Nothing explains Yemen’s sinking into deeper divides better than its present parliamentary scene.
The parliament loyal to the internationally recognised government convened Saturday, in Seyoun city, Hadramout governorate, its first session since civil war broke out in 2015.
Simultaneously, the Houthi parliament convened in Sanaa —Yemen’s capital under Houthi control — after a quorum was achieved.
The dual parliamentary scene screams of the continuation of Yemen’s political crisis and the difficulty to implement the terms of the Stockholm Agreement, which the government and Houthi militias signed in Sweden in December 2018.
The development of Yemen’s political status since the coup that overthrew the legitimate government from Sanaa on 21 September 2014 points to the existence of a vertical divide that has swept Yemen’s institutions, starting with the army, security apparatuses, moving across state bodies and ending with the current legislative duality.
The divide is most apparent in the map of dominance and conflicting projects.
Each party established its own bodies, working in isolation from the other. The internationally recognised government is trying to complete its institutions. Hence, President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s call to convene parliament in tandem with the Houthis’ decision to hold parliamentary elections to fill 24 vacant seats in 453 electoral centres. One of these is located in Sanaa, another in Taiz, four in Ibb, two in Al-Bayda, two in Dhamar, five in Hodeida, one in Al-Mahwit, five in Hajja, two in Saada, and one in Amran.
The Houthi’s parliamentary move indicates its attempt to legitimise its coup through activating the legislative institution it controls, giving the impression the group is not acting as a militia taking over Yemen’s political stage, but rather exercising its role as a parallel authority.
“The Houthis’ election in Taiz is a charade aimed at complicating the present course,” Abdel-Aziz Al-Magidi, a political analyst in Taiz, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“The militias carried out a coup, put thousands of Yemenis behind bars, and shut down all of the parties’ headquarters. At the same time the Houthis announced a constitutional declaration dissolving parliament, forbade protests, then held parliamentary elections. Who competed in the election race, and what kind of legitimacy did it have,” asked Al-Magidi.
The map of dominance of the legitimate government and Houthi militias is reflected in the country’s political scene. The former convened its parliament, unprecedently, in Yemen’s south. That it didn’t meet in the capital is justified given the repercussions of the coup. But why didn’t parliament alternatively convene in Aden?
Aden is Yemen’s second capital to which were relocated the central bank, government headquarters and the presidential palace.
That parliament’s first session in four years was not held in Aden is telling of disagreement between the government and the Southern Transitional Council that resisted, on more than one occasion, relocating government institutions in the south.
Hadramout, on the other hand, “is loyal to the legitimate government and rejects the secession of the south”, a Yemeni high-ranking official told the Weekly.
“Hadramout’s leaders told Aden’s Southern Transitional Council they refused to support its moves towards independence, opting instead to work towards Yemen’s unity.”
The conflicting projects taking place in Yemen were expressed in Hadi’s speech at parliament’s first session. “This meeting is convened during an extremely important and historic moment where we have to choose either peace or war,” the Yemeni president said.
“Convening parliament is proof of the demise of the Houthis’ project and their separation from the people… Iranian Houthi militias do not understand the language of peace and exercise deceit and deception,” Hadi added, calling on Iran-backed Houthis to follow the path of peace and “stop giving our country to our enemies”.
But, Yemen’s road to peace seems blocked. Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Yamani had urged the UN to “be tough when dealing with the Houthis to ensure their commitment to the agreement in Sweden”.
Yemeni Ambassador to the UK Yassin Said Noman pointed out that “parliament is not an inheritance to be divided. It is rather a part of a tough struggle to defeat the coup… Conquering the racist coup is the only cause that matters now. Looking at the rest of the problems is a waste of time and they can all be solved by setting up a political partnership mechanism that functions away from the trumperies of the previous phase.”
Many countries recognising the legitimacy of the Yemeni government supported the move to resume parliament after a four-year halt. The first session, held in Seyoun’s government complex, was attended by head of the Arab Parliament, an Arab League affiliate, ambassadors of the Arab countries’ alliance as well as 19 ambassadors of countries interested in Yemeni developments.
“This is an important step taken by the Yemeni government to reinvigorate legitimate government institutions,” US State Department Spokesman Morgan Ortagus said Saturday. “A reinvigorated Yemeni parliament will play an important role in advancing political and national reconciliation so the Republic of Yemen government, and all political parties, can better focus on meeting the needs of the Yemeni people.”
As much as the step to convene parliament consolidates the legitimacy of the government and its institutions for Yemenis, it is also a reflection of Yemen’s complicated state of affairs.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 April, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Deeper divides in Yemen