WATCH: Rebels continue to hold their position outside of the presidential palace and the president’s house in Sanaa, Yemen.
A power shift is happening in Yemen after President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the prime minister and cabinet all resigned from government on Thursday. The resignations follow the Houthi rebel siege of the presidential palace this week.
On Thursday, Hadi announced an agreement with the Shiite Muslim minority Houthis to end the standoff in the capital, Sanaa.
But, that agreement didn’t entirely bring an end to the siege — Houthi fighters still surrounded the palace and other buildings on Thursday — and the country is now in a state of political upheaval.
What did the president say?
A presidential spokesperson quoted Hadi’s resignation letter saying the government had “reached a dead end,” Al Arabiya reported. Hadi’s resignation came just hours after the prime minister and cabinet announced their decision to quit.
“I have found myself incapable of achieving the goal I wanted to reach, as I have endured a lot of suffering and abandonment and lack of participation in taking the responsibility from the political parties in order to bring Yemen to a safe path,” Hadi’s statement read.
Who’s in control of the country now?
By Yemeni law, the parliamentary speaker Yahia al-Rai – a close ally to ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh — will assume the presidency. But, Agence France-Press reported al-Rai “refused to accept the president’s resignation and decided to call an extraordinary session for Friday morning.”
Meantime, the a senior Houthi leader reportedly suggested setting up a presidential council.
“I propose setting up a presidential council of the honorable revolutionary and political components, and in which the army, security and the popular committees will be represented, so everybody will participate in managing what remains of the transitional period,” Reuters reported Abu al-Malek Yousef al-Fishi saying on his Twitter account. Another Houthi member refuted al-Fishi’s statement on social media and said there was no “official position had been issued.”
Who is supporting the Houthis?
There appear to be two major influences behind the Houthi insurgency — Iran and ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Houthis, based in the northern part of Yemen, have denied claims Iran has backed their insurgency. But, Iran has reportedly provided finances, weapons and training to their militias. Reuters reported that support stretches back to before the Houthis took control of the capital in September.
“Before the entrance into Sanaa, Iran started sending weapons here and gave a lot of support with money via visits abroad,” Reuters quoted a Yemeni official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, in December. Iran refuted claims it is backing the insurgency.
The other influence is reported to be Saleh, who was ousted from office following 2011 protests that were a part of the so-called Arab Spring. On Wednesday, hours after the tentative agreement was reached, Al Jazeera posted supposedly leaked audio of a television conversation between Saleh and a Houthi military commander. Al Jazeera reported the conversation took place prior to the September siege of Sanaa. Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported a Houthi official confirmed the rebel group had been in contact with Saleh at that time.
What does this mean for security in Yemen?
There are concerns about security and stability in the country following Thursday’s resignations, in particular about how Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) will react to the turmoil.
As a part of the agreement aimed at ending the siege at the presidential palace, the Houthis demanded the government deal with the security situation in Marib province — the oil-rich region where the Houthis have also sought to gain control and where Houthi fighters clashed with local Sunni tribesmen on Wednesday.
“Half of Yemen’s oil and more than half of its electricity are produced in Marib, which is also where the main gas fields are located,” Reuters reported Thursday.
“Marib is a focal point for the Houthis right now. If they control it, they have control of the ‘state,'” researcher Atiaf Alwazir told Al Jazeera. Marib is one of the many strongholds of AQAP — one of the terror network’s strongest cell and a rival of the Houthis.
AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the attack on the office of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo and threatened other terror attacks against the West, could benefit from continued instability in the country.
The U.S. has launched drone airstrikes against AQAP for several years, with the cooperation of Hadi. Although AQAP is an enemy to the Houthis, the rebel group does not support the U.S. and its bombing campaigns.
“The Houthis victory also ironically benefits AQAP by polarizing Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, between Shia and Sunni, with AQAP emerging as the protector of Sunni rights,” the Brookings Institute’s Bruce Riedel wrote earlier this week.