The Saudi/UAE-led coalition’s campaign to seize the strategic Yemeni Red Sea port city of al-Hudaydah has resulted in fierce fighting between the coalition and the Ansar Allah (Partisans of God-Houthi) movement that controls the city. An important component of the coalition forces fighting in al-Hudaydah is the Tihama Resistance, which is a local Yemeni partner force connected to the Tihama Movement (The National [Abu Dhabi], June 17; al-Ain, May 12). The Tihama Movement and its Tihama Resistance Council, the body through which local Yemeni forces are enlisted to fight with the coalition, is a political organization that seeks to improve the conditions of the residents of Tihama, which is the historical name for the Red Sea coastal plain region that runs from southwest coastal Saudi Arabia to the area of al-Hudaydah in Yemen (Asharq al-Awsat, January 16, 2015). The Tihama Movement seeks increased local rule for its region in a future federal governing structure for Yemen and the end of what it views as the historical social and economic exploitation of this area by a succession of Yemeni governments based in Sana’a. The leader and spokesman of the Tihama Resistance Council is Muhammad Ammar Muamen (YouTube, June 20; YouTube, June 19; YouTube, June 18).
Muhammad Ammar Muamen, 50, is a native of al-Hudaydah governorate who has long served as a leader in Yemen’s aviation industry, both before and after the uprising against the Ali Abd Allah Saleh government in 2011 (YouTube, January 8, 2015; YouTube, February 28, 2012; Hour News [Sana’a], December 30, 2010). An aviation engineer by training, Muamen is believed to be an excellent networker who is a prominent member of civil society in the Tihama region. Muamen is the chief anti-corruption and strategic planning adviser to the leadership of the national carrier Yemen Airlines, and the head of the Tihama Development Organization (Aden al-Ghad, July 25, 2017). He was sympathetic to the cause of greater self-rule and rights for his home region, and during the uprising against the Saleh government Muamen emerged as both a local commentator on the Yemeni revolution for Arabic language satellite television stations as well as a prominent proponent and leading member of the Tihama Movement ( al-Hudaydah News, December 17, 2012; YouTube, March 28, 2012; YouTube, February 28, 2012).
Between 2011 and 2015, Muamen was not closely associated with armed movements of any kind. During this time, he was more of a political commentator and organizer of what was intended to be a peaceful political movement in support of Tihama self-rule and rights. However, Muamen was a public critic of the Houthi movement’s operations to seize Sana’a in 2014, and he became an outright enemy of the Houthis as they gained control over al-Hudaydah city in October 2014 and subsequently most of the Tihama region (YouTube, February 23; YouTube, January 8, 2015; al-Jazeera [Doha], October 27, 2014). Muamen is therefore a high value target of the Houthi movement, which has carried out attempts to kidnap him (al-Hudaydah News, April 23, 2015).
Tihama Resistance Council
Shortly after the Houthis seized al-Hudaydah, Muamen helped spearhead the Tihama Movement’s effort to mobilize an armed opposition to the Houthis from among the local population in al-Hudaydah governorate (YouTube, June 18). This effort led to the creation of the Tihama Resistance Council, led by Muamen, an important vehicle for recruiting and mobilizing fighters for the Tihama Resistance brigades that are participating in the major operation against the Houthis in al-Hudaydah (Facebook). According to Muamen, the Tihama Resistance Council was designed to be a force that could accommodate natives of the Tihama region across the political spectrum and prepare this force to coordinate closely with Yemeni national army forces associated with the Hadi government and the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition (YouTube, June 18; Asharq al-Awsat, February 9, 2016).
Since the organization’s founding, it has been focused on both the liberation of the city of al-Hudaydah and establishing a better and more just political and economic arrangement for the Tihama region. Under Muamen’s leadership, both of these objectives are potentially achievable as a result of the Tihama Resistance Council’s association with the coalition and through its close cooperation with the UAE, which is incorporating the Tihama Resistance brigades as an “elite force” into the al-Hizam al-Amni (Security Belt) network (al-Bayan [Dubai], April 12, 2017; see Terrorism Monitor, June 14; Militant Leadership Monitor, April 4). Although Muamen is not the military commander of the Tihama Resistance brigades in the operation against al-Hudaydah, he continues to be the public spokesman for the Tihama Resistance on pan-Arab satellite television as the al-Hudaydah operation has unfolded. He also maintains his position as the political leader of the umbrella movement under whose banner the Tihama Resistance fights (YouTube, June 20; YouTube, June 19; YouTube, June 18; al-Ain, May 12).
Muamen is positioned to be an important figure in al-Hudaydah and its surrounding areas in the aftermath of the Houthis. As the leader of a political and social movement, rather than just a military commander, Muamen’s importance is tied to the future prospects of the Tihama Movement. His power will depend on the extent to which his organization can capitalize on its participation in the coalition campaign to capture al-Hudaydah to become the dominant political power in the city and the wider Tihama region of Yemen. Although the Tihama Movement has mobilized a force and is participating in the coalition campaign against al-Hudaydah, the actual power of this political network is disputed and at present its future prospects are tied to the maintenance of the military alliance with the UAE. Muamen offers the UAE the opportunity to work with a technocratic leader in the al-Hudaydah region who has a large social and political network that is active in the local civil society and who could be of significant assistance to the coalition in the effort to build post-Houthi stability in al-Hudaydah.