The popular committee phenomenon in Yemen: fueling war and conflict

Farea Al-Muslimi writes: The situation in Yemen has reached new heights of complexity with a Saudi-led military intervention against the Ansar Allah movement, a Zaidi Shia Islamist group more widely known as the Houthis. A Libyan scenario has emerged with two rival governments in Yemen: one led by President Abd-Rabu Mansour Hadi (now in Saudi Arabia), which is based in the southern port city of Aden and enjoys a higher degree of local and international legitimacy but more limited authority, and another by the Houthis, who are establishing their own governing structures in the capital Sanaa and in large swaths of northern and western Yemen in a tacit alliance with forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Both sides have formed so-called popular committees, with some emerging in Aden under the command of President Hadi and others forming in Sanaa under the command of the Houthis. Though the international debate about Yemen focuses on who will head the country, one of the most important features of the crisis domestically is this phenomenon of popular committees. By mobilizing local forces outside of formal political configurations, both sides are attempting to rally armed support and to overpower their rivals, while simultaneously undermining the structure of the state and releasing centrifugal forces that could prove impossible to contain in the future.

On the Houthi side, the committees have been called by various names, including popular committees, people’s committees, and revolutionary committees. Regardless of the name, they are armed militias seeking to control public life, including in the capital. [Continue reading…]

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