Houthi fighters demonstrating in support of their movement
Yemen’s fugitive president, Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, rejected the results of a UN-sponsored dialogue held in the capital Sanaa this week, saying, “The Sanaa dialogue is illegitimate and we will not accept its outcomes.”The comments marked a dangerous escalation between the UN envoy Jamal bin Omar, who is sponsoring the Sanaa dialogue, and Hadi, who fled to the southern port city of Aden earlier this year and wants to start a new dialogue in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Hadi’s statement came after the Sanaa dialogue had almost finished between the country’s different groups, including the rebel Houthis.
A presidential council made up of five members is one outcome of the dialogue. One member of the council will be from the Houthis, one from the party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, one from the southern separatist Hirak Movement, and one from the so-called joint meeting parties, which represent Islamist, socialist and Nasserite trends.
A fifth member must be someone from the south of the country and accepted by all groups. One favourite is former prime minister Khaled Bahah, released from detention on 16 March after two months of house arrest in Sanaa. The Houthis, who are occupying the capital, released Bahah as a sign of their good intentions.
The dialogue developments came after Bin Omar criticised Hadi and internal and external players for “siding with the Houthis.” Bin Omar went to Saudi Arabia and Qatar last week to brief others on his actions, as well as on Hadi’s actions in Aden.
Meanwhile, the security situation in the southern city is deteriorating, with Hadi isolating himself inside his residence and occasionally receiving visiting diplomats and politicians.
On Monday, the commander of the security forces in Aden, Abdel-Hafez Al-Saqqaf, said in a written statement that he would ignore a decree issued two weeks ago sacking him from his position. He said it was his “national duty” to protect Aden from Al-Qaeda forces.
About 5,000 soldiers in Aden, most of them from the north, are loyal to Al-Saqqaf, partly because they think they will be dismissed if not killed as northerners if they surrender. Thousands of soldiers and officers were dismissed from the presidential guard after Hadi fled to Aden.
Al-Saqqaf knows Aden and the south very well, and he has ignored numerous death threats. Meanwhile, Hadi has been mobilising his supposedly loyal tribesmen from the Al-Qaeda strongholds of Abyan and Shabwah to protect him or implement his decrees as a way of demonstrating that he is still the country’s president.
The Islamist party Al-Islah, the main ally of Hadi and the Yemen Muslim Brotherhood, has argued that he should go to the Saudi capital Riyadh, even though the party is labelled by Saudi Arabia and the Emirates as a terrorist group.
Houthi leader Abdel-Malik Al-Houthi said this week that he is in contact with Saudi Arabia and is looking forward to establishing good relations with the country. The Houthis aim to send a high-profile delegation to Riyadh to reassure Saudi officials about what they are doing in Sanaa.
This is especially important after military manoeuvres last week in the Kutaf area, on the border with Saudi Arabia. The group has supported the UN-sponsored dialogue in Sanaa, and the presidential council and national council of 551 members are expected to be announced soon.
In order to support Hadi’s call for a new dialogue in Riyadh, Al-Islah did not attend the dialogue meetings in Sanaa on Monday, but submitted a letter to Bin Omar identifying its representatives in the dialogue sessions.
The party put forward four names as its representatives, all of them currently held in Houthi-run prisons on terror charges, meaning that they can hardly attend the dialogue.
Last week, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) chief Abdel-Latif Zayani said that the dialogue in Riyadh would be different from the one in Sanaa, angering Bin Omar who has been seen as a supporter of the Houthis.
In reply, Bin Omar said, “The UN does not want oil or gas. The UN does not want a minister in the new cabinet. It does not want a member in the presidential council, and it does not want to send in a drone. It only wants to help Yemenis take decisions to solve the crisis.”