Following the latest clashes in Sana'a between Houthi rebels and the government, and the collapse of a deal granting most if not all of the Houthi demands, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his cabinet have resigned, leaving a huge question mark as to the future of Yemen, the poorest yet most populous country in the region. In 2012, Hadi had replaced Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced out by a people's movement after 33 years in office.
In the face of this unstable situation, the U.S. has at least temporarily suspended "counter-terrorism" operations with Yemen.
The Houthis essentially took over Sana'a, the northern capitol city, in September 2014. The Houthi rebellion started more than 10 years ago and had reached a ceasefire in 2010. What prompted the resurgence was the end of fuel subsidies in July 2014.
Once in the capitol, they forced the resignation of the Prime Minister, Mohammed Basindwa. What were they seeking? While their rebellion has always been about greater cultural and religious autonomy for their own group, the demands of the recent take-over have focused on changes to the constitution, "The latest violence appears to have been sparked by Houthi rejection of a draft constitution that divides the country into six federal regions, a move they fear would dilute their power. Houthi leaders accused Hadi of reneging on the U.N.-brokered deal, which promised better representation on a commission to oversee the drafting of a new constitution." (Al-Jazeera)
On Jan. 23, while thousands of Yemenis in Sana'a rallied in support of the Houthis, chanting anti-U.S. and anti-Israel slogans and calling for the unity of Yemen, thousands in southern cities Aden and Taiz rallied against what was called a Houthi coup (Al-Jazeera).
Context: Four way struggle
These latest developments in Yemen must be understood in the context of the ongoing four way struggle going on in the country. In the north, we have the Houthis, nominally Shi'ites, who are members of the Zaydi sect of Islam, unique to Yemen. The Imamate that ruled north Yemen until the Republican Revolution in 1962 was a Zaydi imamate. They are being supported by Iran and oppose the U.S. presence and intervention in their country. In the South, former site of the Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen, there is a socialist independence movement. In the center of Yemen, Al Quaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plays a role. AQAP has claimed responsibility for the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The fourth group is the central government, now possibly defunct, which while quite weak, has collaborated with imperialism and allowed the use of drones and other U.S. attacks on the Yemeni people, ostensibly in the service of the "war on terror." Suffice to say that each group is opposed to each of the others.
U.S. imperialism is quite concerned about the latest turn of events. The New York Times and other imperialist sources emphasize that the Houthis are Shi'ite, and are attempting to cast the conflict in Yemen as a sectarian one. However, the situation is much more complex than that. The Houthis are a tribal grouping from the North. Even before the ousting of Saleh, tribes represented the real power base in Yemen; Saleh was associated with the largest tribal group, and was known for his skill in buying off tribal leaderships and playing one tribe off against the other. It was often said the power of the central government existed in the major cities such as Sana'a, Aden and Taizz, and only extended as far as the paved roads, if that far.
Meanwhile it should not be forgotten that the south of Yemen, formerly a British colony, was after liberation a socialist republic, until the two Yemens reunited in 1990. A civil war ensued between north and south in 1994 and the capitalist north emerged victorious. Since then, the impact of globalization and neo-liberalism has been quite visible in this culturally rich but financially impoverished and underdeveloped nation.
The "Arab Spring" inspired struggle for democracy in Yemen brought tribesmen into the city where they participated in the Taghyir (Change) Square tent city. Since the ousting of Saleh, the struggle has continued, with civil wars raging in the north (with the Houthis) and in the south (with the southern movement for socialism).
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