Yemen in Crisis

As the Houthi rebels take control and Yemen's political cabinet resigns, the conflict-wrecked nation is facing its biggest crisis in over 50 years.

Events in Sana'a took an even more dramatic turn Thursday evening as, in the midst of a new political crisis that saw rebels kidnap the president’s chief of staff and lay his home under siege, Yemen’s prime minister, cabinet and president suddenly resigned, leaving the conflict-wracked nation without a government and pushing the country closer to the brink of collapse.

In the midst of a political crisis that saw rebels kidnap the president’s chief of staff, Yemen’s prime minister, cabinet and president suddenly resigned.

The cabinet’s letter of resignation, released by Prime Minister Khaled Bahah on Facebook, attested to the building frustrations the government has felt as the Houthis, or Ansar Allah – a Zaidi Shi’a-lead rebel group that took virtual control of Sana'a in September after defeating their tribal adversaries in a series of battles across the country’s northern highlands – have increasingly thrown their weight around and scuttled the government’s work.

“[We] tried as much as we could to serve the Yemeni people and the country to our best ability, conscience and responsibility,” it read in part. “And when we realized that this cannot happen, we decided today to present our resignation….so that we are not made party to what is going on and what will happen.”

The Houthis blunt use of power has increasingly appeared to render the Yemeni government impotent, as armed fighters loyal to the group have taken up the bulk of the security duties in the capital in the wake of the disintegration of much of the Yemeni Armed Forces in September. But while the Houthi-allied “Popular Committees” initially cast themselves as partners to the state, they’ve grown more and more antagonistic. For many Yemenis, this past week’s events were a bridge too far. Even many critics of the now-former president, Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi, have praised his resignation, casting it as a brave move.

“We decided today to present our resignation…so that we are not made party to what is going on and what will happen.”

It’s hard to divine which way things in Yemen are heading – an uncertain situation has grown even more difficult to read. It appears that the Houthis—who have enthusiastically taken aim at the president and the cabinet over the past week’s crisis—are largely shocked that the president has called their bluff. In the formerly independent South, longstanding calls for secession have grown even louder. Across the country, frustration seems mounting – both at the country’s power brokers and at the international actors that, until recently, had hailed the country’s political process as a model transition to democracy.

The next few days will unquestionably be crucial.  At writing time, Houthi fighters reportedly have the homes of many members of the now-resigned cabinet under siege. All eyes are set on Sunday’s meeting of the two houses of the Yemeni parliament, which could very well reject the president’s resignation, sending the country into further uncertainty. Indeed, little remains clear at the moment, except for the fact that the country is likely facing its most crucial juncture since the overthrow of the Mutawakkilite Monarchy on 26 September, 1962.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Visiting Fellow

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