Welcome back to Yemen! Since the last time we were here, previously former Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has decided to drop the “former” from that description. First, on February 21, he escaped his confinement by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in Sanaa and fled to the major southern port city of Aden, then a couple of days later he wrote a nice letter to the Yemeni parliament explaining that, seeing as how he was no longer a prisoner any more, he actually didn’t want to resign his office after all. His defense minister, Mahmoud al-Subaihi, saw how much Hadi enjoyed being away from Sanaa and decided to sneak out himself this past Saturday; he’s now in Aden as well, which Hadi reportedly says “became the capital of Yemen as soon as the Houthis occupied Sanaa.” Obviously the Houthis don’t see it that way. In Aden’s favor, lots of countries (particularly other Gulf countries) that closed their embassies in Sanaa after the Houthi takeover have since relocated them to Aden. However, given Yemen’s history, Hadi may not be able to govern the entire country from Aden so much as he can precipitate its break up into northern and southern parts.
I think, however this shakes out, you have to give Hadi some serious credit for extricating himself from what seemed only a few weeks ago to be an impossible situation. His surprise resignation seems to have thrown the Houthis into enough confusion to eventually allow him to escape Sanaa, and how he’s set himself up in his hometown, a major city that can serve (has served, actually) as a national capital, where Sunnis who opposed the Houthi takeover can rally to his cause. He’s still Yemen’s internationally recognized head of state and now he’s in a situation where the worst-case scenario might be that he winds up as president of a newly independent South Yemen. That’s quite a step up from “house arrest,” and he managed it all in a little over a month.
Yemen’s former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has been calling on Hadi to stop whatever he’s doing, stop trying to make Aden the new capital, and go into exile before he tears the country apart, which is pretty rich given that Saleh has actually been working with the Houthis to oust Hadi and pave the way for his own return to power, so if anybody’s been responsible for tearing the country apart, it’s Saleh. The other piece of this situation is the increasingly open warfare between the Houthis and fighters loyal to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which risks creating a situation analogous to Syria for the US and other international players, wherein they don’t support the Houthi takeover but they can’t really oppose it either for fear of enabling the worst-case scenario, an AQAP takeover. The Houthis, no dummies, have started playing to those fears and are accusing other Gulf nations of directly aiding AQAP, presumably hoping to put themselves in the role of AQAP foe and buy themselves some international good will. Plus, hell, it’s probably true.
Hadi is pushing for Gulf Cooperation Council-led peace talks in Riyadh, insisting that he won’t talk one-on-one with the Houthis in Sanaa unless they agree to relinquish control of the city. The GCC is down with that idea, but it’s unclear whether it would be acceptable to the Houthis, given that the deck at a GCC-led peace conference in Riyadh would likely be heavily stacked against them. Meanwhile, the UN special envoy to Yemen is warning of a civil war there, which seems kind of like shouting “fire” after the entire town has already been reduced to ashes, but OK.