- The survey results obtained by the Yemen Polling Center do not indicate overwhelming support among the population of al-Hodeidah governorate for Ansarallah, the de facto authority in the governorate. A plurality view Ansarallah as a militia rather than a legitimate state actor. A third said the group is undermining security.
- When asked which actor should have authority over security provision, 24 percent cited the police and security forces, whereas only 7 percent said Ansarallah. The percentage that prefers the police and security forces is only close to half the national average.
- Ansarallah took advantage of the institutions already in place and adjusted them to serve its own interests. In particular, to establish its own system of control, the group introduced a system of supervisors to existing semi-formal institutional arrangements.
- In areas under Ansarallah’s control, aqils now operate under Ansarallah supervisors, have less responsibility for security concerns and no longer provide government services to their communities. In al-Hodeidah areas controlled by military forces supported by the Saudi-led coalition, the aqils — along with the police — are said to have been sidelined by those militaries.
- Nearly all respondents in urban areas confirmed that there is a police station in their neighborhood and said that it was functioning. Forty-three percent said they would first inform the police in case of an emergency, while 2 percent said they would notify Ansarallah authorities.
- Among Yemeni governorates in 2019, al-Hodeidah had the highest rates of insecurity and the highest rates of citizen concern about their living conditions. Half of al-Hodeidah respondents to Yemen Polling Center surveys had lost their job or their income, and nearly all respondents reported that their children did not go to school.
- In the current political context, the manner in which local security forces function essentially renders them “Ansarallah security forces.” Without reforms or restructuring, there are no neutral “local forces” to whom Ansarallah could hand over security for the city of al-Hodeidah.
Conclusions & Recommendations
Local security forces, namely the police and the aqils, remain legitimate in the eyes of alHodeidah residents. This suggests that with adequate political and material support, the police together with their informal partners could play a significant role in a transitional security arrangement in urban areas of al-Hodeidah. The profile of local police and informal actors, however, has undergone change after Ansarallah’s penetration of security structures. In the current political context, the manner in which local security forces function basically renders them “Ansarallah security forces.” Without reform or restructuring, there are no “local forces” to whom Ansarallah could hand over security for the city. Currently, residents of al-Hodeidah are avoiding authorities as much as possible and taking their personal security into their own hands. Civic figures who participated in focus group discussions in al-Hodeidah underlined the need for awareness campaigns on how residents can better protect themselves and training in first aid. Residents have little knowledge of how to respond in case of emergencies of various types, such as medical emergencies or war-related injuries. While civic engagement in itself has become a security risk in Ansarallah-held al-Hodeidah, interview participants suggested developing cartoons and drawings that could be distributed to residents through social media. Many stressed the importance of civil society actors there. Activists and journalists pointed to the responsibility of civil society organizations and leaders to raise awareness about community safety and human rights despite the scope of their activities being restricted. Many also underlined the need to train police in community policing and the rule of law.26 No doubt, civil society figures should play a role in shaping a transitional security arrangement in line with the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. Committees bringing together civic figures, local politicians, aqils and the police administration could draw up models for future local security arrangements. For these committees to be accepted by the population and to be effective, the selection process of members is key. Members could be determined through a dual-track system with both a top-down (selection) and bottom-up (election) process and including consideration of figures who have remained in the city and those who were forced out. Such committees cannot, however, be effective without the backing of all the warring parties. While civil society should play a role in shaping the transitional security arrangement, it is clear that the residents of al-Hodeidah want state institutions to have authority over security provision. These institutions must be responsive to the needs of the community.
Almost a year after Ansarallah and the internationally recognized Yemeni government under Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi signed the Stockholm Agreement, progress is finally being made on implementation of the deal, struck in December 2018. Of note, officers loyal to the Hadi government and fighters from Ansarallah’s militia deployed in October 2019 to staff joint checkpoints on the frontlines east of the city of al-Hodeidah.4 The move represented the first tangible progress toward implementation of the accord’s provisions. The erection of the joint checkpoints followed Iran-sponsored attacks on Saudi Aramco oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais on September 14, 2019, for which Ansarallah falsely claimed responsibility in an attempt to inflate its military capabilities. To head off a major retaliation after the attack, Ansarallah on September 30 released 290 prisoners as part of the Stockholm deal and proposed a cease-fire to Saudi Arabia. Subsequently, the Saudi government publicly announced that it is in indirect peace talks with Ansarallah. Implementation of the Stockholm deal is an opportunity for Ansarallah to demonstrate its capacity to negotiate and adhere to agreements. This sends an important signal to all parties to the conflict, because to date, Ansarallah’s track record with regard to implementing agreements is null. Despite some positive signals, real success for the Stockholm Agreement hinges on the warring parties redeploying their forces away from al-Hodeidah ports and the city so that supposedly neutral local security forces can take over. The great uncertainty surrounding implementation of the agreement is the degree to which Ansarallah has penetrated al-Hodeidah’s security structures, thus casting doubt on the true loyalty of the local forces.
The Stockholm Agreement: The City and Ports of al-Hodeidah
Ansarallah seized Yemen’s capital in September 2014 and the following month entered alHodeidah, its sights set on the country’s largest port. Indeed, the city of al-Hodeidah and its ports eventually fell under Ansarallah’s complete control. In spring 2018, the Saudi-led coalition that had intervened in the Yemeni civil war in March 2015 on the side of the government to oppose Ansarallah launched a Red Sea offensive with the aim of reclaiming the west coast of the country, including the city and ports of al-Hodeidah. The coalition hoped that increased military pressure on Ansarallah would lead to overall progress toward its primary goal of reinstating Hadi in Sanaa, the capital. The military offensive was eventually halted by a ceasefire agreement after the forces supported by the Arab coalition entered the governorate but before they were able to take a hold of the ports and the city. The following UN-led peace talks resulted in the Stockholm Agreement, signed December 13, 2018. After that, Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen, put his energies into promoting implementation of the provisions of the agreement involving redeployments from the ports, city and environs of alHodeidah. Other provisions of the accord included prisoner swaps and de-escalation in Taiz. The warring parties agreed to the redeployment of all forces associated with the conflict parties from al-Hodeidah’s major ports as the first step in implementing the agreement, followed by troop redeployments from the city. In terms of the latter, the agreement mandates that all parties “commit to remove any military manifestations from the city” and that security “shall be the responsibility of local security forces in accordance with Yemeni law.” It further states that “legal lines of authority shall be respected and any obstructions to proper functioning of local state institutions, including supervisors, shall be removed.” This is where, in part, uncertainty comes into play concerning the status of the local security forces that are supposed to fill the void once the combatants have redeployed. On May 11, 2019, six months after the peace talks in Stockholm, Ansarallah unilaterally redeployed forces from three ports on the Red Sea: al-Hodeidah, Ras Isa and Salif. Although the unilateral withdrawal was accepted by the UN special envoy as satisfying the redeployment provision of the Stockholm agreement, the Yemeni government did not accept the handover as such. The forces’ unilateral withdrawal was met with widespread scepticism, particularly by the Hadi government, because Ansarallah was said to have handed port management to its members in the Coast Guard. The scepticism appeared to be justified given that all the security establishments in the governorate had gradually come under Ansarallah’s control beginning in October 2014.