DUBAI: Rifts are growing within the ranks both of Yemen’s government and the rebel alliance, further dimming the prospects of an end to the country’s two-year-old war.
On the government side, a push for self-rule in the formerly independent south is gaining traction.
Local governors in south Yemen on Thursday announced they had launched an autonomous authority for the region, a rebuttal against President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s decision to fire two key members of his government.
In the north, a power struggle is emerging in the alliance between Yemen’s Shiite Huthi rebels and the forces of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Caught in the middle are millions of Yemenis who face spiralling violence, looming famine and a political crisis that analysts say is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
On April 27, Hadi dismissed cabinet minister Hani bin Breik and Aidarous al-Zoubeidi, then the governor of the southern province of Aden where Hadi’s government is based.
The move sparked mass protests in support of Zoubeidi and Breik, both historically in favour of southern autonomy.
Zoubeidi and Breik are both board members of the newly-announced Southern Transitional Council.
The two also played a key role in restoring security to Aden and adjacent provinces in 2015, after Huthi insurgents were driven out of the area by government forces supported by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.
Insiders say the recent events have deep roots.
South Yemen was an independent state until 1990, when it was unified with North Yemen and Ali Abdullah Saleh elected president.
Saleh remained in power until 2012, when he resigned after a year of mass protests and was succeeded by Hadi, his vice president.
The ex-president realigned himself at the side of the Shiite insurgents, who staged a coup against Hadi in 2014.
Hadi fled the capital Sanaa and briefly relocated to his hometown of Aden before settling in Saudi Arabia, which along with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a crucial military ally of Hadi’s government.
But Hadi’s dismissal of Zoubeidi and bin Breik, both reportedly close to the UAE, appears to have reignited southern separatist sentiment.
“The extent of this rift reverberates in the Arab coalition, particularly as the sidelined southern leaders are supported by the UAE,” a government official told AFP, requesting anonymity.
The UAE played a key role in providing military and economic support in Hadi’s campaign to retake the five southern provinces in the summer of 2015 and continues to support leaders in the south.
Abu Dhabi is also a key supporter of Breik, who is close to salafist groups in southern Yemen.
And analysts say the spread of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group in government-held parts of Yemen, where the jihadists have taken advantage of the political chaos, damages Hadi’s ties to both the United Nations and the West.
Power struggles have also created a rift in the north, which is controlled by the Huthi-led alliance.
“This alliance, which has held up so far, is tactical but unnatural and is showing signs of cracking,” said Yemen analyst Najib Ghallab.
“The Huthis don’t necessarily believe in partnership… They build their own authority directly linked to Abdel Malek al-Huthi,” head of the rebel group, Ghallab said.
In a structural power play, the Huthis this month announced they had promoted 29,000 policemen to positions in the interior ministry, all chosen from within their ranks.
But the transfer last year of the central bank from Sanaa to Hadi’s stronghold of Aden drained the rebels of the means to pay civil servant salaries, fanning popular discontent.
Dissatisfaction among supporters of Saleh is also rising, and the ex-president this week said he was open to dialogue with rival Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia’s powerful Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has hinted that Saleh could begin to distance himself from the Huthis.
“Saleh is now under Huthi control,” Prince Mohammed said. “If he were to leave Sanaa, he would adopt a different position”.
The World Health Organization estimates more than 8,000 people have been killed since 2015 in the war between the Saudi-supported government and the Iranian-backed Huthis.
The UN has warned that two-thirds of the population of Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world even before the war, faces a serious threat of famine this year.