Yemen ‘on the brink of an explosion’

Despite mediation efforts, the Houthi rebellion in northern Yemen shows no sign of abating. President Salih, speaking at a meeting of Yemen’s Supreme Security Committee, warned the rebels “that the continuation of their assaults and attempts to disturb public security and tranquillity would only lead to further conflict”.

True enough, but Salih’s policies so far have only led to further conflict too. The president has run out of ideas for dealing with the crisis, and more of the same isn’t going to work.

Over the weekend, rebels set up a series of roadblocks aimed a preventing military reinforcements from reaching Saada province, the seat of the rebellion. Supplying and reinforcing the government troops seems to be a problem: Asharq Alawsatnotes that the commander, officers, and soldiers of a military post in Saqin of a military post in Saqin district have surrendered to the Houthis after a siege lasting almost two weeks. The report also says:

Informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that violent clashes took place yesterday [Sunday] between the Houthis and government troops on several fronts, in particular in the border areas with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia which the Houthis seized control of during the past two weeks and which the government troops are trying to take back. But there [was] no precise information about the human casualties and material losses in these clashes.

Besides fighting government forces, the Houthis (who are Zaidi Shia) also clashed with hardline Sunni/Salafi tribesmen in the Baqim area on Friday/Saturday. AFP says two Zaidis and six Salafis were killed.

Writing in the pan-Arab newspaper, al-Hayat, Jameel Theyabi gives a gloomy assessment of Yemen’s prospects: “Conditions are deteriorating and moving toward fragmentation. The situation is on the brink of a huge explosion.” 

The economic magazine, MEED (subscription only) points outthat Yemen’s foreign currency reserves are at a record low, and only enough to cover eight-and-a-half months’ imports. Meanwhile the official news agency, Saba, reports a dramatic fall in Yemen’s oil revenues: $665 million in the first half of this year compared with $2.6 billion in the same period last year. It's looking bleaker and bleaker.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 11 August 2009