Thursday, January 22, 2015

Meanwhile In Yemen

If anyone noticed...44 didn't mention Yemen or al Qaeda once in SOTU...

The situation in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, deteriorated very rapidly over the weekend and developments are still unfolding. Yemen’s President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi has “no control,” according to his information minister, who also called yesterday’s takeover of the presidential palace a “coup.” The US military is on alert should US Embassy Sana’a require an evacuation, especially after an embassy vehicle was fired on yesterday.

Here’s what we know:
  • The al Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement in Yemen, are in power in the capital. The president is under al Houthi guard in his residence, and the al Houthis now hold key state infrastructure, including the presidential palace. They entered Sana’a in September and, under the cover of the Peace and National Partnership Agreement, have held the Yemeni government hostage since then.
  • The trigger was President Hadi’s decision to press forward with Yemen’s constitution. That document, in the al Houthis’ eyes, is illegitimate because it is a byproduct of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) that concluded—and was rejected by the al Houthis—a year ago. The drafted constitution would formalize a six-region federal system that divides the al Houthis’ stronghold between two regions. The al Houthis kidnapped Hadi’s chief-of-staff Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak on his way to a meeting to submit the draft constitution and used negotiations for his release to press their demands against the current draft. The al Houthis said they would not let the NDC move forward and they have carried through on that promise.
  • It’s not a coup, at least not yet. The al Houthis have personnel in the National Security Bureau, Political Security Office, Yemen’s state media, and even took control of a missile base on the outskirts of Sana’a. But they have kept Hadi in charge. It’s not clear whether the al Houthis will oust the government and take full control after all of this. Except for this hiccup, Hadi’s puppet government was working well for them.
The latest crisis in Sana’a draws more international attention to a country already under scrutiny because of the Yemen-headquartered al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s claims of responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks. But a resolution of the ongoing power struggle in Sana’a will barely scratch the surface of Yemen’s troubles.  The more intractable problem, as the US and France should know all too well, is al Qaeda. And while the Iranian-backed al Houthis may well be creating more space for al Qaeda, the truth is that the much-touted “Yemen model” for fighting terror was broken long ago.