Abu Ras during a meeting of the GPC leaders in Sanaa (Fouad Al-Harazi/Al-Araby Al-Jadeed)

Can the GPC in Sanaa Confront the Houthis?


Tue, 03-10-2023 03:53 PM, Aden

While it is logical to assume that Abu Ras' GPC won't be able to do more than what Ali Abdullah Saleh had done in 2017, this fact doesn't nullify the current change in circumstances and the involvement of the popular factor.

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24)

On September 26, 2023, leader of the Iranian-backed Houthis, Abdulmalik Al-Houthi announced what he called a "radical change” stage in North Yemen. This came during his video speech broadcast by ’Al-Masirah‘ Channel to commemorate the 61st anniversary of the ’September 26 Revolution‘ which overthrew the rule of the Hamid al-din family (who have lineage relationships with the Houthis) in North Yemen and the ’Prophet's Birthday‘ celebrations imposed by the Houthis in the areas under their control over the past years.

On September 27, Al-Houthi delivered another speech in which he announced their intention to form what he called a new "technocrat government" in Sanaa and depose the current government led by the prominent leader of the General People’s Congress (GPC) Abdulaziz bin Habtour. The government mainly consists of Houthi figures along with the GPC's branch in Sanaa, led by Sadeq Abu Ras. Later that day, the ’National Defense Council‘, affiliated with the Houthis, endorsed the "radical change" decision. In a statement, the National Defense Council said:

"In the name of the Supreme Political Council, we announce the dismissal of the current government, headed by Dr. Abdulaziz bin Habtour. We instructed it to run regular public affairs except for appointments and dismissal until a new government is formed."

These developments came days after the return of the Houthi negotiating delegation from Riyadh following direct political talks with Saudi Arabia that lasted for days with an Omani mediation team. Moreover, it came in the wake of weeks of conspicuous tension in the tenuous relationship between the Houthis and GPC in Sanaa. The tension escalated after statements by Sadeq Abu Ras during the 41st anniversary of the founding of GPC.

The accelerating events have raised urgent questions about the Houthi intentions towards their nominal alliance with the GPC. This alliance has been shaken since the assassination of GPC founder former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh by Houthi gunmen in December 2017. The remnants of the party leaders became second and third-level officials who hold nominal positions away from security and military tasks that have been monopolized by a high class of the Houthis and relevant tribes.

The dispute escalation

On September 2, Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, a prominent Houthi leader, called for seizing the headquarters and assets of the former regime [Ali Abdullah Saleh regime and the GPC] along with the assets of Houthi foes in the legitimacy camp in Sanaa and other Northern cities to be allocated for the ’Teacher Support Fund’.

This move came in the wake of a large online campaign to denounce the failure to pay the salaries of teachers and civil servants in the Houthi areas. Meanwhile, there are accusations against the group for exploiting this issue during the political negotiations with Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni internationally recognized government. The Houthis have put a precondition of using the oil and gas revenues in the government areas to pay the salaries. This is despite the huge revenues gained by the Houthis from the Port of Hodeidah and the communications sector.

On August 24, Sadeq Abu Ras, delivered a "bold" speech in which he called for paying the salaries of employees in the Houthi areas. He said: "Citizens have the right to speak about their salaries. We must look at this matter with compassion and mercy by providing them with what we can. We should be realistic. We should know our budgets and revenues. We should show everything to the people."

Abu Ras criticized the performance of the Sanaa government led by his colleague Abdulaziz bin Habtour. He said that "it failed to do its duties because we haven't given it sufficient powers". He added that "the establishment of many bodies within each ministry has made ministers unable to bear any responsibility or take any decision."

Yemeni journalist and political analyst Salman Al-Maqrami believes that the escalation of disputes between the GPC and Houthis is a result of the growing conflict among the Houthi factions themselves.

He told ’South24 Center‘: "Tensions have increased recently within the narrow Houthi circles in Saada after the Houthi military defeats in Marib and Shabwa. The long-term truce and the catastrophic failure to manage the state institutions have accumulated conflicts within the group itself in Saada Governorate. This internal conflict has had a clear impact in Sanaa between GPC and the Houthis."

Is GPC able to confront?

On December 2, 2017, Ali Abdullah Saleh began what looked like an "uprising" against the Houthis in Sanaa. This ended with his cruel assassination on December 4. This delivered a hard blow to the GPC which had shared everything with the Houthis, including guns and tanks in the camps of the Republican Guards and the Special Forces affiliated with Ali Abdullah Saleh. The attempt to launch a coup against the coup was the first and most violent experience for the GPC against the Houthis. Notably, many believe that it was also the party's last attempt to confront the Iranian-backed group.

Currently, the GPC no longer wields any real security or military authority that can threaten the Houthis, according to analyst Salman Al-Maqrami. He believes that "GPC can't stand in the face of the Houthis while it doesn't have military power. It only seeks to hide behind popular sectors such as employees, merchants, and state institutions. It also makes use of the tribal anger against the Houthis. This is all that can be done by the party."

Indeed, after the assassination of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Houthis have flexed their muscles against the GPC in Sanaa on many occasions. For example, Houthi gunmen raided the homes of GPC leaders in Sanaa and imprisoned many of them for carrying Ali Abdullah Saleh's photos during their August 2021 celebration of the 39th anniversary of founding of the party. The Houthis have had the upper hand in the military and political scene in Sanaa to the extent that they are usually referred to exclusively in the matter.

However, academic Dr. Sultan Al-Jarash, who is close to the GPC leaders, told ’South24 Center‘: "The GPC in Sanaa isn't that weak. Considering the current political developments, it respects free expression and supports any constructive dialogue with all parties. The ongoing developments are being monitored. Matters are being handled in a cautious and moderated way." He didn't provide further details.

’South24 Center'' contacted Sadeq Abu Ras and a Member of the Houthi Political Office Ali Al Qhoom to comment on the matter but we haven't received any response yet.

Distorted relationships

Practically, the Houthi-GPC alliance was supposed to end with the assassination of Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthi monopoly of power, according to experts. However, the continuous work between Sadeq Abu Ras' GPC branch and the Houthis has produced a "distorted relationship", described by Salman Al-Maqrami as being a "winner-loser relationship". He added that "the nature of this relationship puts a heavy burden on the weak party as the Houthis stormed several governorates in the name of or with the help of GPC".

In view of the powerlessness of the GPC, Al-Maqrami believes that any escalation by the party is probably being supported by a strong Houthi wing as part of the group's internal conflict. He added: "It seems that the current approach adopted by the GPC is supported by one of the Houthi internal conflict groups. Moreover, the party is plagued with divisions and big problems amid fears of its disintegration". Al-Maqrami believes that the years of conflict have given rise to strong factions in Sanaa that are capable of confronting Abdulmalik Al-Houthi and his newly-declared “radical change”.

He pointed to the deep concerns within the GPC in Sanaa towards the Houthi’s unilateral appearance at the political talks between the group and Saudi Arabia as well as their future discussions with other Yemeni actors. He said: "The GPC strongly fears that any settlement would lead to erasing it completely. This is possible and believable. Additionally, the Houthis prevented GPC members from meeting the Omani delegation or participating in the Muscat negotiations and others. In theory the party is a 50/50 partner, but this is not the case in practice."

While it is logical to assume that Abu Ras' GPC won't be able to do more than what Ali Abdullah Saleh had done in 2017, this fact doesn't nullify the current change in circumstances and the involvement of the popular factor. Over the past days, activists have shared videos that show young people carrying the flags of the Yemen Republic amid the Houthi repression. This is a rare thing that has not been seen since the Houthis took control of Sanaa on September 21, 2014.

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic

North YemenHouthisSanaaGPC