Endgame nears for Yemen's president

Endgame nears for Yemen's president
The Houthi takeover of Sanaa's presidential palace is a symbolic act that weakens current president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. But what happens if he falls?
4 min read
21 January, 2015
The Houthis control large parts of Yemen, and now the capital [AFP]

One of the last remnants of the Yemeni state was destroyed on Tuesday when Houthi fighters stormed and took over the presidential palace in Sanaa. 

Shortly after, the Houthi leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, said "all options" were open to his movement. Were the president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, not holed up at his private residence in the west of the city, Yemen would almost certainly be without a head of state. 

Hadi has only been president since February 2014, but his departure looks increasingly likely. Here are five possible scenarios of what could happen if that happens:

1. A governing military council would be established of leading Houthi figures, overseen by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi. This situation would be met by condemnation of local, regional, and international parties.

2. The military would take over, forming a council in cooperation with the former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is said to be allied with the Houthis, senior army officers, and Houthi leaders. This would be led by current Yemen's defence minister, Mahmoud Subaihi.

3. Yemen's government would be replaced by a military, or hybrid military-civilian council, with the support from Saleh and other forces. These allies could include Mohammad al-Somali, a high-ranking military official, or Subaihi.

4. Multiple governing military or civilian councils might be established by various parties.

5. A temporary handover of power to the parliament’s speaker Yahya al-Rai, in accordance with the constitution.

     The Houthis power grab continues - this is more than a dispute between the rebels and government.

Return of the strongman

If Saleh returns to the political scene it would confirm the claims he is involved in the Houthi movement.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed has learned that officers and soldiers sympathetic to the former president, or were discharged when Saleh was removed from power, were involved in the storming of the palace.

It is not clear whether these soldiers have officially joined the Houthis or Saleh directed the soldiers to take part in the action.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak, the director of the president’s office, remains in Houthi custody. Sources close to the president said that a deal put in place to free him on Monday had failed.

Local leaders in Shabwah, the southern governorate where Bin Mubarak hails from, announced that oil companies operating in the deserts would turn off the taps in protest at his arrest.

Power grab

With the Houthis in control of many of the state's main institutions, the government has little room to manoeuvre and any new agreement would almost certainly grant the Houthis sweeping powers.

Yemen's information minister admitted that the government no longer controls the state TV. The fact that the Houthis continue to grab state institutions suggest that this is more than a dispute between the rebels and government.

These developments confirm beyond any doubt that there is no longer any real political process happening in Yemen. Rather, force of arms rules, with the situation getting worse every day.

Meanwhile, the insurgents continue their advance across the country, and the question of Yemen's future hangs in the balance.

Read about the Houthis takeover of the capital

President without power

It has become clear that Hadi's failure to protect his own palace shows he can no longer guarantee state stability.

With the prospect of a power vacuum looming, there have been calls for bringing forward the elections. Other voices are demanding that the president hands over the reins to a military or presidential council during a period of transition.

All it seems that is left for the Houthis to do is topple him.

But it is not just the Houthis who would like to see Hadi overthrown. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is opposed to his rule, and the Islamist Islah Party has its eyes on more power.

Hadi has his back to the wall and is under attack from all sides. Rather than simplify the situation, it simply renders Yemen with further complications and future clashes.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.