On March 21st, a few hundred men who mainly came from the province of Saada in Yemen, and who were surrounding Sana’a, the capital, overran the city and within a few hours controlled every public facility in it. The men were gathering around the city for few weeks before they made their way inside it. They claimed that they were protesting the new prices of oil derivatives which were too much for the average citizens to bear.
After some people believed that these men actually came only to reject the new prices of oil derivatives, the people supported them and asked them to come and take control of the city, saying that the current government was unable to manage the country’s affairs.
Most of the people in Sana’a thought these were just angry citizens who came to the capital city to vent and express how they felt, and those who supported them from within the city were also upset with the government and wanted their voices heard.
I remember that day, I was in the HQ of the Yemen Times Newspaper. We were following the events as they were happening. We learned that the group of people who were surrounding the city had stormed it and were heading towards the Central Security Forces (CSF) HQ. We also knew that these people only had their personal weapons, it is very normal for any person in Yemen to carry his personal weapon wherever he goes, so these men posed no danger.
A couple of minutes later, our security affairs journalist made a call to a soldier stationed in the CSF HQ, to our surprise the soldier said, “Ansar Allah are in control of the camp.” We could not believe our ears. How could a group of a few hundred men take over an entire camp of well-trained soldiers? We did not hear any gunfire! There were no sounds of emergency sirens. After talking with the solider for a minute or so, our lead journalist learned something even more shocking. The camp commanders were ordered to allow Ansar Allah to take control of the camp, and to let them do as they pleased with the equipment in it.
A few hours after that, we learned through numerous sources that the group took control of two more camps. The soldiers were leaving those camps wearing their civilian clothes and taking only their personal weapons with them, leaving everything else for Ansar Allah. One day later, we learned that the group was now in control of the state TV and radio stations, police stations, hospitals, newspapers, and every media outlet in the city.
Soon the group began arresting members of opposing political parties, breaking into the TV channels that criticized them before, and detaining anyone who stood against them. Some journalists and media figures left the country, while others were detained and tortured, some were even killed.
Upon realizing the state of chaos the city was experiencing, some people realized that they made a mistake by allowing this group to enter the city and operate with such freedom. But it was too late, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries formed a coalition to fight this group (who now controlled 70% of the state’s arsenal) and restore President Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi’s cabinet (who had fled to Aden province and then to Saudi Arabia) so he could lead Yemen again.
The coalition has relied heavily on airstrikes and supported local fighters with money and weapons.
More than two years later, the coalition has not fulfilled any of its goals in Yemen, the country was facing famine, epidemics, security instability, and mass corruption. Ansar Allah had become frantic, arresting hundreds of people whom they thought were agents and spies. They appointed their supporters in key positions in the military and the government in general, some of their followers had become massively rich, establishing oil and import companies while the average citizens had not been paid their salaries for months.
Upon reflecting on all this, how did the people believe this group? How did this group control camps and military bases? How did they control media outlets and every important facility in the city including the intelligence HQ? Then it was all clear, they had help from the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced out of power after mass rallies against him.
Every notion we had about democracy, liberty, and freedom was shattered. How could the military betray the state and allow militias to take its place? How could soldiers willingly betray everything they stood for? How could the people be so naïve and favor a militia over a government?