Developments in Government-Controlled Territory
In the early hours of April 7, President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi dismissed Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and then signed over his executive authority to a Presidential Leadership Council (PLC). This transfer of power from Hadi to an eight-man body was announced from Riyadh, where Yemeni parties had gathered for consultations sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The reformed leadership body brings together disparate factions within the anti-Houthi alliance. It is headed by Rashad al-Alimi, a former interior minister. The other seven members of the PLC are Marib Governor Sultan al-Aradah, Southern Transitional Council (STC) President Aiderous al-Zubaidi, National Resistance forces leader Tareq Saleh, Chief of Staff of the Presidential Office Abdullah al-Alimi, Hadramawt Governor Faraj al-Bahsani, Giants Brigades Commander Abdelrahman al-Muharrami (aka Abou Zaraa) and Member of Parliament Othman al-Mujali.
On April 13, the UN Security Council issued a statement welcoming the peaceful transfer of power from Hadi to the PLC. A member of the Houthi political negotiating team, Abdelmalek al-Ajri, based in Oman’s capital Muscat, rejected the UNSC statement in a Twitter post, writing, “Legitimacy in [the UNSC’s] view since 2011 is something decided by the outside, and Saudi Arabia specifically, as the legitimate guardian, and it has nothing to do with the will of the Yemenis.”
Following the transfer of power, the newly-appointed executive body remained in Riyadh for about a week-and-a-half holding meetings, before returning to the interim capital Aden. There, on April 19, the PLC was sworn in at a ceremony held at the Coral Hotel in Khormaksar district. It was attended by government-affiliated members of parliament, the cabinet, Shura Council, Supreme Judicial Council, Supreme Elections Committee and Military Affairs Committee, as well as a number of international actors, including ambassadors from the GCC states, European Union, five permanent members of the UN Security Council, UN special envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg and US special envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking. In a speech outlining the PLC’s priorities, Al-Alimi said that the council would work as a team to “confront all political, military, security, economic and social challenges, foremost of which is ending the coup and the war, restoring the state, peace and stability, addressing economic and living conditions and rebuilding and stabilizing institutions in the interim capital, Aden, and throughout the country.”
The swearing-in for the PLC marked only the second time that the internationally recognized government’s parliament had convened since the Houthis seized control of the capital, Sana’a, in September 2014. In April 2019, the parliament held a meeting in the city of Sayoun in Hadramawt governorate, during which a new speaker, Sultan al-Barakani of the General People’s Congress party, was elected. It is notable that the parliament was able to convene in Aden, given that partisan infighting within the anti-Houthi alliance has for years prevented the government from carrying out its duties there, particularly since the STC seized control of the interim capital in August 2019.
On April 20, the PLC issued its first republican decree, appointing the governor of Aden, Ahmed Lamlas, as a minister of state and a member of the cabinet, in line with the decades-long practice of having the mayor of the capital become a member of the cabinet without portfolio. The next day, the PLC held its first meeting with the Consultation and Reconciliation Commission (CRC), which was formed to support the PLC by bridging differences among political factions in the anti-Houthi alliance at the negotiating table. The 50-member commission is led by: chairman Mohammed al-Ghaithi, head of the STC’s foreign affairs department; and vice-chairpersons Abdulmalik al-Mikhlafi, a former adviser to ex-President Hadi; pro-Islah parliament member Sakhr al-Wajih; Jamila Ali Rajaa, a consultant to international governments and organizations and an expert in peacebuilding and mediation; and Judge Akram al-Amiri. (Eds. Note: Rajaa serves as a member of the Sana’a Center’s Advisory Board.)
On April 22, parliament gave a vote of confidence in the government of Prime Minister Maeen Abdelmalek Saeed, formed in line with the Riyadh Agreement on December 19, 2020, which consists of 24 ministerial posts.
On April 23, Speaker of the House of Representatives Sultan Al-Barakani, Speaker of the Shura Council and former Prime Minister Ahmed Obaid bin Dagher and other Yemeni politicians departed from Aden’s international airport. The departures, which occurred less than 48 hours after the swearing-in of the PLC and approval of the prime minister’s program of work, were criticized on social media by Yemenis who called on the leaders to govern from inside the country. The pair returned to Aden on May 1.
On the same day, May 1, members of the presidential council arrived in the interim capital Aden, ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan and following visits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The PLC met with Saudi ruler King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on April 28 before traveling to Abu Dhabi, where the members held talks with Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed on April 30.
For further analysis on the presidential council, see ‘Hadi Out, Presidential Council Takes Over’, ‘What the New Ruling Council Means for the South’, ‘Made in KSA: The Risks of an Imposed Presidential Council’ and ‘Taiz in Power’.
Developments in Houthi-Controlled Territory
Houthi Leaders Reject Formation of PLC
Immediately following the announcement of the PLC, senior Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi rejected its formation on Twitter, stating, “Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s powers have expired, so he has no powers to transfer to others,” referring to the fact that Hadi stayed on beyond the two-year term to which he was appointed in February 2012 to succeed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Al-Houthi later deleted the tweet. Oman-based Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam also commented on the council, saying on Twitter that the “Yemeni people are not concerned with illegal measures issued outside the borders of their homeland by an illegal party.”
Houthi Leader Proposes Replacing Curriculum with Quran
On April 6, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi called on the Houthi de facto government to carry out educational reforms in which children in grades one through four would only study the Quran. The Houthis have made a number of changes to the educational system they control in northern Yemen to indoctrinate youth with their ideology. Changes include the introduction of a curriculum that emphasizes the history of Yemen’s Zaidi imams, glorifies the Houthis’ rise to power and portrays them as the protectors of Yemen and depicts the Saudi-led coalition as being supported by the “American-Zionist alliance.” The group has also used extra-curricular education programs to preach their ideology to children as a means to recruit fighters.
UN Special Envoy Makes First Trip to Sana’a
On April 13, Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy, concluded a three-day visit to Sana’a, marking his first visit to Houthi-controlled territory since he was appointed in July 2021. Grundberg met with Houthi government officials including Prime Minister Abdulaziz bin Habtoor, President Mahdi al-Mashat and Foreign Minister Hisham Sharaf. However, the UN envoy did not meet with any senior military or security officials close to Abdelmalek al-Houthi, who are considered the true power brokers in the Houthi system.
Journalist Rights Group Reports Houthi Abduction of Yemeni Reporter
On April 14, the National Organization of Yemeni Journalists, Sada, reported that journalist Nadia Moqbel had been abducted from a street in Sana’a by Houthi authorities on March 28. The organization said that it had received information that Moqbel, who works for Al-Malassi News Network, had disappeared after reporting on the rapid rise of food prices in the run up to Ramadan. Sada stated that Moqbel’s family later found the journalist at the Haziz police department, where authorities said she was being held until investigations were completed.
Houthi Gunmen Crack Down on Sunni Worshippers During Ramadan
On April 14, video footage surfaced on social media showing Houthi gunmen preventing worshippers in Al-Iman mosque in Sana’a from performing the Taraweeh prayers. At least three similar incidents have been reported in Sana’a mosques since the start of Ramadan on April 2. In one incident in Al-Waitat neighborhood near Sana’a International Airport, two worshippers were killed and seven others were injured, according to Al-Masdar Online. The Houthis were also reported to have turned a number of other mosques where Taraweeh prayers are performed into gathering places for its members to chew qat, conduct sectarian lessons and listen to Abdelmalek al-Houthi’s daily speeches from 8 to 11 p.m., which overlap with the Taraweeh prayers. Observed by Sunni Muslims after the Isha prayers during Ramadan, Taraweeh prayers last for about two hours, during which the imam recites from the Quran. Houthi authorities carried out similar violent crackdowns on Taraweeh prayers last year during Ramadan.
Houthi Policy Restricts Women’s Freedom of Movement
On April 15, Yemeni activists posted a document online reflecting a new Houthi policy aimed at restricting women’s freedom of movement in areas under their control. According to a car rental form that Houthi authorities have required companies to fill out, women are not allowed to travel outside their home governorate without a male guardian’s consent. The regulations also extend to women traveling in private cars and taxis as well as women working for non-governmental organizations who often travel for work, according to a human rights activist who spoke to the Sana’a Center on the condition of anonymity. Yemeni human rights organization SAM Rights and Liberties discussed the measure in a new report, documenting restrictions on women’s rights in Houthi-held areas. Restrictions include prohibiting anyone except fathers or mothers from attending girls’ school celebrations, banning women from working in restaurants, forbidding the wearing of certain types of abayas and discouraging the use of cosmetics.
Omani Delegation Visits Sana’a, Departs with Wounded Fighters
On April 22, an Omani delegation accompanied by Houthi political negotiators arrived in Sana’a. Houthi-run news outlet Al-Masirah described the visit as part of the sultanate’s role in helping facilitate the UN-sponsored truce that went into effect on April 2. Yemen Future reported that the plane arrived with more than 20 Yemeni individuals on board and later carried 83 wounded Houthi fighters outside the country. Muscat has served as the headquarters of the Houthis’ negotiating delegation throughout the war. Last June, Omani officials accompanied by senior Houthi figures based in Muscat visited Sana’a in an effort to facilitate peace talks. The delegation departed after a week with no announcement of progress.
Resumption of Commercial Flights From Sana’a Canceled Amid Passport Row
On April 23, the internationally recognized government announced the cancellation of the first commercial flight set to take off from Houthi-held Sana’a in about six years. Scheduled to fly to Amman, Jordan, on April 24, the flight was supposed to mark the resumption of two weekly flights in and out of the capital as part of a tw0-month truce between the internationally recognized government and the Houthis that went into effect on April 2. The Houthis accused the Saudi-led coalition of failing to issue the necessary permits for the flight, while the information minister of the internationally recognized government, Muammar al-Iryani, said the Houthis had broken an agreement by insisting on adding more than 60 passengers with unverified passports to the flight. Al-Eryani accused the Houthis of trying to use forged passports to smuggle dozens of its leaders, as well as members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanese Hezbollah, onto the flight. In their annual report published in January 2021, the UN Panel of Experts expressed concern about the potential misuse of humanitarian “mercy flights” operating out of Sana’a, noting that a Houthi arms smuggler had admitted to posing as a companion to a wounded individual on one of the flights departing Sana’a as a way to facilitate his and other smugglers’ travel to Iran for naval training. After his training in Iran’s Bandar Abbas naval port, he later returned to Sana’a on another mercy flight and participated in smuggling missions between Yemen and Iran.
Fourteen Foreign Prisoners Released by Houthis, Flown to Oman
On April 24, Oman evacuated 14 foreigners by plane to Muscat from Sana’a, where they had been imprisoned by the Houthis. The freed individuals included a British man, his wife and child, seven Indian nationals, an Ethiopian, a Filipino, an Indonesian and a Burmese national, according to a statement by Oman’s foreign ministry. The British citizen, Luke Symons, had been held without charge or trial since 2017, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement, adding that he “was allegedly mistreated, in solitary confinement, and refused visits by his family.” The other eleven foreigners were the crew of an Emirati cargo ship, Rwabee, that had been seized by the Houthis off Yemen’s Red Sea coast on January 3.
Houthis Sign UN Plan Pledging to End Use of Children in War
On April 25, the UN announced that a Houthi official had signed what the UN described as an “action plan” to “end and prevent recruiting or using children in armed conflict, killing or maiming children and attacking schools and hospitals,” according to the Associated Press. UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Houthi official Abdul Eluh Hajar pledged to identify children in their ranks and release them within six months.
Internationally Recognized Government Rekindles Diplomatic Ties with Beirut
On April 8, Yemen’s internationally recognized government announced the return of its ambassador to Lebanon, after an absence of more than five months due to the diplomatic fallout from comments made by Lebanese Minister of Information George Kordahi about the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. In late October 2021, footage of an August 5 interview surfaced in which Kordahi, a month prior to becoming a minister, said the Houthis were defending themselves against what he called “external aggression.” Saudi Arabia reacted by expelling Lebanon’s ambassador to the kingdom and banning all Lebanese imports. Other Saudi allies, including the internationally recognized government in Yemen, joined the diplomatic boycott. Kordahi subsequently resigned. On Twitter, Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi urged Lebanon to reject the returning Yemeni ambassador.
Houthis Signal Doubts Over FSO Safer Agreement as UN Seeks to Mobilize Funding
On April 8, UN Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator David Gressly said that it would cost approximately US$80 million to salvage the FSO Safer oil tanker, lease a crude carrier to hold its 1.1 million barrels of oil and secure a crew and maintenance for 18 months. The announcement comes about a month after the UN signed a preliminary deal with Houthi authorities to swap out the 45-year-old oil tanker moored off the Houthi-controlled port of Hudaydah. The aging vessel poses an unprecedented environmental threat to the Red Sea ecosystem. In mid-April, Gressly visited capitals in the Gulf region to drum up support and funding for the salvage operation, which is expected to get underway in early June.
On April 9, Ibrahim al-Saraji, the Houthi official tasked with negotiating the deal, said that the UN had failed to submit an operational plan to implement it, adding that this might signal a lack of UN commitment. In recent years, the Houthis have repeatedly pulled out of negotiations with the UN to inspect, maintain and repair the Floating Storage and Offloading (FSO) terminal, owned by Yemen’s national oil company, SAFER Exploration and Production Operation Company.
Houthis’ Iraq Envoy Celebrates Iran-backed Militia
On April 20, a video surfaced on social media showing Houthi leader Mohammed al-Qibli attending a celebration marking the 41st anniversary of the founding of the Iran-backed Badr Organization in Iraq. Al-Qibli, a Yemeni tribal sheikh from Al-Bayda governorate who has represented the Houthis in Iraq throughout the war, is seen behind the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad. The ceremony was attended by the Iraqi prime minister, the speaker of parliament and several Iraqi militia leaders backed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which also supports the Houthis in Yemen. Previously, Al-Qibli has been pictured meeting with other Iran-backed Iraqi militia leaders, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed alongside IRGC chief Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike in January 2020.