Sunni Gulf Nations May Act Against Yemen’s Shiite Houthis if UN Doesn’t Intervene

AP Photo/Hani Mohammed

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a multinational coalition consisting of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, has warned it may intervene militarily in Yemen to depose the Shiite Houthi revolutionary government if the United Nations Security Council does not properly react to the threat.

In a statement released Sunday, the GCC is demanding UN Security Council action against the Houthi government, which took power in late January and has since dissolved the Yemeni Parliament. The Houthi rebels are Shiite Muslims with close ties to the government of Iran. Their official slogan is “God is the Greatest. Death to America. Death to Israel. Damn the Jew and Victory to Islam.”

The GCC nations, meanwhile, are run by Sunni Muslim leaders, and they perceive the overthrow of former Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi as a threat to their own stability. Their statement on Sunday calls for the Security Council to permit coalition military responses to the “over the Houthis’ illegitimate seizure of power” and allows for the GCC to disregard the Security Council if it does not act: “In the case of failure to reach an agreement … the GCC member states will take measures which enable them to maintain their vital interests in the security and stability of Yemen.”

This is not the first time that the GCC publicly rebukes the Houthi government, expressing no willingness to accept their legitimacy or work with them. Last week, the GCC issued a statement denouncing the Houthi “coup” and warning that the new leadership would take the country down a “dark tunnel.” Meanwhile, Houthi leaders contend that, without their overthrow of the government, Yemen had become a hotbed of Sunni terrorism and that their presence in power would be “in the interest of all Yemenis without exception.” Shiite militia chief Abdel Malek al-Houthi warned, “If Al-Qaeda takes control of the country, it will plot against our brothers in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.”

Al-Qaeda’s strongest branch, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is headquartered in southern Yemen and has become one of the main targets of the new Houthi government. The Houthis enjoy most of their support in northern Yemen, where the population tends to be more Shiite than Sunni. AQAP has already warned it would attack the Houthi government and they “would pay the price dearly” for attacking Sunni Muslims. Meanwhile, the Houthi government has accused the GCC, particularly Saudi Arabia, of funding southern Sunni rebels and supporting al-Qaeda.

Amid the chaos between al-Qaeda and the Houthis, some reports are claiming that the Islamic State–an enemy of Shiite Islam and rival to al Qaeda–is gaining popularity in Yemen.

The UN Security Council is scheduled to draft a resolution on the situation in Yemen later in the week. The group has already responded to the situation, however, with a resolution calling for the Houthi government to “immediately and unconditionally” step down. The resolution carries no military consequences should the Houthis ignore it.

Meanwhile, the potential of Yemen being split in two, with a parallel government establishing itself in the south, appears real. A group of parliamentarians–now unemployed–met this weekend in the city of Aden to discuss a collective reaction to the Houthi “occupation,” Al Jazeera reports. The group agreed on a 16-point statement regarding how to govern areas in which Houthis had not yet established a stronghold.