Does anyone control Yemen?

The New York Times: Houthi rebel militiamen seized control of the palace of Yemen’s president and clashed with guards outside his residence on Tuesday in an escalation of the violent crisis that has gripped the capital for days, raising fears of a coup in one of the Arab world’s most impoverished and insecure states.

The president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, viewed by the United States as a crucial counterterrorism ally, was believed to be in the capital, but his exact whereabouts was unknown. He made no public statements as the fighting escalated, though Houthi leaders insisted that he was safe and in his home.

The Soufan Group: It has taken decades of deteriorating politics and security for Yemen to reach its current level of crisis, though now the costs might come not just in the form of the suffering of the Yemeni people but also in regional instability and the proliferation of international terrorism. While the causes of Yemen’s crisis are intensely local—having to do with longstanding issues of corruption, tribal and North-South differences, and a constitution in need of amending — it is being amplified both by meddling regional actors and a menacing terrorist group with international reach.

The move by Houthi rebels to seize control of the presidential palace in Sana’a is a warning to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to meet the conditions of Abdul Malik al-Houthi, head of the Houthi movement Ansar Allah. In his January 20 televised speech regarding the fighting in Sana’a, al-Houthi accused Hadi of “covering for corruption.” He claimed that the Yemeni president “refused to order the army to fight against al-Qaeda.” Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is based in Yemen and is the terror network’s most capable and operationally active affiliate, despite a relatively robust U.S. counterterrorism drone program that seeks to keep the group off balance. Going further, al-Houthi accused the Hadi administration of providing weapons to AQAP.

The Houthis are demanding changes to the current constitutional amendments under consideration. They oppose dividing the country into six administrative regions, and demand grouping the country into two regions—north and south—that allow them to solidify the gains they have made since the 2011 ouster of long-time Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Salah. In his speech, al-Houthi demanded action against systemic corruption, pressure against AQAP in the Ma’rib Governorate, and quicker action to amend the constitution and preserve the goals of the Peace and National Partnership Agreement signed in September 2014 that expands Houthi political power.

New Atlanticist: During Yemen’s gradual slump into disorder, US policy has continued to focus on military action — attacking AQAP personnel with missiles fired from drone aircraft, and supporting Yemeni government counterterrorism forces, [Danya] Greenfield said in an interview. But it has not given enough attention or resources to address the broader failings of the transition government. Yemen has failed to implement steps agreed on in the National Dialogue, allowing increasingly frustrated Yemenis to be drawn in by AQAP militants, the Shiite Houthi rebels, and southern secessionists, according to Greenfield, the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“We’re not accurately diagnosing the problem and therefore not prescribing the right solution or the right kind of assistance strategy that would really respond to the needs on the ground,” Greenfield said. Her comments updated an Atlantic Council report she co-authored in October with former US Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine. “Any US strategy to counter terrorists needs to address the pervasive lack of economic opportunity, structural unemployment, cronyism, and the inequitable distribution of state resources,” Greenfield and Bodine wrote.

Recently, “the US approach underestimated the threat of the Houthi movement, which poses a much broader security dilemma for Yemeni citizens and the Yemeni government,” Greenfield said in the interview January 20.

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