Five years of Huthi troublemaking in Sanaa

It must be acknowledged that the former Yemen we knew, whether one of united Yemen or of two independent Yemens, is part of the distant past.

On September 21, 2014, the Huthis took control of Sana'a. Their action ended, albeit temporarily, any attempt to improve the situation of the Yemeni capital, especially because they do not have a viable political, economic, educational or cultural project.

All they had for the people of Yemen was turning a section of northern Yemen into an Iranian base and changing the nature of the society wherever they are towards more backwardness, radicalism and rejection of the other.

On this painful anniversary, all we can do is pray for the people of Sana'a and hope for quick relief from their suffering because they have become prisoners of ignorant thugs who have only one thing to offer: their so-called sarkha of “Death to America. Death to Israel. Damnation on the Jews.”

In other words, the unique purpose of their fight is to let Iran’s voice boom over the entire Arabian Peninsula, of which Yemen is an integral part.

After the Huthis had taken Sana’a, their leader Abdelmalik al-Huthi pompously announced the establishment of a regime that had wiped out the republican regime in Yemen. He stopped short of announcing that Sana’s and the surrounding area had become an Iranian province.

We know that part of Iran's war on Saudi Arabia is based in Yemen. Had it not been for Operation Decisive Storm, launched by the Arab coalition in March 2015, all of Yemen would have been under Iranian control, including Aden and the strategic port of Mocha, which controls the Bab el Mandeb Straight, the entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

Are the Huthis in a better situation now than five years ago? The answer is a mitigated yes and no.

Yes, because the Huthis are in a position to negotiate by offering to stop firing rockets and drones into Saudi territory in exchange for stopping raids on their positions. There is no denying that they control the city of Hodeidah and its strategic port on the Red Sea after efforts to dislodge them were thwarted, with the precious help of UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths.

However, their biggest gain was having Griffiths and the United Nations consider them equal to the legitimate Yemeni government, although we should admit they gained that status the first day of their full control of Sana’a.

Their new status was enshrined with the signing of the Stockholm Agreement in late 2018, an agreement that excluded, except for the Huthis of course, any other party that has political or military weight besides the so-called “legitimacy” camp represented by a baseless interim president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

No, the Huthis are not in a better position because they have not been able to control all of Yemen as they had expected. They had to limit their ambitions at a stage when they were forming secret alliances with extremist groups in the orbit of the Muslim Brotherhood in central and southern Yemen and others with special connections to them, like the Hashemite connection, in Hadramawt governorate.

The Huthis were both for and against secession. They tried to win over separatist groups in Hadramawt but their master project partially failed when the Yemeni and Arab coalition forces recaptured Mukalla from al-Qaeda and Aden and Mocha from the Huthis and besieged Hodeidah in May 2018.

As the Huthis celebrate the fifth anniversary of the establishment of their emirate in Sana'a, where they had moved from their caves in Saada, there is a need to face the truth rather than run away from it or try to hide it.

It needs to be recognised that the main reason the Huthis were able to invade Sana'a was the legitimate government itself. This government, led by Hadi, had enough military forces to confront the Huthis in the mountains of Amran before they reached the gates of the capital. However, the interim president preferred to ignore the various messages and warnings addressed to him by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and refused to confront the Huthis in Amran.

Not only that, Hadi was waiting for the Huthis in Sana'a and signed with them the so-called peace and partnership agreement under the supervision of Jamal Benomar, the representative of the UN secretary-general at the time.

The Huthis quickly turned against the legitimate government and placed the interim president under house arrest, forcing him to resign. Hadi rescinded his resignation as soon as he was extricated from Sana’a.

It’s been five years since Sana’a’s tragedy. In the meantime, the Huthis assassinated former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh at his home in Sana’a. There is no indication they will be leaving the capital anytime soon.

What makes it more difficult is that the “legitimacy” camp has not made any progress on any military front. This “legitimacy” was kicked out of Aden as it had been kicked out of Sana’a and nobody knows exactly what it did and is still doing in Taiz.

The “legitimacy” camp failed to absorb the meaning of coordination with the people of Aden and its environs, especially those of Lahji and Dhale. As it continues to decline, questions are raised about the real intentions of the UN secretary-general's envoy to Yemen and about those of the United States and Britain in the long term.

Five years after Iran’s takeover of Sana’a using its proxies, the Huthis, we have concluded that it is impossible to dislodge them from Sana’a by relying on the “legitimate” government led by a person who thinks that he can be another Saleh. There won’t be another Saleh, despite the man’s qualities and shortcomings.

We also must conclude that the former Yemen we knew, whether one united Yemen or two independent Yemens, is part of the distant past. There are so many questions about the future: How long will Iran remain in Yemen and what are the boundaries of the entity it is seeking to establish there? How long will it be allowed to rely on the presence of an inefficient “legitimate” government that is good for everything except confronting Iran and its proxies?

One thing that this “legitimate” government is good at is engaging in losing internal conflicts.

With such a “legitimate” government, the Huthis can relax. They’re sure to have a party that will do what is required of them on their behalf and that will continue to facilitate their stay in Sana’a for the foreseeable future. It will help them penetrate Yemeni society even deeper to spread injustice, ignorance and underdevelopment at every level in a city that does not deserve what has happened to it and to its people.

Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.