Yemen's al-Houthi rebels, who stormed the government headquarters Jan. 20 demanding more political representation, announced the establishment of a five-member presidential council Feb. 6 to serve a 551-member transitional national council and replace the recently resigned government. The group said the council would govern for a two-year period and that revolutionary committees would be in charge of forming a new parliament with 551 members. Some Yemeni lawmakers and military officials were reportedly present during the announcement, suggesting that the al-Houthis have the blessing of at least some political factions.
Indeed, the announcement may not be as unilateral as it first seems. In fact, the presidential council, small though it may be, could be fairly inclusive once formed. Of course, the new system will not work properly without one person having the final say, and that person can reasonably be expected to be a member of the al-Houthi movement. The transitional national council will have plenty of room for others, too, and so it is little surprise that several members of the abolished parliament reportedly have agreed to join it.
But that does not mean Yemen's political "transition," such as it is, will be a smooth one. It has been 12 years since Yemen held parliamentary elections; what has transpired since gives credence to the belief that the parliament has lost its mandate. The same could be said of the presidency; though former President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi was elected with 99.8 percent of the vote in 2012, many opposed his ascension to office, particularly the al-Houthis and the Southern Movement. In other words, the election would hardly be described as inclusive.
For now, it is unclear whether the al-Houthis sincerely intend to be any more inclusive than Hadi was. And even if they are sincere, it is unclear whether the opposition will play along. Opposition figure Tawakkol Karman's Peaceful Revolutionary Youth Council has rejected the al-Houthis' announcement, as have the tribal alliance in Marib and the Southern Movement. Other notable political groups have yet to weigh in at all. Those groups include former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the General People's Congress, the factions of the al-Islah Islamist party that are aligned with Karman's, and several important tribal leaders. They all can be expected to issue statements, one way or another, over the weekend.
For its part, the United Nations does not seem too enthused about the announcement. But there is still the possibility that it could unify at least some of Yemen's political actors (the conservative Salafists and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will never endorse it.) If it can bring together the al-Houthis of the north and garner significant support from the south, it may be bring the country temporary relief.