Sunday, September 21, 2014

Houthis Rise in Sana'a

Over the past few days, members of the Houthi movement in northern Yemen have made their presence felt in the capital of Sana'a, taking over several government installations.  The immediate cause for this was the government's reduction of fuel subsidies, which raised the price of gasoline and perhaps other forms of oil-based energy to consumers.  As broader background, the Houthis have for a decade now represented grievances of the largely Zaydi Shi'ite region of Sa'dah, the economy of which was badly hurt by tightening border controls between Yemen and Saudi Arabia which cut it off from its main markets.  Opponents of the Houthis accuse them of wanting to restore the Zaydi imamate and its privileging of the social class of sayyids, who claim descent from the prophet Muhammad.

Al-Jazeera reports on a deal signed today which may end the fighting:
According to the documents obtained by Al Jazeera about the deal, the president will have to appoint a new government within a month from sealing the deal. Three days after the deal is signed, the president would appoint two advisors, a Houthi and one from the South and also appoint a new prime minister. The deal also stated that a new constitution would be drafted on the basis of consensus...
Broadly, the deal, brokered by UN envoy Jamal Benomar, would see the government reduce the price of gasoline at the pump to YR3,000 (almost $14), a 25 percent decrease from the YR4,000 ($18) it was raised to in late July (in mid-September, Hadi cut the fuel price to YR,3,500 ($16) but the Houthis have demanded a further decrease). It would also see the current transitional government dissolved and replaced with what Houthi leader Abdelmalek al-Houthi saw as a more representative body, and in which the Houthis were given a number of cabinet positions - possibly as many as its biggest rival, al-Islah party, Yemen's Islamist party.
The deal would lead to the formation of a committee to review stalled progress on policies agreed upon at the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a 10-month series of peace talks held between most of Yemen's major political stakeholders in 2013 and 2014. Another committee would be formed to oversee Houthis' withdrawal from Sanaa, Amran to the north, over which the Houthis consolidated control in July, and al-Jawf, northeast of Sanaa, the bulk of which the Houthis now control after a recent wave of fighting.
Notice the reference to an advisor from southern Yemen.  In important ways, Yemen's current travails stem from the aftermath of the country's 1990 unification, which many in the former South Yemen have come to see as domination by the north.  Both the Houthis and southern secessionists in a movement called al-Hirak have grievances with the corrupt government in Sana'a, which is still run by the circle of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who oversaw unification and ruled the united Yemen until being forced out in the Arab Spring.



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