What the hell is going on in Yemen?

What the hell is going on in Yemen?
Comment: Obscured by politics, the world seems to overlook the fact that the war in Yemen is an expression of a struggle for power, not a sectarian war.
5 min read
28 Mar, 2015
It is hard to follow the Machiavellian politics of Yemen [AFP]

With the emergence of the Saudi-led Arab coalition war on Yemen, the once ignored Arabian country is now headline news across the globe.

For those who are familiar with Yemen, you'll know the country's plot twists are completely surprising and unprecedented. It is no wonder the political analysts of the world continue to baffle themselves and their audience on the escalations currently happening in the "impoverished state". So what is actually going on in Yemen?

Let me break it down. The Ansar Allah movement, better known simply as the Houthis, are a group initially created in Saada, Northern Yemen as a social movement stemming from one family in the 1990s. This family belonged to the Shia Zaidi sect. Between 2004 and 2010, they fought six wars against the State, then led by Ali Abdullah Saleh. In the fifth and sixth wars, Saudi Arabia became heavily involved and sent Saudi boots across the border to support Saleh against the Houthis. Are you following this so far? That means Houthis v Saleh and Saudi Arabia.

The Arab Spring

For those who are familiar with Yemen, you'll know the country's plot twists are completely surprising and unprecedented.

In 2011, Yemen caught the Arab Spring bug from neighbouring countries. Thousands of Yemenis from different factions, including Houthis, the youth, the Islamic Al-Islah party, united and marched across the country calling for the ousting of Ali Abdullah Saleh. The protests continued for a year and a month before Saleh resigned, accepting complete immunity from the GCC.

What happened then? Saleh's VP is sworn in for what was described as an interim period. Elections then took place involving the following candidates: Abd-Rabbo Mansur Hadi and...?

As you rightly guessed, Hadi "won" the elections. Over the next three years he shuffled and reshuffled cabinets and structures and created an excessive number of committees to come together to "discuss" and solve issues. The latter goal wasn't successful. For this reason, the Houthis, who now had a large presence in Sanaa and grown considerably in numbers, began leading protests calling for the demands of the revolution to be met. They had now expanded from the initial "Houthi" family and involved Yemenis from other factions. It was now a Yemeni social movement, which most say had Iranian backing.

In the meantime, Hadi expelled Saleh's loyalists in high positions which angered the former President. The bell rang and the Saleh vs Hadi round commenced. Although Saleh had been generally out of sight since his resignation, Yemenis knew he was pulling strings from behind the scenes.

Saleh grew increasingly agitated with the changes and strongly opposed Hadi. So much so that he then decided to… wait for it... align himself with his arch enemies, the Houthis, to get ahead of the game.

So now these are the teams:

Houthis (supported by Iran) and Saleh (supported by the GCC?) v Hadi (Supported by GCC)

Confused yet?

The Houthis gained power and now had even more confidence than usual (they're innately ballsy). They began advancing in Sanaa, taking over army checkpoints, allegedly assassinating well known figures, holding ministers hostage and even went the extra mile to enter the Presidential palace and obviously, proudly filmed themselves in Hadi's office.

Violence erupted in Sanaa and Yemenis across the country grew concerned about what they saw was an attempted coup against the State. Southerners gathered in what they call their 'capital Aden' and increased their demand for secession from North as Northerners themselves protested against the Houthi invasion. Powerful tribes across Yemen, including those loyal to Hadi in Abyan prepared themselves against the Houthis.

On February 21 Hadi, a Southerner himself, ran home and set up his base in Aden. International governments made a bold statement of support for Hadi when they sent their Ambassadors and diplomats to work from Aden instead. Houthis had Sanaa, Hadi had Aden. Comprende?

The Houthis began marching south and made a pit stop in Taiz, a strategic city between Sanaa and Aden. For the first time, the world knew what was happening and governments around the world suddenly woke up. I would assume, in hindsight, this is what instigated a meeting between the 10 coalition countries now pounding Yemen. The Houthis had their eye on the southern coastal city, Aden.

Saudi's Turki bin Faisal appeared on TV screens clarifying his sudden brotherhood for Yemen: "Yemen's security is important to us" he said, days after two mosques were targeted in a suicide attack supposedly claimed by the Islamic State group (IS).

Drone strikes and airstrikes

With American drones freely flying around its skies, Yemen knows all too well what it means to be struck by foreign forces. But on 25 March 2015, it was rocked with brotherly Arab airstrikes. The UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan and Pakistan followed Saudi Arabia into Yemeni airspace, gathering a total of 150,000 troops to conduct "Operation Decisive Storm".

Yemenis were split between those who supported the GCC airstrikes (... on themselves?) and those who rejected foreign intervention. But the only thing now uniting Yemenis is the congregational condemnation and blame of Saleh, who they believe is responsible for this chaos, bearing in mind he was granted immunity by the GCC. Funny right?

Yemen knows all too well what it means to be struck by foreign forces.

Houthis (supported by Iran) & Saleh (formerly supported by GCC & US) are now at war with Hadi and the GCC (supported by US).

The majority Arab mission to rid Yemen of Iranian backed Houthi aggression was being marketed as a sectarian Sunni vs Shia conflict. Major corporations and media outlets risked their reputation exacerbating a war that is not sectarian in nature. The war on Yemen is nothing more than a battleground for a long existing war between two geopolitical powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

It is hard to envision Yemen's future, when tomorrow is in itself bleak. But since its creation, Saudi Arabia has treated Yemen as its very own backyard and does not appreciate others knocking down its flowerpots.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise to see Saudi's concern for "Yemen and its people" increase now Iran is making new Arab friends.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.