Slain ex-president’s party at odds as Yemen’s Houthis threaten Red Sea shipping routes
London - Yemen’s General People’s Congress (GPC) announced the selection of a controversial leader to succeed former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, further complicating the political implications of the country’s nearly 3-year civil war.
Sadeq Amin Abu Rass, 65, was named in an official statement as GPC chairman, a move that was disputed by other party officials and members of Saleh’s family.
Saleh was killed December 4 by Iran-allied Houthi rebels, with whom he was previously aligned, two days after he said that he was willing to “turn a new page” with the Saudi-led coalition.
The statement by the GPC appears to contradict Saleh’s stance towards the Houthi militia by praising their efforts in the war but did demand the release of Saleh’s family members, associates and journalists working for the Saleh-owned television channel, Yemen al-Yawm.
Backlash over Abu Rass’s announcement within the party was swift, with GPC Assistant Secretary- General Yasser al-Awadi posting on Twitter that: “Any party’s statement that does not publicly break relations with Houthi murderers and declare war against them does not represent us and is not our party.”
The London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported that most GPC members, many of whom fled Sana’a around the time Saleh was killed, labelled the declaration of a new leader “void.”
Those members released a statement saying the January 7 meeting was “invalid” because most members of the party’s general and permanent committees were not in Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat said, adding that decisions made at the meeting are “not legally” binding.
Dissension within the GPC is an unwelcome development for the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition fighting on its behalf. This is because negotiations with the Iran-sponsored Houthis are seen by many to be a non-starter, due to their record of reneging on agreements and settlements.
The “Murder of Saleh (is) definitely a turning point,” tweeted UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, adding that the Houthis are perceived as a greedy sectarian militia and an obstacle to a political solution.
There were hopes that fighters for the GPC would merge with the internationally recognised government, a scenario that seems unlikely.
Meanwhile, the number of Houthi fighters has apparently dropped significantly, forcing their leadership to scramble for a quick-fix solution.
On January 4, the Defence Ministry of Yemen’s Houthi government announced it is “open for applications for voluntary recruitment for the year 2018,” the Houthi-controlled Saba news agency said. The statement said applicants should be Yemeni nationals between the ages of 18 and 40, mentally and physically fit, “loyal to God and the homeland” and happy to serve anywhere in the country.
Not many Yemenis appear to have heeded the Houthis’ call to arms. Houthi scholars issued a fatwa calling on Yemenis living in areas under its control to join the ranks of the Houthi military. The edict effectively makes fighting alongside the Houthis a religious duty. Those who refuse could be killed.
Coalition spokesman Turki al- Maliki, at a news conference January 10, said the Red Sea port of Hudaydah had become a base for Houthi operations and is a threat to international shipping traffic. Houthi leaders in a meeting with a UN delegation had threatened to cut off shipping routes in the Red Sea.
Maliki said that coalition naval forces had foiled an attack on a Saudi oil tanker, which was targeted with a remote-controlled ship loaded with explosives. Maliki implored the United Nations “to take the initiative and take over Hudaydah from the Houthis” and secure the Red Sea shipping routes.
The conflict in Yemen began when Shia Houthis and forces loyal to the GPC overran Sana’a in September 2014 and seized most of the country. A Saudi-led Arab coalition, supported by the United States and the United Kingdom, began an air campaign against the rebels in March 2015.