Where does Yemen's GPC stand two years after the death of Saleh?

Where does Yemen's GPC stand two years after the death of Saleh?

6 min read
05 December, 2019
It has been two years since the bloody split between the General People's Congress alliance and Yemen's Houthi rebels. Fast forward two years, what has changed?
The fragility of the GPC has been visible since Saleh's death in 2017 [Getty]
On December 2, 2017, Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh openly decided to turn the page and abandon the Houthi rebels.

This month marks the second anniversary of the Houthi and General People's Congress party (GPC) breakup which ended up in the demise of Saleh, the powerful politician who ruled the country 33 years. Since then, the GPC has been an ailing political party in the country.   

Since Saleh's death, the political and military presence of the Houthis and the GPC has changed. The Houthis accumulated power and enhanced their presence while the GPC has weakened and divided. 

Over the last two years, the Houthis have emerged as the new political and military bigwig in the country. On the contrary, the GPC lies in tatters.

Where is the GPC now?

The fragility of the GPC has been visible since Saleh's death. Saleh was the dynamo of the party, and now this party is plighted by divisions and declining popularity.

"Differences do exist among the leaders of the GPC whether we admit it or deny it," said Adel al-Shuja, a GPC leader, in a recent article on the status on the party.

"The differences have objective reasons given the dramatic political transformations [in Yemen].

"Calling for reconciliation is not a matter of entertainment. However, it is in the framework of continuous efforts to end the divide and accomplish a compromise. We are going through a critical stage and ending the divides is a good opportunity to turn the dark page of division. [There are] desperate attempts to annihilate the GPC," al-Shuja added. 

The GPC was the most powerful party in Yemen with a broad base of popularity across the country. Now it is split into three parts, and each part has different affiliation and agenda.

Presently, the GPC does not have cardinal political leverage in Yemen's current status, according to political observers.

One part of the GPC still pledges allegiance to the Houthi group in Sanaa. The second part follows Saleh's son who has been living in the UAE since 2013. The third part supports the Saudi-led Yemen government. Obviously, the party has no united leadership and it does not seem to recover from its political disunity any time soon.

When the Houthi-Saleh armed confrontation ended in victory for the Houthis in Sanaa in December 2017, Tareq Saleh, the nephew of the former president, and also a Houthi ally, survived and managed to escape after losing to the Houthis.

At the time, Tareq was the military wing of the GPC and a sign of hope that the GPC would recover from its setback considering that Tareq was not killed by the Houthis. However, Tareq has not been capable of waging a war against the Houthis and regain what he lost. 

Tareq has sporadically appeared, delivering speeches to his forces stationed in Yemen's Mocha district and some coastal areas of Hodeida. He vowed to continue combating the Houthis, recapture Sanaa and "restore the republic".

Though he has thousands of fighters who are willing to march on Houthi-controlled areas, he says the UN-sponsored Stockholm agreement  has compelled them to refrain from military operations in Hodeida.

The GPC fall happened overnight. But the rapid resurge of this party is tough. Should Tareq, the military face of the GPC, engage in any battles against the Houthis and dislodge them from Hodeida or any other cities, the power of the GPC will rise again.

The other option is the unity of all GPC leaders, who currently follow different sides, to potentially bring the party back to the fore again.

Adel Doshela, a Yemeni political analyst, said the GPC does not have a political figure that possesses the qualities of the departed former president Saleh, who was notorious for his "political and military shrewdness."

"It is hard for the GPC to restore its power at present and this can be attributed to the fact that its current leaders are divided and they are unable to reach unanimity. Even the military wing of the GPC led by Tareq cannot change the status quo in the country overnight or regain the then influence of this party," Doshela told The New Arab.

The Houthi group has consolidated their dominance and the GPC now lies torn

The Houthi dominance

The Houthis have the upper hand in the vast majority of Yemen's north. They eliminated Saleh along with other senior GPC figures in 2017, and laid the groundwork for their uncontested dominance in northern Yemen.

Their use of force has consolidated their power while their critics in territories under their grip have been silenced. Their military steadfastness over the last five years has earned a strong status than ever before.

At the local level, the Houthis still have an ironfisted control of several governorates in the north. They also enjoy a considerable number of supporters in areas under their grip, and this has enabled them to keep mobilising fighters.

They have been using patriotism rhetoric and zealous speeches that depict them as the true patriots of the nation, and enhanced their image locally, capitalising on the weak performance of Yemen's UN-recognised government and the divided agenda of the Arab coalition in Yemen, namely Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Moreover, they have lately started behind-the-scene talks with Saudi Arabia, the country that designated them as a terrorist organisation in 2014. The unwinnable war has coerced the Saudi kingdom to try direct dialogue with the group, which forms a conspicuous Houthi gain.

The present scenario dictates that the Houthi group is a hard one regardless of the international and regional disapproval of this movement. The 2015 UN Security Council resolutions on Yemen that demand the Houthis withdraw from areas they seized and handover state weapons no longer seem to be implementable.

The Houthis have fought and manoeuvred over the last five years, imposing a new reality in the country.

The United States also engaged in talks with the Houthis this year in an attempt to end the conflict in Yemen. In September, US assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Schenker said, "We are also having talks with the Houthis to try and find a mutually accepted negotiated solution to the conflict."

The 2015 Houthi rise occurred thanks to former president Saleh's enormous political and military support. The abrupt end of the Saleh-Houthi alliance at the time triggered speculation that the Houthis would collapse in the absence of the GPC backing.

But the contrary happened. The Houthi group has consolidated their dominance and the GPC now lies torn apart. 

"The Houthis have penetrated the GPC and this party is unable to play a decisive political role in this complex situation Yemen is seeing," Doshela concluded.