In Memory of the «Houthi Coup» : 7 Hellish Years in Yemen


Sat, 25-09-2021 01:09 PM, Aden

Farida Ahmed | South24 

On September 21st 2014, “the Peace and National Partnership Agreement” was signed in the Presidential Palace following a meeting that lasted for several hours between the Houthi representatives, President Hadi and the then UN Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar. At that time,the capital city of Sanaa witnessed its biggest sit-in led by the Houthis. The whole story began with contrived protests against lifting fuel subsidies, which gradually escalated to many days of clashes and confrontations that resulted in killing Hundreds of Yemeni army personnel outside and inside the capital city. 

The agreement, read by Benomar, and broadcast by the official Yemeni TV, stated that “The President shall engage in inclusive and transparent consultations. The purpose of these consultations shall be to establish a competency-based government in a period not to exceed one month” (1). The Political powers didn’t object to it, and acquiesced, as President Hadi considered the agreement at that time “a big achievement which saved Yemen from more repercussions, deterioration and crises” (2). In contrast, the then Prime Minister, Mohammed Salim Basindawa resigned, speaking directly to people and accusing President Hadi of monopolizing power and violating the Gulf Initiative and its mechanism which included a partnership between the PM and the President in running the state according to his resignation statement (3). Similarly, the decesion taken by the Islah Party (Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood), which has a military wing and a huge weapons arsenal, not to take part in resisting the Houthis was another reason behind the later understandings between the Houthis and President Hadi by paving the way for General Ali Mohsen Alahmar’s exit from Sanaa.

The following easy Houthi Expansion, and the plan to overthrow President Hadi in 2015 was a result of the failure of President Hadi when he limited the decision making to himself and a narrow circle of his close associates, top of whom was the then General Secretary of the National Dialogue Conference, the Current Foreign Minister and the Yemen's Ambassador to Washington Ahmed Bin Awad Bin Mubarak. Hadi’s power monopoly policy, the weakness of his staff, and the laxity of his performance caused a political impasse and obstructed the institutional efforts. Thus, the Houthis were allowed later to control Sanaa and most geographic areas in North Yemen. These are the same reasons that have delayed a military end to the war for 7 years , due to the circulation of the same faces upon which he relied in the most sensitive and influential positions on the military, political and even diplomatic levels.

Moreover, It is for sure that Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was one of those who facilitated and contributed in the Houthi military expansion towards Sanaa, that later resulted in an alliance between the two parties to make advance into other governorates, and then to Aden which Hadi took as a capital and a refuge instead of Sanaa in the wake of the attempt to overthrow him and forced him to step down under pressure. This is one of the causes for the failure of the Gulf Initiative which gave Saleh and his associates legal impunity by condoning the violations committed by the former regime against the 2011 popular Uprising. However, this alliance failed to withstand as it came to an end when Saleh was killed in a dramatic way by the Houthis who have monopolized the de facto authority until this moment.

Taking 2015 as a reference year to frame the war

From the very beginning of the Houthi storming into Sanaa, and their prior confrontations In Amran which fell into their grip in July 2014 after days of bloody battles that resulted in killing more than 300 persons, the war took another form of conflict. After their violation of “the Peace and National Partnership Agreement” by undermining the state authority represented in President Hadi and Khaled Bahah who became the PM because of the agreement, the Houthis went too far by holding their control on governorates, one by one, the Hudaydah Port on October 14th 2014, and then they made advance towards Bayda, Dhamar and Ibb where they involved in fierce battles that ended in their favour. On Jan 20th 2015, they controlled the Presidential palace and besieged the residence headquarters of the President and his PM. After that,the Houthis completed their coup against the legal authority in Yemen after issuing a “Constitutional Declaration” on Feb.6th of the same year which dissolved the elected legitimate authority(the parliament) in a clear coup attempt against the formal state authorities, causing the eruption of furious demonstrations in a number of the Yemeni cities including 7 Southern governorates, to express their refusal to what they described as a “coup declaration”. (4)

With the solid ability of the Houthi-Saleh alliance to bring down the Northern areas, one by one, especially those which led to South such as Taiz where the 35th Brigade Resistance Forces, led by Adnan Alhammadi, they involved in fierce battles, the most violent war since its beginning in Lahj and Aden, by controlling the Anad Military Base in late March 2015, especially after the Saleh and Houthi Forces controlled the International Aden Airport. They hold control over large areas in the city, basically the vital ones, such as the Port of Aden, Al Buraiqeh, where the oil refinery and storage tanks are located. The Southern Resistance did its best to defend the capital city of Aden prior to the Arab Coalition’s interference, in the biggest Saudi-led operations along with 9 countries, at the morning of March 26th 2015 dubbed as Operation Storm of Resolve (Asifat Alhazm). 4 months after blazing battles, specifically on July 17th of the same year, the Southern Resistance, backed by ground Emirati Forces regained control over the capital, Aden, from the hands of the Houthi-Saleh Forces, through an Amphibious operation, known as “the Golden Arrow”(Al Sahm Al zahabi), by which the other areas were Consecutively liberated including Lahij, Abyan and Shabwa, while Dhale had been liberated earlier on May 25th 2015 by the Southern Forces, led at that time by Aidrous Alzubaidi.

It worth mentioning that it lacks accuracy when to frame the Yemeni war in a way that pairs with the beginning of “Asifat Alhzam” on March 26th, as shown in the attempts of many research centers and organizations (Yemeni or international) to put it in such a template. This is an attempt to make a distraction from the fact that the Houthis are the party who started the war which practically began prior to the Houthi domination of the Authority in Sanaa on September 21st, 2014. Therefore, some war historians believe that the war erupted when the Houthis attacked and besieged the village of Dammaj in Saada in 2013. Consequently, ignoring the narrative of the events occurred before “Asifat Alhazm” is a kind of political and historical selectivity which appears intentional for stereotyping it by showing the Houthis as the aggrieved party, or portraying them in a better way than they actually are, claiming they face a foreign “mighty” alliance alone, although they themselves are engaged in an internal war against the Yemenis, with a much bigger and more “mighty” Iranian support in many aspects.

This confirms the narrative that without the intervention of regional powers in the Yemeni war, whether by the Riyadh-led Arab Coalition or the Iranian support of the Houthis, the international community wouldn’t care about an internal war, or at least won’t treat it with similar interest. It wouldn’t even classify it into the category of war without the intervention of foreign powers. This was discussed by a previous South24’s paper (5). All the Houthi wars and battles during their seizure of power period, within several areas, have been overlooked, and the war was chronologically framed using the Arab Coalition intervention in March 2015 as its starting point.

Hellish record

Both North and South Yemen paid a high cost due to the eruption of the Civil War in 2014 and over 7 years of armed conflict which transformed the lives of millions of Yemenis into unbearable hell. The most prominent scenes of such a conflict were the unprecedented catastrophic Houthi crimes that used exclusive types of violations, along with the air and ground violations that harmed hundreds of civilians by the Arab Coalition and the internationally-recognized Hadi Government whose decision making is managed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Killing and injuring tens thousands of civilians by the Houthi shots and internationally-prohibited mines is not the end of a scene that started with bombing houses, recruiting children, destroying the health and educational sectors as well as the growing violations by abusive detentions, enforced disappearance, silencing voices, freedom confiscation, targeting facilities and demolition of schools. The scene has developed to the point that 70% of Yemen’s population, estimated by 30 millions, are facing famine threats, according to the World Bank’s warnings (6). UN reports said that Yemen witnesses world’s worst humanitarian crisis. (7)

Moreover, Yemen has witnessed unprecedented economic collapse through the complete decline of the oil revenues, which used to constitute 70% of the state’s budget since the beginning of the war, as well as the collapse of the local currency that lost more than 3 quarters of its value compared with the dollar (8). This led to food price increase, the failure to pay employees’ salaries, and almost complete absence of of the basic services, like the electricity and water, in addition to the growing costs of rent and public transportation.

Not only this, as the number of the displaced in the Houthi areas who fled to regions controlled by the Hadi Government increased in recent years to more than 2 million in Marib alone, according to the Executive Unit for Displaced Persons, in addition to those who lost their income, and displaced in search for compensation. (9)

The state of humanitarian deterioration that Yemen has witnessed( and still) undoubtedly produced a decisive roles for disputing parties but the peace opportunities will remain fragile in the face of the magnitude of the deep crisis and the gross violations committed in Yemen,

The last moment moves

From the very beginning of the Houthi control over the authority in Yemen, it has been understood that this move aims at dominating all Yemeni geography including South. In spite of the way by which the Houthis are dealing with the southern issue,and their previous claims that they believe in Southerners’ grievances, according to their view presented to the National Dialogue Conference in 2013, the facts on ground proved otherwise.

It is clear that the consecutive victories achieved by the Houthis in several locations, whether they have been handed over without any resistance from the National Army, whose decision making run by the Islah party, reflecting a possible collusion, or because of the political and military failure in managing the war file by the Saudi-led Arab Coalition, is something that has encouraged the Houthis to capture more geographical areas such as Bayda, especially Alzaher, and to seize Bayhan in Shabwa which was handed over to them by the Islah Party without any resistance also.

In contrast to the prospective battle in Marib, it seems that the shock confused the regional actors, top of which is the KSA, after the Islah-affiliated Forces handed over Bayhan to the Houthis on September 21st without fighting. Marib was an expected direct target for the Houthis after controlling all its districts except for the city of Marib and the oil-rich Safer to strengthen their strategic depth and their control over oil facilities there. Accordingly, it was supposed that the Coalition and the Hadi Government had to be on standby, as being their last political bastion and military base. However, the battle took another unexpected path, amid an apparently “bilateral deal” between the Islah and the Houthis, with the aim of more expansion towards Abyan, and Aden afterwards.

Currently, in conjunction with the Houthi advance in a number of areas, and their control over several districts in Bayda and Shabwa of South Yemen, this Houthi move is related with a possible aim to enhance their influence before bringing down Marib, or a step in the direction of Abyan and Aden after that, but the latter is likely a suicide move for them and they won’t take the risk of implementing it now. However, the Southerners look fully prepared for such a confrontation within areas under their control, especially after the STC declared the state of emergency in the southern governorates. For the absence of the trust factor, It is expected that they will fight under the legitimacy of their influence and not under the Hadi government in which decision makers proved in several situations to be the main reason behind the developing conflict in the South.

Consequently, looking into the future reveals possible growing restrictions that hinder peace efforts, amid the international and regional silence towards the rapid escalation of the developments on the ground, that will lead to worsen the humanitarian and economic situation. This requires a more firm and serious look by the international community towards the threats behind these developments, and possible deeper and more harmful ramifications. 

Resident Fellow with South24 Center, researcher and journalist in political affairs.

Photo: Reuters

1- Jamal Benomar reads the articles of the Peace and National Partnership Agreement signed on September 21st 2014 

2- Yemeni President: “the Peace and National Partnership Agreement saved the country from more crises”, September 22nd 2014, 

3- Basindawa’s resignation statement, September 21st 2014,

4-Yemeni governorates refuse the Houthi Constitutional Declaration, February 7th 2015,

5- How the International, Regional and Local Communities look at the Yemeni Crisis? September 6th 2021,

6- The World Bank warns of a famine In Yemen that could hit 70% of the population, Aug 4th 2021, 

7- Yemen suffers from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, Dec 7th 2020, The United Nations Population Fund

8- Historic decline of the Yemeni Riyal amid warnings of “economic catastrophe”, July 6th 2021, Russia Today.

9- Marib: the biggest internal displacement tragedy at the heart of escalation in Yemen,

South YemenSanaaHouthi CoupYemeni GovernmentNorth YemenPeaceSTCShabwaIranArab Coalition