From the November-December 2013 issue of News & Letters
Yemen’s Western-backed President, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, announced the long-awaited formation of a new, “technocratic” government Nov. 7. The country has been in upheaval since the 2012 overthrow of dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The immediate background to the new agreement is the changed situation resulting from the occupation of large areas of the country by Houthi rebels, including the capital, Sana’a. The Houthi belong to the Zaidi sect of Shi’a Islam, which differs from the Iranian version—although some have tried to fit current events in Yemen into the regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the fit isn’t exact.
Neither is this a grassroots revolution, as was the overthrow of Saleh, a part of the Arab Spring revolts. Saleh belongs to the same sect as the Houthi, and has been accused of backing them in a bid to return to power. Saleh and two leading Houthi commanders have been threatened with UN sanctions over this, at the request of the U.S. government. Clearly “technocracy” is meant to obscure the social fault lines here.
But the Houthis are also battling al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which will meet with U.S. approval, and the new government has gained some support from the people. Feminist blogger Afrah Nasser has pointed to the presence of four women ministers, the most ever: newspaper publisher Nadia Al Sakkaf is Minister of Information; human rights advocate Arwa Othman is Culture Minister (she had recently received death threats from Houthi sectarians); civil rights activist Gabool Al-Mutawakel is Social Affairs and Labour Minister; and women’s advocate Samira Obaid is a Cabinet member.