Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels announced today that they have dissolved the Yemeni parliament and installed their own “transitional national council of 551 members” plus a five-member “presidential council” to rule the country for at least two years, as reported by CBS News. A new national constitution is to be drafted by the revolutionary government.
NPR quotes an unidentified Houthi tribesman addressing Yemen by television and declaring the start of “a new era that will take Yemen to safe shores.” CBS reports the Houthis were simultaneously encouraging their supporters to celebrate this declaration in the streets, and deploying armed fighters to defend key points in Sanaa, in anticipation of trouble. As of Thursday evening, there were still reports of bloody clashes between Yemeni military forces and militants from secessionist groups unfriendly to the Houthis in the southern regions of Yemen.
This declaration is not likely to be greeted warmly by the various factions battling for control of the country, especially the Sunni factions. An opposition leader swiftly declared the Houthi takeover a “coup” and said it would lead to the “international and regional isolation of Yemen.” The BBC reports that “powerful Sunni and southern political parties have not recognized the takeover by the Houthis, who are minority Shia from the north.”
However, Reuters found some political leaders outside the Houthi orbit in attendance at their takeover announcement, including the former interior and defense ministers, “indicating that the announcement has the blessing of some other political factions.”
This is a breathtaking failure of Obama foreign policy; only a few months ago, the President was touting Yemen as his great success story, but now the regime he backed has been completely swept away, by a rebellion that cited the Hadi regime’s close cooperation with the United States as one of the reasons they had to go. At least part of Yemen will now fall within Iran’s sphere of influence, depending on whether the anti-America, strongly pro-Iranian Houthis are able to hold the country together. Iran’s support for the Houthi insurgency has included weapons, money, and military training. Houthi representatives occasionally make perfunctory efforts to deny the support they’ve received from Iran, but Tehran rarely bothers with such a pretense.
Business Insider sizes up the revised map of Iranian influence, noting that the head of Iran’s Qods Force is now directing the actions of Shiite militia in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen:
While the Houthis are not as direct an extension of Iranian policy as Hezbollah and adhere to a different strain of Shia Islam than the regime in Tehran, Friday’s development still means that an Iran-backed group has succeeded in replacing Yemen’s Western-backed transitional government. And it means Tehran is an even more powerful player in a populous, largely ungoverned country that borders oil-rich Saudi Arabia and sits on a major global oil choke point at the mouth of the Red Sea.