What now for Yemen’s new government?

The Houthi rebels have the new government they demanded, so what will happen next?

A supporter of Yemen's ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh protests against foreign interference in Yemen. Photo/Hani Mohammed / AP
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When the Houthi rebels who control Sanaa and large tracts of northern and central Yemen demanded the formation of a new central government to their approval, it was seen by some as a mere charade to justify them then imposing their self-declared “salvation council” to run the country.

But well within the 10-day deadline imposed by the Houthis, a Shia minority supported by Iran, Yemeni president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi has done just that. On Friday, he announced a 34-member cabinet that includes several Houthis, who have been allocated portfolios including the civil service and social affairs.

This is, in effect, calling the rebels’ bluff. According to the UN power-sharing deal agreed last month, the Houthis are now supposed to withdraw their forces from Sanaa, which they captured on September 21. The question is whether, having got exactly what they said they wanted, the Houthis will honour their deal.

The answer is far more opaque than one side or the other keeping its promises. The fraught nature of events was underscored when a day after brokering the new government, Mr Hadi was yesterday dismissed from the leadership of his own party because some blamed him for soliciting the UN sanctions imposed on his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and two Houthi leaders for political interference.

The influence of Mr Saleh and his supporters reflects the complicated nature of Yemeni politics. Mr Saleh has formed an unlikely alliance with the Houthis, a group he previously attempted to eradicate. Mr Saleh’s destabilising of the country that he ran for 22 years has rightly been seen as contrary to the interests of the majority of Yemenis, who seek a peaceful transition that will allow democracy, stability and eventually greater prosperity.

This is why optimistic predictions rarely come to pass in Yemen. But one need only to look at other Arab Spring countries to see the consequences when attempts to negotiate political transitions are usurped by violent minorities. A GCC-sponsored National Dialogue Conference has kept Yemen mostly peaceful and working towards a power-sharing agreement between its diverse constituent parts without major bloodshed. But as the events of this week show, Yemen could easily still become the next Libya or Syria, an option that would be truly unconscionable.