Yemen’s Houthi rebels cemented their takeover of the country on Friday when they announced the dissolution of parliament and the formation of an interim assembly to elect a presidential council that would rule the impoverished Arab state for up to two years.
Leaders from various political groups, including the former defense and interior ministers, attended a ceremony in the presidential palace in Sana’a on Wednesday, suggesting the Houthis’ takeover was endorsed by other factions.
The Houthis, a Zaidi Shia rebel group that advocates autonomy for the north of Yemen, had been in talks with other factions since President Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi resigned last month, deepening a political crisis that was triggered when the Houthis first stormed the capital in September.
Hadi’s resignation seemingly deprived the the United States of any ally in Sana’a. However, airstrikes against terror suspects in Yemen have continued. Al Qaeda said a prominent cleric associated with the organization was killed in a drone attack this weekend.
The Houthis are seen by other American allies in the region, including Yemen’s neighbor, Saudi Arabia, as proxies for their nemesis, Iran. To what extent the group coordinates with Iran is unclear but their takeover is likely to heighten Saudi fears of Iranian encirclement.
The Houthis also do battle with Al Qaeda. Their takeover in Sana’a raises the risk of insurgency in the formerly communist South Yemen where Al Qaeda terrorists as well as separatists opposed Hadi’s administration and his plan to split the country up into six autonomous regions.
Southerners rejected the partition plan, fearing it would dilute their authority, especially over oil reserves in the Hadhramaut area.
The Zaidi rebel leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, criticized the plan as well, seeing it as an attempt to strengthen Sunni and pro-Saudi fiefdoms in the rest of Yemen.
North and South Yemen were united in 1990 but fought a civil war four years later. Al Qaeda has taken advantage of the country’s poor governance to establish what is considered to be its most dangerous international branch there while the Houthis had been fighting the central government since 2004.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. Water is extremely scarce, development and investment are lacking and nearly half its population is under the age of fifteen.