Yemen’s embattled president agreed to a series of concessions to Iranian-supported Houthi rebels on Wednesday, before resigning late Thursday evening local time. The country’s leader, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, had remained under de facto house arrest in the presidential residence since fighters surrounded government buildings in the capital, Sanaa, on Monday.
The rebels’ final advance this week consolidated their power in the capital. Houthi fighters had previously overrun a military base housing ballistic missiles and then gained control of the presidential palace and residence. Militiamen also seized President Hadi’s chief of staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, and two of his guards. However, Houthi leaders had decided not to overthrow Hadi, choosing instead “to keep the enfeebled leader at their mercy rather than claim the burden of seizing power.”
A Houthi fighter holds a rifle as he rides a truck near the presidential palace in Sanaa January 22, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)
The Houthis, who practice a strain of Shiite Islam, organized their militant movement in 2004 and maintain close ties with Iran. Last September, Houthi rebels took control of most of Sanaa, one day after signing a power sharing agreement with other opposition groups. Ansarullah, the formal name of the fighters, set up their own checkpoints and established control over local broadcasters and other institutions. In all, hundreds of people died during the fighting and thousands fled the city.
Under Wednesday’s agreement, the former president would have increased Houthi representation in parliament and accepted new limitations to his constitutional powers, reported the state-run SANA news agency. Yemen’s leaders would accelerate the further federalization of the county, surrendering greater autonomy to six provinces, a proposal previously rejected by the Houthis. The government was also considering how to manage a Sunni-dominated separatist movement in the south of Yemen. Fragmentation of the country would increase the influence of al-Qaeda there while enhancing the influence of Iran to the north.
It remains unclear how the Houthis will interact with foreign powers; the U.S. has worked hard to prop up Hadi in exchange for the ability to launch drone strikes against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).