Going Global: Yemen’s Civil War
Columns / September 28, 2015
Yemen’s Civil War
Yemen, at this moment, finds itself in a quagmire. In the southern part of the country you have Al-Qaeda, in the west you have Iran-backed Houthis, in the east and the south you have the former government and their loyalists. On top of all of this, you have bombing runs courtesy of neighbouring Arab states and Saudi involvement. What is going on in Yemen?
The bigger picture of this conflict is the Saudi-Iranian cold war. These two countries, which are very close to each other geographically, are very different in every other aspect. Even religiously, Saudi Arabia is a Sunni Wahhabist state, while Iran is Shi’a. Iran happens to be engaging in multiple fronts throughout the Middle East by supporting Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and involvement in the Bahraini and Qatifi uprisings.
Of course, Yemen is part of this big picture. It’s the poorest country in the Middle East, with high unemployment and around half of the population below the poverty line. Food is expensive and needs to be imported, which leads to continuous unrest.
Yemen actually used to be two countries, North Yemen and South Yemen, who were separate due to British colonization and the former Ottoman Empire.
It was in 1990 that the two states unified under the rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who remained the leader of the country until the Arab Spring occurred. And with that revolution, as with many revolutions throughout history, it began as peaceful protests and slowly becomes more and more violent as time went on. Remember, terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda always, always benefit in chaotic environments.
Along with the Arab Spring in 2011, Saleh eventually saw an assassination attempt carried out against him in September of that year which left four of his bodyguards dead and himself injured and burned. Two months later in November, he agreed to transfer power to his deputy president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
The Houthis were actually working towards peace with the Yemeni government in September of 2014. In exchange for a ceasefire, the Yemeni government would allow for more political representation of the Houthi people and other minorities, who make up around 40 per cent of the country. However, the Houthis rejected a draft constitution, and ended up kidnapping one of the president’s higher-ups and taking over state television.
A few months later, Hadi’s government is removed from power by Houthi rebels, with Saleh acting behind the scenes. The current war in Yemen are pro-Hadi, Sunni forces, who are fighting against pro-Saleh, Houthi, Shi’a forces.
The proper Yemeni military has also split up, with some siding with Hadi and others siding with Saleh. This also means heavily diminished effectiveness against local terrorists.
The Houthi have always felt under-represented in Yemen, and it is believed that they are funded or somehow supported by Iran as part of the Saudi-Iran cold war. As such, the Saudi military is getting directly involved by carrying airstrikes and moving infantry against Houthi rebels, with the blessings of Hadi. Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to have any spillover into their country.
Al-Qaeda is also involved, seeking to exploit the instability in the region. Their goal would be to enter the Sunni areas of the conflict and gain favour in anti-Houthi parts of the country. They have been very successful in the southern part of the country, where some members of the Hadi-aligned Southern Movement believe that part of the country should succeed and once again become South Yemen.
The United States has also been involved for a long time, as part of their War on Terror. The U.S. has been supportive of the Hadi’s presidency, helping his government by conducting drone strikes in parts of the country occupied by Al-Qaeda forces.
What a mess. Yemen has always been divided, but is even worse-off now. A military at war with itself is stretched thin, terrorists in the south are taking land, and Iran-supported tribes in the north are all vying for power. Not only this, but the Americans and Saudi’s are conducting air strikes.
When outsiders look at these conflicts in the Middle East, sometimes we jump to conclusions. “All these Muslims hate each other,” one might think. This isn’t the case. There are no “bad guys” or “good guys” in world conflicts, only winners and losers trying to engineer a situation that benefits themselves the most. Religion in this conflict, like in many others, is almost irrelevant.