THE LEVANT – Yemen’s Shiite rebels, who are in control of the capital, gave the president 10 days starting Friday to form a government, hinting at a takeover attempt if their demands are not met.
The Shiite group, also known as Houthis, rallied some 30,000 tribal leaders in Sanaa, where they delivered a communique warning President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi that “all revolutionary options are open” if he failed to form a government.
“Our next meeting will be at the headquarters of the decision making,” said Deif Allah Rassam, spokesman of the so-called Popular Tribal Alliance. A second speaker at the rally, Naguib al-Mansouri, called for the formation of a “salvation military council.”
The government formation is part of a U.N. deal to reach a peaceful settlement to Yemen’s political crisis.
The deal signed by the Houthis, Hadi and the rest of Yemen’s political factions, stipulated that the Houthis withdraw their forces from all cities and hand all captured barracks to the military.
The communique that came out of Friday’s rally however called for the establishment of “revolutionary committees” across the country, in reference to the group’s militias that have swept through the capital and other cities. The group has previously stated that its committees will continue to fight Al-Qaeda militants and uproot corruption.
Hadi, the president, said a few days ago that the army is the only force entitled to defend the country against terrorism and the only force that should be fighting against Al-Qaeda, calling on the Houthis to disband their committees and withdraw.
Many of the attendees of the Friday rally pumped their fists in celebration while chanting a trademark Houthi slogan known as the scream: “Death to America, Death to Israel, Damn Jews and Victory for Islam.” The chant resembles an iconic Iranian revolutionary slogan, and the group is suspected of having strong ties to Iran.
Over the past year, after descending from their highland home in Saada province, the Houthis fought their way to Sanaa and other cities – battling conservative Sunnis, Al-Qaeda militants and the traditional power brokers of the Islamist Islah Party.
Over the past three days, security officials said that at least 250 people were killed in clashes between Houthis and an influential tribe in the town of Radda, a known Al-Qaeda stronghold some 200 kilometers south of Sanaa. Houthi fighters entered the town last week after an army battalion station there retreated. Local security officials and tribal leaders say the battalion commander is a loyalist of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who they accuse of secretly aiding the Houthis against Hadi’s administration.
The Houthi offensive has pushed Yemen into even deeper turmoil. Apart from the rampant Al-Qaeda insurgency and the Shiite rebel blitz, the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country has also endured crushing poverty that has bred resentment – and outright rebellion – that took root in a secessionist movement in its once-independent southern region.
During the rally, some Houthi speakers reached out to southerners by proposing the formation of a joint northern-southern committee to look into the south’s demands.
The call was described as “theatrical,” by Adnan Muhsen, a top southern political leader – adding that the demands of southerners are clear and Houthis should simply support their cause.