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Q&A: Yemen's key players, political developments

Alia Soliman , Ghada Atef , Monday 19 Jan 2015
Yemen
A Houthi fighter fires at forces guarding the Presidential Palace during clashes in Sanaa January 19, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)
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After a fierce day of fighting between government forces and the Houthi rebel fighters, Yemen is now waiting to see if a ceasefire will hold.

Houthi leader Saleh Sammad will, along with the defence and interior ministers, hold a crucial security committee meeting on Monday night to discuss the activation of Monday's ceasefire, which was launched by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

"While the meeting is ongoing now, the firing has started to lighten," Information Minister Nadia Sakkaf said on Twitter on Monday afternoon.

Ahram Online provides some background on Monday's developments in Yemen. 

What happened on Monday?

On Monday morning, heavy clashes erupted in Sanaa, Yemen's capital, near the presidential palace between government forces and Houthi rebel fighters. One person was killed in the fighting.

After several hours, President Hadi reached a cease-fire agreement with the Houthis.

Hadi also held a meeting with Saleh Sammad, a member of the Houthi group appointed by current President Hadi as a political adviser in September, and with Prime Minister Khaled Bahah.

Right after the meeting, the prime minister's convoy was attacked by heavy gunfire. The government described the attack as an assassination attempt, according to Reuters. Bahah's convoy managed to escape the attack and after nearly two hours he arrived home unhurt, Nadia Sakkaf, the Yemeni information minister wrote on her official Twitter account.

In the meantime, Houthi rebels had seized control of the country's state-run media, an act that an official called "a step toward a coup." The interior minister said it was an "attempted coup".

Houthi leader Sammad subsequently called on all parties to respect the ceasefire agreement, and said that a ceasefire field committee will comb the streets to ensure peace, Sakkaf wrote.

"There is still ongoing fighting between the Houthis and the government's forces," Sakkaf said, noting that the field committee has not received any call from Sammad.

Sakkaf described the situation as "very uncertain," adding that until the committee including Sammad, the interior minister and the defence minister met, the situation was still unsecured.

Who are the main players?

Some government forces are loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The Houthis are a Zaidi Shia rebel group, also known as "Partisans of God" or "Ansar Allah".

The militant group takes its name from its leader Hussein Badr Al-Houthi, says a BBC report. Al-Houthi, whose family took over the movement's leadership after the army killed him in 2014, headed the movement's first uprising in 2004.

During the uprising, Yemen's Houthis called for autonomy and more rights in Saada-- their homeland province -- and the maintenance of Zaidi religious and cultural traditions, which they claimed had been breached by Sunni Islamists.

The Houthis also had a role during the 2011 revolution against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In September 2014 the group seized control of Sanaa and advanced into central and western parts of the country which are dominated by Sunnis.

A deal signed in September between the Houthis and a number of political parties called for the formation of a new unity government, followed by the withdrawal of Houthi fighters from the capital. The fighters have however remained in place, Reuters reported.

In attempt to defuse the clashes, Saleh Sammad issued a statement with a list of conditions for the government.

The Houthis, who have launched attacks on Al Qaeda's Yemen branch, are viewed as Shia Iran's ally in its struggle with Saudi Arabia for regional influence. The kingdom has suspended most of its financial aid to Yemen since the Houthis arrived.

Scores of people have already been killed in 2015 by Al Qaeda attacks and clashes between the Houthis and Sunni militants and tribesmen, Reuters reported.

The group claims that it relies on peaceful methods and had a large support base while organizing sit-ins and protests, especially during the 2011 revolution.

What happened to the revolution?

The unrest in Yemen comes after the fading of the 2011 Yemeni revolution that took place concurrently with other Arab Spring uprisings.

Four years on, ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted by the revolution, is believed by many to be behind the Houthi rebel movement in Yemen.

In an interview with Ahram Online in November the former Yemeni president said that he is not interested in returning to politics.

"The question about Yemen’s future is one that should be put to the current leaders in Yemen, not to me. I wish for Yemen security, peace, stability, progress and the preservation of everything that has been accomplished with the addition of new accomplishments,” Saleh told Ahram Online.

 

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