Two rulers, two capitals (Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt))

Anti-Houthi protesters march during a demonstration to show support to Yemen’s President Hadi in the central city of Ibb (photo: Reuters)
Yemen now has two rulers and two capitals, one in the south and one in north, with each mobilising the enemies of the other.The Houthi-held capital Sanaa is trying to attract support from Iran, Russia and China, while fugitive President Abdu Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, now in the southern port city of Aden, is looking to the support of the Saudi-led Gulf states.An Iranian Mahan Airline plane landed at Sanaa International Airport last Sunday for the first time in years. This was after Hadi declared the city to be “occupied” and invited Gulf ambassadors to take up residence in Aden.Yemeni and Iranian airliners are now scheduled to offer a total of 14 flights per week between Tehran and Sanaa. Sanaa is held by Houthi forces who have declared that Hadi is no longer the country’s president, and issued a warrant for his arrest after his recent flight to Aden from house arrest in the capital.High-profile Yemeni delegations, including politicians and businessmen, headed to Tehran and Moscow this week after Houthi leader Abdel-Malik Al-Houthi said he would open “new horizons of cooperation” with the outside world after hostility from the Saudi and American embassies.However, negotiations between the country’s political groups, including the Houthis, are continuing with the help of UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Bin Omar.But after the embattled President Hadi said in one of his statements that Sanaa is “occupied by the Houthis” these will need to take place in a more neutral venue, Bin Omar saying that the UN Security Council had asked him to identify a new place for the dialogue.The Houthi group, members of the party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and four other groups have refused to go outside Sanaa to continue the dialogue.The Houthis are also attempting to implement unilateral steps, even as they are formally still involved in the dialogue. The Houthi Higher Revolutionary Committee has said it will take three major steps if the dialogue fails to reach a settlement or in the event of delays.The committee says it plans to form a 551-seat National Council to replace the dissolved parliament and then form a Presidential Council of five people. The third step would be the formation of a national government.If the current dialogue fails, conflict could erupt between Houthi fighters and armed tribesmen loyal to the Sunni Islamist Al-Islah Party, the Yemen Muslim Brotherhood, the members of which have been camping out in the oil-rich province of Mareb for months.The Houthis might try to dissolve Al-Islah Party, seeing it as the biggest obstacle to their progress. Former Houthi leader Ali Al-Bukhaiti said this week that the decision to dissolve the party has already been taken.Al-Bukhaiti says he disagrees with the decision to dissolve Al-Islah, and has warned his former colleagues to not go ahead with it.This week, four leading members of Al-Islah Party were arrested in Sanaa after the Houthi authorities accused them of having links with Al-Qaeda. The four men were planning to undertake “violent acts,” they said.Meanwhile, UN Security Council efforts to bring the Houthis into line have failed, as have efforts to control ex-president Saleh, accused of helping the Houthis take power in Sanaa.A committee of UN experts said last week that Saleh amassed up to $60 billion from oil and gas revenues during his 33-year rule, something Saleh has vigorously denied.Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States are now the biggest outside players in the Yemen crisis.Al-Qaeda released Saudi diplomat Abdullah Al-Khalidi on Monday after holding him in captivity for three years. Al-Khalidi was kidnapped in Aden in March 2012.Many questions have been raised about the nature of the deal and its possible relation to the case of another missing diplomat, Iranian Noor Ahmed. He was kidnapped in Sanaa in July 2013. The whereabouts of Ahmed remain unknown.When an Iranian plane landed in Sanaa this week, reportedly bringing a shipment of medical supplies, the country was divided in its response to the news.President Abdu Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, whose resignation is now a matter of dispute, denounced the action as illegal. Officials in the Houthi-controlled administration in Sanaa, however, said the flight was routine and more are scheduled for the future.The scene in Yemen, experts say, is reverting to the pre-1990 situation, when the country was split between north and south. With the pro-Iranian Houthis ruling supreme in Sanaa and Hadi living in comfort in the southern port city of Aden among his Sunni Islamist supporters, the chances of Yemen emerging intact from its current crisis look dim.It was the first time in decades that a civilian Iranian plane has landed in Sanaa, reinforcing the long-held belief that the Houthis have the firm backing of Tehran.According to Sanaa-based air transport officials, an agreement was signed between Yemen and Iran to operate 14 flights per week between the two countries, effectively ending the isolation of the Houthi-controlled administration in Sanaa, but leaving the rest of the country railing against the Shiite-led power grab.Hadi still calls himself president, despite the resignation he tendered, apparently under duress while under house arrest in Sanaa last month. He described the Iranian flight as “illegal.”During a meeting with Yemeni tribal leaders in the south, Hadi said that those who signed the agreement “will be held accountable.”An Airbus 310 airliner operated by Mahan Air brought a team of the Iranian Red Cross and a shipment of medicine on the Sanaa flight, an airport official told AFP.More Iranian flights would bring relief to the Houthis, who are facing growing isolation in the country after taking control of the nation’s capital.In an attempt to tighten its grip on power, the Houthi Higher Revolutionary Committee is planning to disband all political parties that recognise Hadi as president, said Tawfiq Al-Hamiri, a member of the committee.“Serious and intensive discussions are taking place in the committee to take revolutionary and firm decisions soon,” Al-Hamiri said.Houthi sources say the group is considering forming a National Council with membership split equally between the north and the west to handle the political transition in Yemen.According to Hamed Al-Bekheiti, a Yemeni journalist close to the Houthis, the National Council would then form a Presidential Council to run the country.Abdel-Moati, a leader of the Southern Harak, a separatist movement in the south, said that if the Houthis push ahead with the idea of a Presidential Council, the country will be split between two governments: one controlled by Hadi in Aden and the other by the Houthis in Sanaa.“We have been described as secessionists, but the truth of the matter is that everything in Yemen leads to secession. For years we have said that it was impossible to maintain the unity formula introduced by [former president] Ali Abdallah Saleh,” he said.Hadi fled Sanaa to Aden, his power base, about two weeks ago. He then rescinded the resignation he had tendered, apparently under duress, in January.He is originally from the south, and so are his current and former prime ministers. This has led to speculation that the country is on its way to a split between north and nouth, as was the case before the 1990 unification.Although the Houthis claim that Hadi now has no legitimacy, his supporters note that the parliament has not taken action on the resignation, which means that he is still the legal president.The Houthis took control of Sanaa without resistance in September and seized the presidential palace in January. Since then they have deployed their forces in areas south and west of Sanaa, but have run into stiff resistance from tribal fighters and allied Al-Qaeda militants.The Houthis have failed to gain control of the Maareb and Al-Jawf governorates because of local opposition led by the Islamist-leaning Al-Islah Party.Hadi has accused the Houthis of carrying out a “fully fledged coup” backed by former president Saleh and Iran.US Secretary of State John Kerry told congressmen on Tuesday that Iranian support of the Houthis in Yemen “helped” the Shiite group take control of the country, a claim that Iran immediately denied.Even before the Houthis took over Sanaa, Yemeni officials, including Saleh and Hadi, had accused Tehran of sending arms into the country and of meddling in its internal affairs. Yemen arrested members of alleged Iranian spy networks in 2009, 2012 and 2013.Meanwhile, the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has decided to discontinue providing food supplies to nearly 80,000 of Yemen’s internally displaced people (IDPs) as of April, citing an abatement of fighting in their areas.A UNHCR spokeswoman said that the agency has told the IDPs that they have a choice between “a voluntary return to their original areas or a voluntary transfer to other places in the country.”