud missile, which was fired late on Tuesday night at a Saudi airbase outside Riyadh, added new tension to the process of the political negations. Saudi forces have traded missile attacks across the border with Houthi-Saleh units, which have also carried out hit-and-run assaults on Saudi military sites outside Jaizan and Najran cities near the boundary. The Houthi leadership reportedly refused the exiled government’s first cease-fire proposal, which called for the deployment of regional observers.

Toward the end of the week, the UN—along with both US State Department and EU officials—attempted to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to reach a deal. But Saudi airstrikes intensified in several cities, where dozens of civilians have been killed, a move that was seen as a Saudi response to the UN-backed efforts. The capital Sanʻa has since been hit by heavier bombardment, after a lull of nearly five days. On Monday, a Saudi airstrike reportedly hit a public market in Lahj, just north of Aden, killing 45 civilians and injuring dozens more.

Over the weekend, Houthi delegates in the Omani capital, Muscat, met with the UN envoy; “a humanitarian pause was discussed,” according to press accounts. On Sunday, the Houthi supporters in Sanʻa staged a mass rally, condemning “the Saudi aggression and the UN’s careless position on the humanitarian situation,” hours after Special Envoy Ahmed arrived at the city’s international airport.

While the Houthis mull over forming a new government or a presidential council, Saleh’s GPC party and the Yemeni Socialist Party have both refused such a move.

June 23-29: No progress toward peace; Aden refinery destroyed

The Saudi-led aerial offensive and the civil conflict on the ground continue into a fourth month now. Over 2800 Yemenis have been killed and thousands of others injured, while over one million have been internally displaced.  Saudi Arabia’s stated goals haven’t yet been achieved: the pro-Houthi/Saleh forces keep on advancing, while President Hadi and his government are still in exile. The humanitarian situation has become more dire than ever: 8.6 million Yemenis need urgent medical help; 21.1 million need some form of humanitarian assistance, while half of Yemen’s population is food insecure.

Moreover, the health system has been virtually paralyzed, and Dengue fever on—top of Malaria—has rapidly spread, particularly in the coastal areas. In addition to a score of dengue fever cases registered in the port city of Mukalla in Hadramout province, 85 cases have been registered in the historical town of Hajarayn alone over the past week.

Last Monday, after the collapse of the Geneva talks, the Houthi-Saleh delegation headed to Oman, where they reportedly held talks with Southern Movement leaders. Flying back to Sanʻa Friday, the airplane carrying the delegates was prevented from landing in the Sana’a International Airport. After finally landing on Saturday, a delegate stated that the Houthis are mulling over the prospect of forming a partnership government, and that they have no plans to attend additional peace talks.

The Saudi-led airstrikes have been hitting several cities since the beginning of Ramadan, mainly where ground fighting is taking place, in Marib, al-Jawf, Aden, Taʻiz, Lahj, al-Baydha, and Shabwah. Other cities, including Hajjah, al-Hudaydah, and Raima were also hit by airstrikes over the past weeks.

Two historical sites in both Raima and Hajjah were struck, bringing to 25 the number of such sites that have been targeted by Saudi warplanes. In the southern city of Aden, Houthi fighters shelled the only oil refinery, destroying much of the city’s fuel reserves and releasing a massive cloud of oil smoke over residential areas.

Continuing their cross-border missile attacks, the pro-Houthi/Saleh fighters have targeted military sites near Jaizan city. Three Saudi soldiers along with an Emirati were reportedly killed.


June 3-8: IDP count passes 1 million; Houthi missiles target KSA; Geneva talks confirmed

It’s been nearly two months and a half (74 days as of Monday, June 8) since the Saudi-led aerial offensive was launched to achieve the stated goals: the Houthis’ advancement has not yet been halted, nor has been restored to power the exiled government in Riyadh. Over the past week, both pro-Houthi fighters and pro-Saleh forces intensified their cross-border attacks, while the Saudi airstrikes continued to pound their bases and target their leading members in several cities, including the capital, Sanʻa.

On Friday, the Republican Guards, loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, failed to advance on the Saudi city of Jaizan, as Houthi fighters continued to attack the neighboring areas. On Saturday, pro-Houthi fighters fired a Scud missile targeting the Khamis Mushait airbase inside Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi Air Defense Forces intercepted the missile. Using such a ballistic missile in the battle, the Houthi spokesperson said, is like a “quantum leap” and a “warning message.”

As June 14 was finally set for the Geneva talks, the aerial and cross-border attacks intensified, and both sides have reinforced their positions. Such escalation of fighting is likely to undermine the UN-backed efforts, although the political parties, including the Houthis, have agreed to participate in the upcoming Geneva talks without preconditions. Meanwhile, Houthi delegates flew to the Russian capital, Moscow, for meetings with Kremlin officials, which follow their weeks-long talks with American and Iranian officials in the Omani capital, Muscat.

On the ground, combat continues to flare up largely in Aden, Taʻiz, Marib and al-Dhaliʻ cities as Saudi airstrikes serve as air cover for the so-called “popular resistance.”

As of May 31, over 2200 Yemenis had been killed across the country, half of them civilians, and 10,000 injured, while nearly 10,000 others have fled to Djibouti as refuges. The number of the IDPs has amounted to more than one million people; most of them are forced to live in public spaces and unhealthy conditions.

You can help us help Yemen today!

Dear friends, For more than five years, the YPP has worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of the Yemeni people and promote peaceful, constructive policies and cultural exchange. During the current crisis—the worst in Yemen’s recent history—our work is absolutely critical. We need your support, and we need it today.

In the past year we’ve accomplished a great deal with very limited resources. We hosted the first-ever International Yemeni Film & Arts Festival, with film screenings and photography exhibitions in seven cities around the world. Our next festival is scheduled for the spring of 2016. We also launched our Advocacy Program, which provides a vehicle for Yemenis to communicate their needs and interests to policy makers in the US and the international community. Most recently, we’ve responded to the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen by launching a new webpage that connects donors with the most effective international relief organizations working in Yemen.

Our Mafraj Radio podcast—the only podcast in the world devoted to Yemen—is now in its third season, bringing in-depth coverage of Yemen’s political, social, and cultural issues to thousands of listeners around the globe each month. This year we’ve added two respected Yemeni journalists to our Research & Analysis team, helping us maintain our reputation as a leading source of information and commentary on Yemen’s affairs and US policy toward Yemen.

With your tax-deductible contribution, we can continue to provide accurate and in-depth information about the current situation in Yemen, facilitate communication between Yemenis and non-Yemenis, and create new opportunities for Yemenis to make their voices heard.

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Mafraj Radio #17: Yemen's civil war goes international

On this episode we discuss Yemen's escalating civil war between forces aligned with the Houthi movement and former president 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh on one side, and Yemen's recently-ousted president 'Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi and other regional factions on the other. On March 25, a coalition of foreign governments led by Saudi Arabia joined the war, launching hundreds of airstrikes against pro-Houthi and pro-Saleh forces. Hundreds of Yemenis have been killed so far, most of them civilians.

Important readings on the current conflict

Coverage of the war in Yemen has, as always, been spotty. Here are some of the more important pieces on the current situation: Yemen specialist Adam Baron spoke to NPR's Morning Edition today about why foreign observers shouldn't view Yemen's conflict as primarily sectarian, and the many dangers of escalating and regionalizing the conflict.

Adam Baron is also featured on this excellent ECFR panel discussion of the Yemeni conflict, along with Nawal al-Maghafi and Mina al-Oraibi. Nawal's account of sneaking into Sa‘dah in 2010 to report on the Houthi movement is particularly gripping.

On Monday, Morning Edition featured a segment on Saudi-led airstrikes, with guests Hisham al-Omeisy and Hussain al-Bukhaiti.

Abubakr al-Shamahi of Al-Araby has a rather useful video explaining the Yemeni conflict in four minutes.

Medicins Sans Frontieres reports that it's dealing with hundreds of victims of fighting in Aden, Lahj, and al-Dhali‘, as well as casualties from airstrikes in northern Yemen. MSF says it cannot bring in desperately-needed supplies and personnel because the Saudi-led coalition is blocking humanitarian shipments from Yemen's air and seaports.

ICRC has also complained about the blockade on relief supplies.

UNICEF reports that at least 62 children have been killed in recent fighting. More than two dozen civilians were killed when coalition forces bombed an IDP camp in Sa‘dah on Monday. On Tuesday, coalition strikes destroyed a dairy factory in al-Hudaydah, killing at least 37 civilians. Fighting continued Tuesday in the northern parts of the city of Aden.

March 24-31: Decisive Storm continues, as does Houthi expansion

The Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign, labeled Operation Decisive Storm, has divided the local media since it was launched last week. Besides, fresh news websites have emerged while some of those which had previously suspended operations have resurfaced. The campaign, ostensibly intended to halting the Houthi movement’s expansion across the country, started two days after UN envoy Jamal Benomar cancelled the political talks between the Houthis and their opponents, which had only just resumed in the capital, Sanʻa.

While such a campaign seems to have ended any possibility of political negations, the Saudi King called on the Houthis to participate in talks proposed to be held in Riyadh – a proposal that was rejected by the Houthis along with four other political parties earlier last month.

President Hadi’s newly appointed Foreign Minister, Riyadh Yasin (who, like Hadi, is currently in Saudi Arabia), said that the political process is dependent on the Saudi-led campaign.

In the days since the campaign was launched, Ansar Allah has not yet responded militarily toward Saudi Arabia as local observers expected. However, the group's leader gave a speech threatening Saudi Arabia with strong response if it continues the airstrikes.

Meanwhile, pro-Houthi and pro-Saleh forces advanced on southern areas in Aden, Abyan and Shabwah. Fierce clashes ensued and hundreds were reportedly killed and wounded.

While the airstrikes continue to hit pro-Houthi/Saleh military bases in different parts of Yemen, civilians have been killed and wounded. On the first day of this campaign, when the Sanʻa airport and al-Dailami airbase were bombed, 27 people were reportedly killed including 15 children. All schools in Sanʻa have been closed, while students of Sanʻa University were called in to continue.

Pakistan’s prime minister was quick to join the Saudi-led coalition and pledged to send ground troops, but later backpedaled under pressure from the public and government officials. A high-level Pakistani delegation is currently in Riyadh, and the government has promised not to commit forces to Decisive Storm before the issue is discussed at an all-party conference. Pakistan and other countries, including China, have acted to evacuate their citizens from Yemen, while the Indian premier asked Saudi Arabia to help his country evacuate Indian nationals. Sudan is currently reviewing how to evacuate its nationals, and its president confirmed he may ground troops to Yemen.

Rival Islamists hold political process hostage

Today we're pleased to present a guest post by Yemeni journalist Mohammed Ali Kalfood. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Yemen Peace Project. With the Shiite Houthi movement--apparently allied with former president ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh--taking over the north of Yemen, where Sunni hard-liners are dominant, and a “legitimate” interim president in the south, where al-Qaeda's local offshoot has a strong presence, the UN-led political process in Yemen seems to have been thrown into a long-term “Islamist” rivalry that threatens the stability and security of this most impoverished Arab country.

It’s been more than three years since the process of the peaceful transition of power started in Yemen, one year after the popular uprising burst forth against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for 33 years.

The transition period has been characterized by fierce rivalries over power and territory, which have culminated in a total breakdown of law and order across Yemen, and the collapse of certain parties and factions that previously wielded significant power. Back in 2012, the Islah party—Yemen’s largest opposition party, which includes the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood—and the General Peoples’ Congress (GPC) party, chaired by Saleh, signed the GCC Initiative in Riyadh, a negotiated settlement backed by the Gulf states and the United States, which saw Saleh step down, handing the reins of government to his vice president, 'Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi, in an interim capacity.

President Hadi, in turn, oversaw the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), an assembly of 565 delegates representing political factions and social groups, in an attempt to formulate a federal system of government and constitution.

But since then, Hadi has continued to face dramatic challenges at the political, economic and security levels. Although the NDC was regionally and internationally cited as a “model,” the post-Saleh period saw sectarian conflict, military assassinations, abduction of foreigners, and acts of sabotage increase in several parts of Yemen.

Moreover, al-Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen –known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – has carried out the deadliest attacks ever since the group began in 2009 and stationed itself in the south of the country. In fact, it had virtually taken control of the southern Abyan province by March 2011, only a month after the popular uprising got under way.

The rise of the Shiite Houthis as new powerbrokers dominating the north and apparently siding with Saleh, is also believed to be another factor that intensified rivalry with the Sunni al-Qaeda in the south. A recently-passed UN resolution intended to punish Saleh and his Houthi allies.

The Houthis, based in their stronghold in the northern province of Saʻdah, started fighting with Sunni hard-liners in the town of Dammaj early in 2013, as the NDC sessions kicked off in March. Then the Houthis advanced through Amran Province and Arhab District before capturing the capital, Sanʻa, in September of 2014. In November they steered towards Radaʻ in central al-Baydha province to fight al-Qaeda there.

As early as 2010, Sunni al-Qaeda publicly vowed to fight the Shiite Houthis, which it regards as heretics. The Houthis are also viewed as Iranian proxies. Al-Qaeda suicide attacks against the Houthis, however, increased dramatically especially in Rada', where more than a dozen attacks had been reported. The Houthi leader, though, has reiterated in his recent speeches that his group will continue to fight al-Qaeda until “it is crushed or driven out.”

Since 2012, the Islah party’s tribal armed men had battled the Houthis in all fronts when the latter advanced from Saʻdah reaching Amran to Hajjah, Sanʻa, Dhamar and Ibb in the mountainous midlands. Al-Jawf province, east Yemen, has also seen fierce clashes. Now the next bout is brewing in the oil-rich Marib province.

Such rivalry between the Shiite Houthis and the Sunni hard-liners, on one hand, is based on a sectarian ground and, on the other hand, there is a political aspect to it. Islah has lost much of its political power, largely at the hands of the Houthis, and is believed to be supporting the violent groups directly and indirectly to reshuffle cards.

The Islah party reportedly used fighters from al-Qaeda in its battles against the Houthis during the last year. While there had been no statements denying such reports, a Twitter account associated with AQAP announced in mid-December that two leading members, 'Ali al-Haniq and Abu Waleed al-San‘ani, were killed fighting alongside the Islah party’s tribesmen in Arhab district, some 35 km to the north of the capital.

The GCC Initiative was snuffed out by the UN-brokered Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA) on September 21, 2014--the day the Houthi group took control of the capital. Back then, the Houthis imposed themselves as a new powerbroker, and their feud with the Islah party and its figures was intensified. The Houthis started to strengthen their presence politically, and eliminated Islah’s positions in the state institutions, which they believe the party had “encroached” on since 2012.

Since September 2014, interim president Hadi faced immense pressure by this new rising power. After a four-month stand-off, Hadi tendered his letter of resignation. Following Hadi’s resignation, the Houthis dissolved the parliament as they announced a constitutional declaration, intending to form a two-year transitional council to preside over the country.

Meanwhile, Hadi was held under house arrest for several weeks before he fled to the southern port city of Aden and established himself there as the “legitimate” president. However, the Houthis continue to rule by force as they have staged crackdowns and abducted several members of Islah party.

Backed by the GCC states, Hadi designated Riyadh as a “safe” venue to relocate the political negotiations; meanwhile the stalled talks between the Houthis, Saleh’s party, and their opponents--led by UN special envoy Jamal Benomar--have recently resumed in Sanʻa. The envoy tried to talk the involved actors into relocating the talks outside of the capital, but the Houthis and GPC parties along with four other political parties refused this proposal.

Despite the GCC and PNPA deals as well as the NDC outcomes, several local observers believe that ongoing political talks will not succeed outside of the country since it’s been over three years now and the involved parties in the capital have not yet come to real peaceful and power-sharing terms.

Feb. 24-March 2: Parties wrangle over location of talks

Editor's note: this week's press review was written by freelance journalist Mohammed Ali Kalfood, filling in for Shuaib Almosawa. Last week’s news coverage spotlighted the issue of relocating the UN-led political talks outside of Yemen’s capital, which has sharply divided the parties involved.

Backed by GCC states, President ‘Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi—who fled house arrest in Sanʻa and established himself in the southern port city of Aden last weekhas called for moving negotiations to a “safe place.” The UN special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, has since been trying to talk the involved political parties, including the Houthis, into relocating the sessions.

The Houthi group and the General People’s Congress party (GPC), along with four other political parties, reportedly refused the proposal of relocating the talks outside of Sanʻa. The Islah Party, on the other hand, welcomed this proposal. It was not clear to where exactly the sessions would be relocated, but Aden, Taʻiz, and three other Arab countries were reportedly the possible destinations.

Since arriving in Aden, President Hadi has received representatives of several states that closed their embassies in Sanʻa last month. US Ambassador Matthew Tueller met with Hadi on Monday. In statements to press following the meeting, Ambassador Tueller reiterated Washington's position that Hadi remains the legitimate president of the republic, and that the GCC Initiative and National Dialogue outcomes must still be implemented.

While the political process has been stalled, the Houthis—who took over power in Sanʻa in January—Continued to take action against their local rivals. The Houthi group was accused of staging crackdowns and abducting members of the Islah party in Sanʻa, which is seen as the main rival to Ansar Allah. Also, the group reportedly killed six people and kidnapped 108 others during February.

Mafraj Radio #16: 20 Years of Houthi History in 48 Minutes

On the first episode of our third season, we explore the origins and expansion of the Houthi movement, also referred to as Ansar Allah, and we look at how the movement has adjusted to its new-found power, following the fall of Yemen's government. Get ready for 20 years of Houthi history in 48 minutes! This episode features clips from Mafraj Radio episode 1, which featured interviews with Adam Baron and Madeleine Wells Goldburt, and episode 13, which featured Peter Salisbury and Hussain Albukhaiti. This episode also features new interviews with Albokhaiti and Baraa Shiban.

Feb. 10-16: War of Words between Houthis and Foreign Powers

The closure of several western diplomatic missions as well as those of GGC countries in Yemen got the most attention in local media during the last week. One of the leading local media outlets speculated that the departure of the missions, all of which cited security concerns over the Houthi group's seizure of power, could be a preamble to an international military action against the group. The Houthis are often referred to as an Iranian proxy aimed at destabilizing neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The prospect of a military action against Houthi forces increased as the Egyptian envoy to Yemen threatened to use force if the Houthi leadership decided to shut the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

Yemen’s main political parties were reported to have lost hope that the ongoing UN-brokered talks would ever bring about a way out of the current political crisis. They warned the international community that the danger coming out of Yemen would reach all states overseeing transition if those states "didn't act".

The top official in Marib, the oil rich province expected to witness heavy clashes between local tribesmen and Houthi militias, has vowed to take defense actions if the Houthis invade.

Militants of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula stormed the base of a military brigade in Shabwah and looted materiel, claiming that it did so to thwart a Houthi bid to take over the brigade. The recent security vacuum has also led oil companies in southern and eastern Yemen to stop operations.

In the southern port city of Aden, clashes between militias known as Popular Committees—which are loyal to (former) President Hadi—and Central Security Forces said to be loyal to Ansar Allah erupted overnight, with the militias gaining the upper hand and reportedly taking control of government buildings.

Military and security commanders in the south reportedly addressed the issue. The situation remains volatile as the Houthi group slammed Sunday’s UN Security Council resolution, calling on GCC states and the international community to “respect the Yemeni peoples’ will and sovereignty.”

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.]

February 3-9: Crackdown on press and protests follows Houthi coup

The past week has seen a significant political escalation by the Houthi movement’s leadership, as well as a heavy crackdown on the media and ongoing protests by a group of youth students who are opposing the group’s coup. Two staff members of the Islah-affiliated TV channel, Suhail, were kidnapped on February 3 by Houthi security forces as they covered a protest against the Houthis outside Sanʻa University. Houthi gunmen also allegedly stormed al-Shomuʻ Publishing House and arrested its staff.

A new movement called "For a Stable Nation" accused the Houthis of storming houses and launching a crackdown on protests as well as kidnapping at least a dozen opponents. The movement also accused political parties and UN envoy Jamal Benomar of being in connivance with the Houthi coup, and called for continued street protests.

Adding to the fears of deteriorating freedom was a memo issued by Ministry of Interior, ordering police to ban any “unlicensed” protest. The ministry claimed that the reason for the ban was concern that public gatherings could be targeted by terrorist attacks.

The Houthi’s gradual escalation reached its climax last Friday, with the group’s unilateral decision to issue what they termed as a “Constitutional Declaration,” which dissolved the parliament and appointed top senior officials from the previous government in military and security positions.

The Houthis’ move has raised fears among opponents, including youth activists who have faced harsh repression by the Houthis’ militias since the group took charge of the capital and other provinces in last September.

The youth union has pledged to go on with their protest until the “Houthi coup” is over. The pace of protests against the group has been small yet steady; activists have made Change Square, the center of the 2011 uprising, the launching pad for their ongoing demonstrations. [Larger protests have taken place elsewhere in the country.]

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.

A Houthi Retrospective

This week we witnessed major political developments in Yemen, as the Houthi* Movement--also referred to as Ansar Allah--solidified control of the capital, San‘a, and Yemen’s central government collapsed. As happens every so often, the US and international press are now paying attention to Yemen, but mainstream news outlets rarely provide the background and context their audiences need to understand stories like these. As an aid to readers who may be new to the Yemen beat, I've collected some essential links below.

My coverage of this week's dramatic events (be sure to follow the links in each post, too):

1/19: “Coup, or Business as Usual in San‘a” Monday in southern San‘a began with the sound of machine-gun and artillery fire, as fighting broke out between Houthi “Popular Committee” militiamen and military units loyal to President Hadi.

1/20: “Al-Houthi Lays Down the Law” The ceasefire agreed yesterday between President Hadi and Houthi Popular Committees was quickly shown to be a dead letter, as intermittent clashes began again on Tuesday. By the evening, Houthi forces had the presidential palace, President Hadi's residence, and the military camp overlooking the palace all surrounded, and had cut off all roads leading into the area

1/22: “Hadi and Government Resign under Houthi Pressure” After a week of surprisingly rapid developments in what had previously been a very slow-motion coup, the political situation in Yemen took another turn on Thursday. First, Yemen’s prime minister, Khaled Bahah, delivered his resignation–and that of his government–to President Hadi, who himself resigned soon thereafter.

We’ve also explored the origins and rise of the Houthi movement on previous episodes of our Mafraj Radio Podcast:

9/16/2014: “President Hadi vs. Ansar Allah” On this episode we discussed the protest campaign that preceded the Houthis’ military capture of San‘a, with pro-Houthi activist Alhossain Albokhaiti and journalist Peter Salisbury.

2/27/13: “The Rise of Anti-state Movements” On our first episode we spoke with scholar Madeleine Wells Goldburt and journalist Adam Baron about the origins of the Houthi movement, the six-year armed conflict between the movement and the state, and Ansar Allah’s consolidation of power in Yemen’s far north and beyond. The segment on Ansar Allah begins at 11 minutes, and is preceded by an exploration of the Southern independence movement.

Have questions about the Houthi movement or the current crisis in Yemen? Talk to us on Facebook or Twitter; we're always happy hear from our readers.

*Because the mainstream media almost unanimously use the spelling "Houthi," and I want our blog posts to appear in search results, I'm abandoning my long-standing practice of using the simpler "Huthi" spelling as of today. The old spelling will persist in our archives.

Hadi and Government resign under Houthi pressure

After a week of surprisingly rapid developments in what had previously been a very slow-motion coup, the political situation in Yemen took another turn on Thursday. First, Yemen's prime minister, Khaled Bahah, delivered his resignation--and that of his government--to President Hadi. In a message later published by (former) Information Minister Nadia al-Sakkaf, Bahah said that while his technocratic government had done its best for the nation,

...we decided today to present our that we are not made party to what is going on and what will happen. We are not responsible for the actions of others, in front of God and in front of the Yemeni people. We regret that it has come to this, and we apologize to you the patient people of Yemen and pray that God will sail Yemen to stability and safety.

Shortly thereafter, official sources confirmed that President Hadi had delivered his own letter of resignation to Yemen's parliament (which, in case you've forgotten, hasn't faced an election since 2003. The current parliament's mandate was in effect extended indefinitely by decree of former president Saleh). According to the constitution (which still technically exists, but really, come on), parliament has to either accept or refuse the resignation by a majority vote, which will be held this Sunday.

Hadi's move was widely seen as a desperate rebuttal to 'Abd al-Malik al-Huthi's totally-not-a-coup. The resignation of Yemen's entire executive branch forces Ansar Allah to take direct responsibility for the situation it has caused. Maybe. This, after all, is Yemen. Doubtless there are more machinations going on behind the scenes, and some kind of negotiated settlement could emerge soon.

For an even better summary of Thursday's developments, read Gregory Johnsen's piece for Buzzfeed. Today, Friday, 'Abd al-Malik al-Huthi has called for public demonstrations in San'a in support of his "revolution" (and also against the anti-Muslim French magazine Charlie Hebdo, because 'Abd al-Malik loves to be relevant). Meanwhile, anti-coup protesters who tried to set up a tent at Change Square last night were reportedly beaten by Huthi gunmen. Can't wait to see what happens next.