Analyzing and forecasting the Gulf Cooperation Council's geopolitical environment

Hadi Should Look Southward for Legitimacy—Not North

By Adam Simpson
March 11, 2016

In March 2015, Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi was forced to flee the southern city of Aden as Houthi rebels descended on his presidential palace. Since then, he and his government have touted their legitimacy primarily from Saudi Arabia, which is chief among the coalition of nations fighting on Hadi’s behalf to wrest control of Yemen from the Houthis and their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) support Hadi, and many Yemenis as well see their country’s internationally-recognized government as the least-worst alternative to Houthi domination. However, as the conflict enters its second year, Hadi and his backers have not yet made the case that the government can articulate a viable future.

Following months of siege and conflict in Aden, Yemeni popular resistance forces were able to repel Houthi rebels from the city thanks to the July 2015 arrival of coalition infantry and armor. Though coalition troops and anti-Houthi forces have forced the rebels’ front lines northward, security and stability in Aden remain elusive. Extremist groups, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Daesh (“Islamic State”), continue to operate in the city with near impunity. The popular resistance cadres that were instrumental in fending off the Houthis remain mobilized, yet outside the purview of the Yemeni government.

More worrisome is that the Yemeni government and its GCC allies appear to be immune to the realities of the southern half of the country. Khaled Bahah, Yemen’s Vice President and Prime Minister, has bragged that Yemeni forces are on the outskirts of Sana’a and that the 80 percent of the country is under the government’s control. How he arrived at this figure remains a mystery, with Houthis asserting strong control of most northern provinces, the conflict in Taiz showing no signs of resolution, and AQAP seizing more towns in Yemen’s south.

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Adam Simpson is a Middle East focused researcher based in Washington, DC. He has been previously published in The Daily Beast, The National, and Atlantic Council’s MENASource blog.