Yemen’s Timeline – An Overview

The unrest in Yemen is not a single conflict but is instead a mosaic of multifaceted regional, local, and international power struggles that are the legacy of recent and long-past events. The following timeline and subsequent commentaries and analyses will attempt to offer readers an educated – although summarised overview of Yemen’s many struggles and ills.

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1918 – Yemen’s modern political history realistically began with its independence from the Ottoman Empire, following which North Yemen came to be ruled by Imam Yahya. While Imam Yahya safeguarded North Yemen’s territorial integrity, tensions among several of tribes and various factions’ pursuit of power prevented the nation from truly developing meaningful state institutions, at least in a manner which would have offered political continuity and stability.

To a great extent old tribal upsets have plagued North Yemen, forever preventing the acceptance of an overarching political entity – that of the state. 

1948 – Ahmad ibn Yahya inherits the reins of power from his father amid growing calls for an end to the feudal rule.

1962 – Following Ahmad’s death, high ranking military officials break ranks to establish the Yemen Arab Republic – largely under the influence of pan-Arabism. Begins North Yemen’s civil war which sees Saudi Arabia (royalist) and Egypt (republican) battle for influence.

1970 – North Yemen’s republican forces win a long war of attrition against the royalists, putting the newly formed Republic on a crash course with its theocratic neighbour: Saudi Arabia. From then on, the Kingdom will look onto Yemen with much unease and concern.

1972 – As North Yemen’s various factions battle for political power, skirmishes at the border with South Yemen – then under control Communist rule, reach new heights.

1978 – Ali Abdullah Saleh becomes President of North Yemen. He will remain in power for three decades.

1986 – Following a mini civil war, Haidar Abu Bakr Al Attas then-Prime Minister of the People Democratic of Yemen begins negotiating the reunification of Yemen with President Saleh.

1990 – North and South Yemen unite under the presidency of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, marking the end of the communist era in the Arabian Peninsula. Before it fell to the control of the communist party South Yemen was under British rule (1969).

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1994 May-July – Yemen sees a violent but short-lived attempt by southerners to secede, under the leadership of the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) from the newly formed Republic of Yemen. Backed by Saudi Arabia, Ali Abdullah Saleh breaks the southern secessionist movement. This victory will allow the Saleh clan to consolidate its hold over Yemen’s state institutions and economy.

The short civil war left the YSP in political shambles, thus allowing control to fall within the hands of the General People’s Congress (Saleh’s political faction) and Al Islah (a loose coalition of Islamists and tribes loyal to Al Ahmar clan).

Over the next few years, the effort to reorganize politics and to strengthen the voice of the south in Yemen’s political life was hampered in part by the inability of the YSP to resuscitate itself; at the same time, strained relations within the GPC adn Al Iṣlaḥ coalition led to increasing dominance by the GPC and to an oppositional stance on Al Iṣlaḥ’s part. The political conflict and unrest that accompanied and followed the civil war marked by a thinning of political freedom and religious radicalisation under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood which members found protection under Al Islah’s political umbrella.

This thaw in between Yemen’s political and tribal factions has plagued Yemen’s political discourse and prevented many efforts towards national reconciliation. 

For three decades, Yemen will see the reelection of Ali Abdullah Saleh at the presidency. Saleh’s rule, like many of his contemporaries,  will be marked by nepotism, corruption and political manipulation.

While President Saleh maintained relatively close ties to Saudi Arabia – often benefiting from Al Saud financial largesse, his decision during the 1st Gulf War to support then-President Saddam Hussain (Iraq) marked a sharp turnaround in Riyadh-Sana’a relations.

Arguably Saudi Arabia will never completely forgive Saleh’s ‘betrayal’ and would learn to look onto Yemen with much suspicion indeed. 

Began a long game of cat and mouse between Saleh and Al Saud for control over Yemen’s politics and economic future.

2004 – The Houthis emerged out of Yemen’s mountainous far north from ‘Believing Youth,’ a revivalist Zaidi movement fuelled by local fears of encroachment by Sunni ideologies. Under threat of ‘absorption’ by the Muslim Brotherhood, several Zaidi tribal leaders decided to come together and fight. 

While initial fighting was largely limited to the Houthi strongholds of Sa’ada,  it soon spread to the province of Amran and al-Jawf, near the border with Saudi Arabia.

If kept in check under Saleh’s presidency, the Houthis grew both in strength and ambition in 2012 as President Hadi (a member of the GPC and successor to Saleh)  looked to consolidate his rule through a series of alliances aimed to counter Al Islah’s political ambitions.

January 27, 2011 – On the back of Egyptians’ call for regime change protesters in Sanaa decides to mobilise against then- President Ali Abdullah Saleh, asking for his resignation and new elections after three decades in power.

Sept. 12, 2011 – Saleh signs a document giving Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi special power to negotiate a transition of power under the guise of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Joint Meeting Parties – Yemen’s political opposition parties.


December 2011 – Saleh announces that he handed power over to his designated vice president, Hadi, under the terms of the GCC-brokered transition of power initiative. (see here for the full text)

January 2012 – Saleh and several of his close allies and family members are given full immunity by parliament.

Feb. 21, 2012 – Hadi is elected president of Yemen in a one-man election. His term is set for two years, during which he will oversee Yemen’s institutional and political transition in keeping with the National Dialogue Conference resolutions.

January 2014 – Members of the NDC reach a tentative agreement in the capital Sana’a. The terms of a draft constitution are finally ironed out so that Yemen can finalize its transition of power.

September 2014 – The Houthis reach Sana’a following a blazing campaign against Al Islah in the highlands. Abdel Malik al-Houthi, leader of the Houthi movement calls on Hadi to commit to the implementation of all NDC resolutions, per the January 2014 agreement. A deal is signed in Sana’a and a new coalition government is formed.

January 2015 –  Following months of political wrangling and rising tensions Hadi announces his resignation. His entire cabinet resigns. Hadi and several ministers are immediately put under house arrest by the Houthis as Jamal Benomar, then-UN Special Envoy to Yemen, attempts to return all parties to the negotiating table.

February 2015 – Hadi flees Sana’a for Aden (former capital of South Yemen), where he announces Aden as the new capital of Yemen, essentially splitting Yemen in two. Sana’a becomes a diplomatic ghost town as all foreign embassies withdraw their diplomats from the city.

March 2015 – The United States of America announces the evacuation of its troops from Al Anad airbase near Aden.

March 25, 2015 -Saudi Arabia unilaterally launched an attack on Yemen with the backing of eight Arab countries — Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco, Qatar, Egypt, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan — and the support of the United States and European Union under UN Resolution 2216.

NCF Yemen Boss on Riyadh Agreement

Yemen’s internationally recognised government and UAE-backed separatists have signed a power-sharing deal to halt infighting. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the agreement between the Yemeni government and southern separatists to end a power struggle in the war-torn country’s south, Saudi state TV reported on Tuesday. Prince Mohammed decribed the “Riyadh Agreement” as a crucial step towards a political solution to end Yemen’s bloody four-year war. Al Jazeera’s James Bay reports.

The Houthis’ grand military complex – A movement defined in battles

If the Houthis movement was initially structured as a conduit for positive social advancement in the Highlands as well as a mean to reaffirm Yemen’s very own religious idiosyncrasy: Zaidism, the past two decades have transformed this once aspirational outfit into a veritable military apparatus, one capable of wielding the most deadly of weapons and acquire high grade military technology.

In less than two decades the Houthis managed to rise themselves a military power capable of challenging not one army but a coalition of armies made up of several superpowers – beyond that, and because the movement is not constrained by those diplomatic and political ties which force nations to play according to well-established rules, its leadership has been freed to act out guerilla-type operations against its designated enemies. 

2018 marked a decisive change in direction as the Houthis moved away from a typical resistance set-up, confined within the borders of Yemen nation-state, to redefine their war efforts in direct retaliation. Rather than push against Saudi Arabia’s military coalition, the Houthis chose to bring on their homeground, war was brought to the Kingdom by way of drone attacks and ballistic missiles. 

And though many of the attacks have been choppy and ill-directed, the Houthis are honing their skills, making them terrifying enemies indeed, if anything by virtue of their learning curve.

  • On January 5, 2018, Saudi state-owned media confirmed the kingdom’s defence forces intercepted a Houthi missile over the Najran province, on the southern border with Yemen, before it could hit its intended target. Keen to advertise their new reach the Houthis took to Twitter, saying its military arm had a “successful launch of a short range ballistic missile at a military target in Saudi Arabia”.
  • On March 31, 2018, Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired by the Houthis targeting the southern city of Najran.
  • On June 24, 2018, Saudi Arabia confirmed its air defence forces intercepted and destroyed two Houthi ballistic missiles over Riyadh.
  • On July 25, 2018, The Houthis  attacked a Saudi oil tanker in the Red Sea, causing slight damage, according to the Saudi-UAE-led coalition.
  • On August 9, 2018, Saudi Arabia intercepted two missiles fired by the Houthis at its southern Jizan province, the official Saudi Press Agency quoted a military spokesman as saying. Al Masirah TV reported that the Houthis had fired a number of ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia, targeting the border provinces of Jizan and Asir.
  • On April 3, 2019, the Saudi Arabia war coalition said it intercepted two drones launched by the Houthis towards the city of Khamis Mushait. Spokesman Colonel Turki Al Maliki said debris caused by the interception of the two drones wounded five civilians in the city.
  • On May 14, 2019, Saudi Arabia confirmed armed drones struck two of its oil-pumping stations west of Riyadh. The Aramco East-West pipeline, stretching across the country to the port and oil terminal at Yanbu, was damaged in two places.
  • On May 20, 2019, the Saudi military said it shot down two ballistic missiles reportedly heading towards the cities of Jeddah and Mecca. The Houthis denied their missiles were targeting Mecca, a pilgrimage site some 70km (43.5 miles) from Jeddah and 50km (31 miles) from Taif. 
  • On June 12, 2019, the Houthis fired a missile at Abha airport in southern Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 civilians in the building’s arrivals hall, according to the Saudi-UAE-led coalition. The coalition says a projectile hit the arrivals hall at Abha airport, causing material damage. Three women and two children were among the wounded, it adds, noting that they were of Saudi, Yemeni and Indian nationalities.
  • On June 17, 2019, the Houthis launched a drone attack targeting Abha airport, the group’s Al Masirah TV says. There is no immediate Saudi confirmation of the attack.
  • On June 20, 2019,  the Houthis hit a power station in Jizan province with a cruise missile Al Masirah TV said. The coalition confirmed shortly after that a desalination plant in al-Shuqaiq city had suffered an attack but that no damage had been recorded.
  • On July 2, 2019, a new Houthi attack on Abha airport wounded nine civilians.
  • On August 1, 2019, the Houthis fired a long-range missile at the port city of Dammam in Saudi Arabia, hundreds of kilometres away from Yemen.
  • On August 5, 2019, the Houthis launched several drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid Airbase and Abha and Najran airports.
  • On August 17, 2019, a drone attack claimed by the Houthis sparked a fire in a remote oil and gas field in eastern Saudi Arabia. A Houthi military spokesman noted at the time that the group targeted the Shaybah oilfield with 10 drones, calling it the “biggest attack in the depths” of the kingdom. Saudi Aramco said the attack caused no casualties or disruption to production.
  • On August 25, 2019, the Houthis said they fired 10 Badr-1 ballistic missiles at Jizan airport, killing and wounding dozens. The coalition said it intercepted and destroyed at least six ballistic missiles fired by the group targeting civilians in Jizan, in the southwest of the kingdom. It gives no details about casualties or damage.
  • On August 26, 2019, Houthi militants claimed to have attacked a military target in Riyadh. According to a spokesman for the rebels, the attack was carried out with an armed drone. Saudi Arabia denies there was an attack by the Houthis.
  • On September 10, 2019, the coalition forces intercepted a drone over Yemen’s Saada province, Saudi Press Agency reports.
  • On September 14, 2019, drone attacks claimed by the Houthis caused fires at two major oil facilities run by Saudi Aramco. Citing a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, the official Saudi Press Agency said the blazes at the facilities in Abqaiq – home to the company’s largest oil processing plant – and Khurais were under control.

For all intents and purposes the Houthis, outside of their self-declared political mandate in Yemen have long outgrown the title of ‘rebel force’ or ‘militia’ we continue to assign them … by virtue of its reach and the weaponry the group has acquired since it first defined its agenda in armed struggle (2004) Ansarallah has become a de facto potent military power.

In a report published in the Washington Institute on September 2018, Michael Knight noted: “The Houthi rebels have been at war with the Yemeni government almost constantly since 2004. In the first six years, the Houthis fought an increasingly effective guerrilla war in their mountainous home provinces, but after 2010, they metamorphosed into the most powerful military entity in the country, capturing the three largest cities in Yemen. The Houthis quickly fielded advanced weapons they had never before controlled, including many of Iranian origin. The story of how they moved from small-arms ambushes to medium-range ballistic missiles in half a decade provides a case study of how an ambitious militant group can capture and use a state’s arsenals and benefit from Iran’s support.”

If we consider the Houthis’ growth span and the speed with which the group has manifested its power over North Yemen – often it needs to be said for a lack of clear opposition and/or resistance, it is evident that the Ansarallah movement has become an unparalleled contender in this race for absolute power over Yemen’s institutions.

Marieke Brandt summarised the Houthis’ key to success best when she writes in 2013: “The Houthis rebellion works through carefully developed plans and brilliant moves on the chessboard. They rely on alliances, both secret and openly visible … The Houthis strategy is based on a precise knowledge of the local tribes and on widespread social presence in their areas; they set up a tight network of checkpoints and patrol in the hamlets in operations that local sources describe as Houthis operations to feel the tribe’s pulse.”

If the Gulf coalition imagined it would have quickly dislodged the Houthis and thus restore Yemen’s First Republic, it greatly underestimated its adversary’s ability to adapt, transform, and absorb state resources to sustain its advances. Since becoming a state-level actor with powerful international allies for example, the Houthis have been effective in recruiting, motivating, and training forces to fight in its military. As for the remaining resources of northern Yementaxes, printing of currency, and manipulation of fuel market – they have been poured into sustaining Ansarallah’s military and political efforts.

Beyond that, the Houthis have sustained support to their ‘cause’ through indoctrination, often targeting the young and those made most vulnerable to both replenish and reinforce the movement’s base. According to Amnesty International, Ansarallah imposes recruiting quotas in the areas it controls and will discipline clans who default. 

A formidable machine the Houthis have become all what North Yemen know and operate under.

The Ansarallah movement – A Political Genesis

The emergence of the Houthis/Ansarallah movement in Yemen’s Highlands is a complex process which cannot be reduced to its sectarian component, but also features political and social aspects. 

In the Sa’ada area, the elite transformations which were triggered by the 1962 revolution led to the empowerment of certain tribal leaders at the expense of the sayyids (title for the descendants of the Prophet), the religious and administrative elite of the former Shia Zaidi Imamate. This new tribal elite was subsequently reinforced and cemented through the politics of patronage exerted by the central republican government, often at the behest of Saudi Arabia.

In the Sa’ada area, the political and economic patronage of certain shaykhs and the development ostracism of large parts of the average population resulted in economic imbalances and a vastly unjust distribution of economic resources, mainly because a small group of people began to control a disproportionate amount of wealth and political power.

Social unrest was further aggravated by the spread of radical Islam. Zaidis and Salafis have increasingly crossed swords over the decades – even more so when Salafis took in the habit of inciting local communities to rise against the prominence of the ‘sayyids’ and other centuries-old Zaidi traditions their clergy deemed un-Islamic and thus nefarious.

As confrontations became more and more intense in their violence (beginning of the 1980s) the state took a predominantly Sunni-friendly position, a move which surprised many since President Saleh and most of his family members hailed from Zaidi Islam themselves. 

It is against the backdrop of such a sectarian discourse that the Houthis defined themselves in opposition of the central government and by extension the Republic – at least as formulated under President Saleh. 

It is important to note here that since the onset of the Ḥouthis conflict (2004), multiple attempts at de-escalation and conflict mediation have taken place to defuse the crisis and to restore peace and stability in Yemen. The appointment of mediators and mediation teams is not surprising, as mediation is the socially and politically preferred way of conflict management in Yemen. The Yemeni tribes, in particular, have well-established and effective mechanisms for channelling crises into negotiation.

For well over a decade the Houthis conflict has witnessed every possible kind of mediation and mediators: official and unofficial mediations, ‘insider-partial’ and ‘outsider-neutral’ mediators, mediation by persons, tribes, states, and international organizations, local emergency mediation, meditation of sub-conflicts and attempts at comprehensive conflict settlement. Yet after years of negotiations with the Ḥouthis, no sustainable solution and no golden formula for achieving mediation success have yet been found. Despite at times intensive efforts the conflict could at best only be temporarily stopped, and no sustainable results have emerged from mediation.

The Houthis dossier as it were, requires a complete rethink, and beyond that a fresh innovative approach to conflict resolution.

To better grasp the breadth of Yemen’s unrest – both its scope and its history, one needs to come to terms with the failures of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule in that he allowed for much of the Highlands to become economically and socio-politically marginalised. The unjust distribution of economic resources and political participation, coupled with the unfettered spread of radical Islam in the Zaidi heartland ultimately led to the emergence of a complex Zaidi countermovement. One could argue that it is Sana’a attempt to use brutal force over integration which gave both credence and clout to the budding Zaidi reactionary ideology. Needless to say that years spent in perpetual military confrontation hardened all Houthi militants to the harsh demands of war.

From 2004 onwards, the most influential wing of this movement, the Houthis, waged six wars (the so-called Sa’ada Wars) against the Yemeni government. These wars escalated from round to round due to tribal involvement, but ended in 2010 in a draw. 

Since 2004, the Houthis have been exclusively led by members of the eponymous Al Houthi family, sayyids from the Marran Mountains southwest of Sa’ada city. Since 2006, their leader has been Abdel Malek Al Houthi, a younger half-brother of Hussain, the first leader of the rebellion, who was killed in 2004. 

In between 2004 and 2006, Badreddin Al Houthi, father to both Hussain and Abdel-Malek briefly held the mantle of power. A well-known politician and religious scholar of Zaidi Islam he was one of the founders of the Party of Truth in Yemen and the spiritual leader of Ansarallah movement.

Much of the Houthis’ success lies in its leadership ability to combine Zaidi revivalism with sharp political criticism of both local and international actors, thus  crafting a historically rooted discourse of justice and empowerment that has resonated throughout the region.

Hussain Al Houthi was able to create a strong network of devoted followers in Yemen’s north, where Zaidism remained strong despite the overthrow of Yemen’s Zaidi Imamate in 1962, in part due to the political liberalisation that accompanied the unification of Yemen in 1990 as well as the crisis within Zaidism precipitated by the growth of Salafist influence in the region. 

Al Houthi’s growing influence in the late 1990s was accompanied by increasingly contentious behavior on the part of his followers, which in turn prompted the government, acting partly in response to shifting international dynamics, to overreact.  The manhunt that eventually killed Al Houthi unleashed a spiral of violence beginning in 2004 that became known as the six ‘Sa’ada Wars’.  

The group then transformed from a grassroots Zaidi revivalist network under Hussain Al Houthi’s leadership to a strong insurgent fighting force under the leadership of Hussain’s younger half-brother, Abdel Malek. By the sixth war in 2009, an aura of invincibility surrounded Houthi fighters as they pushed the fighting beyond Yemen’s borders. In November 2009, the Saudi Arabian military intervened to support the Yemeni government in its fight with the Houthis. 

Three months later, the Houthis accepted a Qatari-negotiated cease-fire that teetered along during the following year.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, the Houthis managed to dramatically expand their territories, putting the movement on a crash course with Sana’a central government and evidently President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The rest as they say is history …

Yemen’s War Theatre – A Situation Report

Since Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in late March 2015, citing UN Resolution 2216 as its justification, Yemen’s war has often been framed, at least by the media as yet another sectarian conflict – another proxy of Iran in the frame as part of Iran’s race to counter Saudi Arabia’s influence, both in the region and beyond, in the wider Islamic world.

Fearing the spectre of Iranian hegemonism south of its borders, the Kingdom believed that military interventionism would best serve its interests – only Yemen, even if led by a minority group, was never going to walk quietly into the night. And now Yemen’s military standoff with Saudi Arabia and its war coalition, has exposed the region to much uncertainty.

While Yemen’s war may have sectarian elements, religion actually has little to do with the conflict – and yet our collective propensity to frame it as such to better rationalise political antipathies, risks playing right into the hands of Islamic radicals.

It is control over Yemen’s territories, and access to its geostrategic resources, that ultimately pushed the Kingdom to wage war on those in control of its most direct neighbour, inadvertently reinforcing that nation’s zeal to resist what it perceived as foreign intrusion.

Interestingly enough Riyadh’s military pursuits run counter to its national security interests. It was King Abdullah who once warned that Yemen’s security was Saudi Arabia’s security – implying the two nations were forever locked in interdependency.

For all its crises, and overall unruliness, Yemen is a geopolitical jewel, which a great many powers would like to control, if only to secure its territorial waters and thus assume oversight of a key world trade route.

Yemen has in more ways than one been a victim of its own dormant geopolitical power.

Here is how Abdul Sattar Ghazali, the Chief Editor of the Journal of America, summarized the situation:

“The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is a chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, and it is a strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. The strait is located between Yemen, Djibouti, and Eritrea, and connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Most exports from the Persian Gulf that transit the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline also pass through Bab el-Mandeb.

“An estimated 3.8 million bbl/d of crude oil and refined petroleum products flowed through this waterway in 2013 toward Europe, the United States, and Asia, an increase from 2.9 million bbl/d in 2009. Oil shipped through the strait decreased by almost one-third in 2009 because of the global economic downturn and the decline in northbound oil shipments to Europe. Northbound oil shipments increased through Bab el-Mandeb Strait in 2013, and more than half of the traffic, about 2.1 million bbl/d, moved northbound to the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline.

“The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is 18 miles wide at its narrowest point, limiting tanker traffic to two 2-mile-wide channels for inbound and outbound shipments. Closure of the Bab el-Mandeb could keep tankers from the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal or SUMED Pipeline, diverting them around the southern tip of Africa, adding to transit time and cost. In addition, European and North African southbound oil flows could no longer take the most direct route to Asian markets via the Suez Canal and Bab el-Mandeb.

“Any hostile air or sea presence in Yemen could threaten the entire traffic through the Suez Canal, as well as a daily flow of oil and petroleum products that the EIA estimates increased from 2.9 mmb/d in 2009 to 3.8 mmb/d in 2013. Such a threat also can be largely covert or indirect. Libya demonstrated this under Gaddafi when he had a cargo ship drop mines in the Red Sea.”

Beyond that, Yemen has a large, and vibrant workforce, and more arable lands than all the Gulf countries put together – but the current conflict has markedly increased Yemen’s water scarcity, Yemen was considered one of the world’s most severely water-stressed countries even before the war, with public water accessible to just half of the overall urban population, and to about 40 percent in rural areas.

Groundwater supplies have declined precipitously throughout the country, in both rural and urban areas. The World Bank estimates that the groundwater levels “plummet by six meters a year in crowded, mountainous regions outside the cities of Sana’a, Taiz, Dhamar, Amran and Sa’ada.”  Before the conflict, the government enacted policies that actively encouraged the depletion of the existing water supply, including subsidizing cheap diesel pricing and funding surface or spate irrigation for water-heavy cash crops such as Qat. Due to these policies, groundwater and irrigation were both cheap, which further strained the existing supply. In addition, a lack of central planning and general neglect of infrastructure—from porous pipes to poorly constructed and maintained dams—further contributed to water loss and caused the groundwater in many areas to become contaminated with sewage run-off.

With the onset of conflict, even regions once known for their lush green landscapes and arable soil have become unrecognizable. In Ibb, for example, Yemen’s most fertile area, an influx of internally displaced persons and the subsequent resource strain have rendered the land parched and unworkable. An inability to grow crops not only contributes to the humanitarian crisis facing Yemen’s growing population, but also affects its economic prospects.

In Sa’ada, a Houthi-controlled territory, pomegranate exports – once a regional economic mainstay – declined by a third since 2015, owing to a lack of irrigation to grow the fruit and the rising costs of fuel to transport them. While this is in part because of the mismanagement of water resources and the effects of climate change on Yemen’s arable land, the impact of the conflict, particularly on trade routes and water infrastructure, has constrained the ability of farmers to transport and export the prized fruit. This latest blow to Yemen’s agriculture sector is but one example of the toll the water crisis, exacerbated by the conflict, has taken on the country’s already weak economy.

With no relief in sight, Yemen’s water crisis and its interaction with the conflict will continue to drive the country further toward humanitarian collapse. Yemen’s water situation may not be unique and will perhaps serve as the canary in the coal mine for similarly water-scarce countries in the region. The outcome of the conflict, and the ways in which water continues to shape it, may be a harbinger of what is to come for countries without protections to ensure the equitable provision and use of this most precious resource.

For all its potential Yemen has suffered from chronic mismanagement, and crippling nepotism at the hands of an elite whose ambitions have been to loot, raid and exploit the country’s resources, regardless of the repercussions. Bled dry by three decades of authoritarianism, Yemen is now being held ransom to the whims of armed militants turned warlords.

Unless the situation is addressed and redressed promptly Yemen will disintegrate into violent militantism and access new military technology to hold regional powers hostage.

Underdeveloped, mismanaged, squandered away, impoverished and battered, Yemen has remained highly dependent on its hydrocarbon resources to sustain its economy, thus exposing its markets to external shocks. To add to such economic dependency, Yemen almost entirely relies on foreign imports to meet its food needs – needless to say Yemen’s inability to produce its own food rapidly translated into widespread famine as war took hold.

Beyond that, Yemen has long put itself at the mercy of currency fluctuations and global food shortages.

A new report, Securing Imports of Essential Food Commodities to Yemen, examines the financial and logistical constraints the private sector is facing when importing basic food commodities, including wheat, flour and rice. The report offers solutions to help facilitate the import of food and other essential goods to ease the humanitarian conditions in Yemen.

Yemen depends almost entirely on imports to meet the local market demand for its staple food commodities. Those imports are secured almost entirely by the private sector which have shown great resilience and have been successful in sustaining the continued supply of those commodities into the country. However, despite their resilience to date, these market mechanisms could fail due to rising costs and risks.

According to the report, the biggest challenge to food security in Yemen is weakened demand. Food importers, wholesalers and retailers have identified a drop in purchasing power as a key challenge to their businesses. The majority of the population have lost their sources of income, which has resulted in the near-famine conditions that are present today. The coping mechanisms of a large part of the population have changed due to the decrease in purchasing power. Today, an increased number of people resort to increased levels of borrowing for food consumption as well as reliance on income support from humanitarian aid or remittances.

Access to foreign exchange (FX) has emerged as a key constraint faced by food importers, with limited availability and rising costs being the most pressing challenges. Additionally, difficulties withdrawing and transferring bank funds have eroded trust in the banking system and contributed to the rise of money exchanges as the major provider of finance – which comes with greater costs and risks. Finally, food importers are facing logistical challenges that include the disruption of access to key ports such as Al-Hodeida, Aden, and Saleef and rising costs due to delays in obtaining clearances for incoming shipments.

The report calls for the international community to scale-up income support measures to ease the burden on the Yemeni population. This includes scaling-up existing efforts to provide income support (cash transfers) and food assistance to address the negative impact of eroding incomes. Resuming income payments to public servants, retirees and social welfare beneficiaries should also be encouraged.

In 2012 the IMF released a report in which its experts highlighted some of Yemen’s most immediate challenges. It read: “Over the last few years, Yemen has faced multiple severe shocks which imposed a heavy toll on economic activity.”

The report specifically highlighted how Yemen’s declining oil production, social unrest and sabotage attacks against state interests negatively impacted the country’s economic future and potential. Since 2011 unrest, Yemen has been plagued by a litany of attacks on its pipelines, electric grid and other national interests, each claimed by groups serving contradicting agendas.

2011 also shrunk Yemen’s private sector, driving investors out of the country over fear of adverse economic risks. This in turn led to inflation, a drop in foreign currency reserves and higher unemployment levels. 

Yemen was a failed-state long before the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia became involved in this latest conflict. In truth for peace to flourish Riyadh would have to invest into its neighbour’s institutional and financial viability. With borders fast becoming illusionary barriers, nations will need to cooperate more than ever before to ward off the threat of both populist militantism and religious radicalism.

The Houthis have tapped into both those identities: one by linking themselves to North Yemen’s religious identity, Zaidism, and two by positioning themselves as the ‘voice of the people.’ As the old adage goes: “Vox populi, vox dei.” And though Abdel-Malek Al Houthi never claimed to have received a mandate from God, he did however, and in no uncertain terms, set himself up as the carrier of Yemen’s sovereign will against a foreign invader.

It would be a mistake to look upon Yemen’s war and divorce it from what can only be described as a grand geopolitical realignment – whereas the old axis: West versus East is being reinvented to the tune of tentative new alliances and shifting hegemonic interests. That is not to say however that Yemen’s conflict is a mere proxy war, rather, it has become the land where all overlappings have come to crash against one another to reinvent themselves anew.

As Professor at Tehran University Mohammad Marandi noted in late 2016: “The fate of the Middle East, and beyond the world geopolitical equilibrium will very much depend on how Yemen’s peace will come about.”

Where Yemen was already teetering on the edge – plagued by chronic mismanagement and pandemic corruption, Riyadh’s military adventures served to plunge that one ailing Republic of Southern Arabia well beyond the point of institutional no return. Stuck in a vacuum, Yemen remains locked in a conflict where no parties can claim to have the upper hand, politically, militarily or otherwise.

And though Saudi Arabia and its coalition of powers have towered mighty in their military arsenal, and exploitation of militias, most particularly  in South Yemen – where radicals continue to roam free, acting as a convenient asymmetrical weapon of war against Ansarallah a.k.a. the Houthis,  the complexity of Yemen’s war theater has led to a new status quo – a dangerous one at that since it cannot possibly be sustained.

For every passing day Yemen could see the rise of an unsuspected threat, and witness the inception of new powers no one predicted could ever come onto the scene. The possibility cannot be dismissed.

Eight years after its uprising (2011) Yemen is nowhere near a resolution – whether political, institutional or otherwise. If anything, Yemen has stood a nation interrupted in a dangerous institutional vacuum and no real national cohesion since its regions have exploded alongside political loyalties and tribal allegiances. 

Yemen’s Republic has become a constitutional shadow empty of any real substance.

The hope 2011 brought by ways of reforms and national dialogue, the war annihilated. The unity that was once Yemen, even though imperfect and a times tentative due to old regional disputes (North Yemen-South Yemen setup) Saudi Arabia’s military interventionism dramatically exacerbated – potentially passed its breaking point, turning Yemen into a dangerous cesspool of instability.

In truth, Yemen has long been a sitting-duck on the list of failed-states to be. 

As early as 2009 analysts labelled Yemen as a “fragile” state on the basis that Sana’a central government never had much control outside the cities. A commentary accompanying Foreign Policy’s 2009 Failed States Index said of Yemen: “A perfect storm of state failure is now brewing there: disappearing oil and water reserves; a mob of migrants, some allegedly with al-Qaida ties, flooding in from Somalia, the failed state next door; and a weak government increasingly unable to keep things running. Many worry Yemen is the next Afghanistan.”

Saudi Arabia’s military intervention precipitated Yemen’s descent into absolute chaos.

Today, a nation-state lies in rubles, its socio-sectarian lay lines laid completely bare. Yemen’s traditions need not be a threat – it would be a grave mistake to believe that the belief in any one particular school of thought – might it be Sunni or Shia, necessarily translates into political alliances. North Yemen has been Zaidi long before the Houthis came to be. More to the point, Yemen was a friend of Saudi Arabia and all GCC countries long before they became sovereign nations in their own rights.

Yemen has been a constant geopolitical fixture of Southern Arabia for as far as memory stretches back and faith never was a matter of contention. Why should it be one today, when it could be instead a powerful bridge?

Back in 1918, under the rule of Imam Yahya, the Jews of Yemen were guaranteed freedom of worship and religion under the premise the state owed all his people protection and equality before the law.

More than ever Yemen needs a unifying vision. A vision which will allow for all actors and proponents to its political and tribal landscape to find their place within a greater whole and together work to ward off instability and back-breaking poverty. 

Ultimately, it is hopelessness which will shatter Yemen and spell disaster for the region. Without hope, all manners of radical outfits will thrive, bringing with them the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

No military campaign, however violent and thorough will make up for good old fashioned economic growth and reforms. If we keep in mind that Saudi Arabia’s leadership is actually tackling that very issue at home, its stands to reason that Riyadh will expand its reach and include Yemen in its plans.

And not a moment too soon either. With the reality of targeted attacks against the Kingdom’s national interests now firmly cemented in the public consciousness, war came home to bite the hand that started it all off. Yemen’s stability was never going to be won by the barrel of a gun … if anything, war empowered the very factions which the Kingdom sought to destroy by giving credence to their ideological grievances.

War and its  Devastation

Before the influx of violence the Greater Middle East has witnessed since the Arab Spring (2011), Yemen has arguably endured the most devastation and hardship, except maybe for Syria. And though Yemen did not have to contend with ISIS mercenary armies like Syria and Iraq have done, war proved to be a ruthless foe.

In January 2017, the United Nations recorded Yemen’s death toll as a consequence of war as having reached 10,000.

The UN’s humanitarian affairs office said the figure, which is a low estimate, was reached using data from health facilities that have kept track of the victims of the war, which has largely been ignored by the international community.

The US State Department estimates that as of September 2019, that number far exceeds 90,000, notwithstanding those deaths which came by way of famine and diseases. 

A report by  the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (Acled) issued in June 2019 shows the conflict’s total death toll is fast approaching the 100,000 mark.

Since 2015, Acled has recorded 4,500 direct civilian targeting events that led to approximately 11,700 reported deaths. Acled found that the Saudi-led coalition and its allies were responsible for 67% (over 8,000) of such fatalities, with the Houthis and their allies were responsible for over 16% (1,900).

The statistics suggests that, despite international efforts to bring about a ceasefire in the region, there is little prospect for peace for those directly or indirectly caught up in the conflict.

The report, which counted 10,200 events that were responsible for the deaths of 30,800 people, identified 2018 as “the war’s deadliest and most violent year on record.”. So far in 2019 there have been 4,900 recorded events that have caused 11,900 deaths.

Taiz was identified as the most violent governorate in Yemen, largely due to a four-year siege laid by Houthi forces. The statistics revealed more than 18,400 reported fatalities and nearly 2,300 reported fatalities from direct civilian targeting since 2015. Hodeidah – where the report warned civilians are at especially high risk “due to intense urban combat and indiscriminate attacks” – and al-Jawf followed, with almost 10,000 total combat fatalities reported in each region since 2015. 

But official figures pale in comparison to those published by independent non-state actors.  Research conducted by Sheba for Democracy and Human Rights asserted that Yemen’s war – as of November 2016, claimed the lives of in excess of 20,000 civilians in North Yemen alone.

Writing for Foreign Policy in April 2016, Colum Mitch wrote on the world’s silence: “Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-majority Persian Gulf allies don’t hold a single seat on the UN Security Council. But you’d hardly know it: Over the past year, they have wielded their diplomatic clout like a major power, shaping the 15-nation council’s diplomatic strategy for Yemen and effectively suppressing UN scrutiny of excesses in their 13-month air war against the country’s Shiite rebels.”

And: “Working through its military allies — principally the United States, Britain, and Egypt — Saudi Arabia has succeeded in blocking actions to restrain its military conduct and highlight humanitarian costs of the conflict.”

War has devastated Yemen beyond all manner of recognition. 

UN officials estimate that nearly 19 million people – 80% of the population – are in need of humanitarian aid, and more than 3 million have been displaced. Those numbers are increasing every day.

Isolated and starved under a punishing humanitarian blockade, Yemen sits a prisoner of war among factions racing for control over its future.

In July 2015, Hassan Jayache, a senior leader of the Houthi movement told MintPress News in an exclusive interview that local NGOs find themselves caught in a political web, forced to surrender their neutrality to secure not just funding but access to areas where aid is needed.

“The Saudis have exerted political pressures onto local NGOs and international aid organizations, demanding that aid be restricted to pre-approved segments of the population, based on political affiliations and according to religious criteria,” Jayache said.

While Saudi officials will rationalise the move by arguing political pragmatism and the need to flush out ‘undesirables’, such decisions have played right into the hands of ideologues, fanning social dissonance among communities.

The Shia of Yemen

Although removed from Iran’s direct influence, Yemen shares important socio-religious markers with the Islamic Republic – a reality Riyadh was never willing to overlook in its perpetual quest for control against Iran’s hegemony.

Like Iran, North Yemen’s religious identity has been identified as Shia, and yet it is very different from Iran’s Twelver school of thought. In truth Zaidi Islam is somewhat in the middle of both Sunni and Shia Islam, similarly to Abadi Islam, as practiced in Oman.

Yemen’s history is tied to the many and great migration movements which took place in between the Horn of Africa, the Persian Gulf and beyond that, Asia – either through economic necessity or the product of war, Yemen’s demographic makeup reflects its position as gateway in between continents – with one notable exception: Yemen always managed to ward off foreign invaders. Not even the Ottomans could bring Yemen to heel.

The Houthis’ history, the genesis of the movement is tied to Yemen’s history and its fight for cultural relevance in a fast-changing world. One should also keep in mind that the Houthis have legitimate grievances and that those predate Saudi Arabia’s intervention. 

The Houthi movement was born in reaction to a political landscape which proved to be increasingly inhospitable to those Yemenis who still hoped to abide by the old rules of Zaidism and not that of the republic – as formulated under the Imamate. The Houthis need also to be looked as a knee-jerk reaction to the violent political and institutional shift which took place in 1962. Because Sana’a central government failed to integrate the highlands to the new republican schema, the highlands withdrew behind their traditions, seeking comfort in its past glory.

Zaidis we need to remember have fought for control of Yemen with various degrees of success for centuries. A succession of Zaidi Imams ruled the community and Zaidis were the majority of the population in the mountains of the north. They fought against both the Ottomans and the Wahhabis in the 18th and 19th centuries.

With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, a Zaidi monarchy took power in North Yemen called the Mutawakkilite Kingdom. The ruler, or imam, was both a secular ruler and a spiritual leader. Their kingdom fought and lost a border war with Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, losing territory to the Saudi state. They also enjoyed international recognition as the legitimate government of North Yemen. Their capital was in Taiz.

In 1962, an Egyptian-backed revolutionary military cabal overthrew the Mutawakkilite king and established an Arab nationalist government with its capital in Sana’a. With Soviet assistance, Egypt sent tens of thousands of troops to back the republican coup. The Zaidi Royalists fled to the mountains along the Saudi border to fight a civil war for control of the country. Saudi Arabia supported the royalists against Egypt. The war ended in a republican victory after the Saudis and Egyptians resolved their regional rivalry (1967) and lost interest in the Yemen civil war.

In 1978, Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Zaidi, rose to power, only to resign some three decades later.

The American intervention in Iraq in 2003 deeply radicalized the Houthi movement, like it did many other Arabs. It was a pivotal moment. The Houthis have been at war with the Yemeni government almost constantly since 2004. In the first six years, the Houthis fought an increasingly effective guerrilla war in their mountainous home provinces, but after 2010, they metamorphosed into the most powerful military entity in the country, capturing the three largest cities in Yemen. The Houthis quickly fielded advanced weapons they had never before controlled. 

The story of how they moved from small-arms ambushes to medium-range ballistic missiles in half a decade provides a case study of how an ambitious militant group can capture and use a state’s arsenals and benefit from foreign support.

A fact often overlooked has been the Houthis’ thirst for vengeance over the death of their leader: Badr Al-Din Al Houthi who led a regional movement for self-government against Sana’a. Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh put a bounty on his head of $55,000 at the time. Hunted down by the General Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar’s men – the former powerful commander in chief of Yemen’s 1st Armoured Division turned Vice President under President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi, Al Houthi was murdered sometime between June of 2004 and the 10th of September 2004. 

To all intents and purposes Yemen is a land of tribes and its relation to the Saudis has been tenuous at best – not only in the loss of its territories in 1934, but in the presence of separate Yemeni tribes that dominate routes into the Saudi peninsula or again access over  water resources along the border. Water has been a substantial problem in recent years as pressure for farmed products has changed needs and destabilized water rights and usage.

Yemen’s Zaidism has played into the conflict insofar as it has always inspired a fierce thirst for independence from foreign meddling.

At first, Abdel Malek  Al Houthi only ever wanted to restore his people’s voice and to reaffirm Yemen’s religious pluralism … that was then back in 2012. Today his ambitions and that of his men have evolved rather dramatically -given depth  by their de facto control over Yemen’s state institutions.

The Houthis’ wars and the rise of a movement

In the first Houthi war, fought from June 22 to September 10, 2004, the group was unable to even defend cave complexes in their native Sa’ada province, with the result that their charismatic military leader Hussein Al Houthi was captured and summarily executed on the battlefield in September 2004. By 2010, the same organization was able to fight the Yemeni government to a standstill in four provinces, seize and hold strategic towns, force entire surrounded brigades into surrender, and carve out tactical footholds inside Saudi Arabian border settlements. This evolutionary transformation was arguably largely due to the counterproductive tactics of the Yemeni government, plus incremental improvements in the traditional soldierly qualities of northern Yemeni tribesmen.

In 2004, the Houthi movement’s armed cadres appear to have been small, numbering in the low hundreds – largely the family, friends, and students of Hussein Al Houthi. From 2005 onward, the numbers of Houthi movement fighters swelled in response to government errors. 

Northern tribes also flocked to the Houthis to gain revenge on common enemies and express tribal solidarity. Indiscriminate government use of heavy artillery and airstrikes resulted in a wave of tribal recruitment for the Houthis from 2006 onward, a reaction to the perception that the government was executing a retaliatory policy against everyone in the Houthi home provinces. The government also alienated tribes by deploying rival clans as auxiliary fighters within their native districts. The Houthi movement was well-placed to absorb and shape this influx of allies because of the aforementioned cross-cutting social relationships developed prior to 2004, notably the tens of thousands of young men sent through Believing Youth summer camps and social or educational programs under the stewardship of  Al Houthi’s sons. War and mutual loss reinforced this spirit of tribal solidarity or cohesive drive against others.

From the outset of fighting in 2004, the Houthi movement was able to field what Barak Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells called “kin-network-based fighting teams.”

These teams have typically been no larger than platoon-sized. The most common ‘guerrilla war’ (harb al-’isabat) tactics employed were ambushes with small-arms fire, sniping, and mines – the time-honored methods used by the same tribes (albeit then with Saudi support) in the 1960s war against Egyptian occupiers. As in the 1960s fighting, extraordinary ruthlessness and brutality was frequently employed by the Houthi movement to punish pro-government tribes, notably the ancient tradition of hostage-taking to ensure compliance.

Over the course of the six wars, Houthi combat operations became progressively more effective and spread beyond Sa’ada province, requiring the Yemeni state to commit greater and greater effort to contain the threat, eventually also drawing the Saudi Arabian military into direct combat operations by 2009.

In the second (March 19 – April 11, 2005) and third (November 30, 2005 – February 23, 2006) wars, the Houthis fought a hit-and-run war of raids, assassinations, ambushes, and guerrilla-type operations in Sana’a.

During the fourth war (January 27 – June 17, 2007), the Houthis developed the defensive resilience to fortify and defend towns against armored attacks using mines, RPGs, and Molotov cocktails. They also mounted larger storming attacks on government complexes, sometimes in company-sized (i.e., 60-90 strong) units. 

In the fifth war (May 2 – July 17, 2008), the Houthi movement was attacking government logistics by controlling or destroying key bridges linking Sana’a to Sa’ada, probing the northern outskirts of Sana’a, and encircling and forcing the withdrawal of Yemeni units of up-to-brigade strength. During this war, the Houthi movement began producing its slick battle report video series, Basha’ ir al-Nasr (Prophecies of Victory).

By the last of the six wars (August 11, 2009 – February 11, 2010), the Houthi movement was confident enough to force the surrender of an entire Yemeni brigade and mount a major assault at battalion strength (i.e., 240-360 strong) with armored vehicles on Sa’ada, seizing parts of the city from the government. The Houthis also initiated offensive raids into Saudi Arabia, undeterred by an unparalleled level of air surveillance and bombardment.

Where late King Abdullah ibn Saud may have chosen financial and political patronage to rein in Yemen’s politico-religious ambitions; pitting the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood against Northern Yemen’s Shia majority, so that somewhere in the middle they would cancel each other out, King Salman’ son: Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman chose another route. 

And so began Yemen’s stand off against Riyadh’s interpretation of Yemen’s socio-political landscape.

Unlike other countries in the Middle East, which, by the makeup of their borders, have grappled with ethnocentrism and sectarianism, Yemen has sat well above the fray, unburdened by such a tug of war. That is until March 2015.

Yemen’s fate as it were, is reminiscent of that of many others across the Islamic world where faith has long been used as a military banner.

Exploded by design along those sectarian lines which for the most part never really were, Yemen’s war theatre has been painted as one of religious divide and theo-imperialism – another manifestation of the infamous Shia-Sunni divide, Iran versus Saudi Arabia. Iran is not the only regional player the Kingdom has been wary of, Qatar’s influence by way of the Muslim Brotherhood has too, been closely monitored and frowned upon.

But a binary analysis of both the region, and in this particular case Yemen, fails to encompass the complexity, fluidity and pluralism that is Yemen, the nation-state.

Yemen’s religious identity cannot be reduced to a sectarian label – not if we are serious about understanding those dynamics, which, for well over 14 centuries, have torn communities apart over competing allegiances.

It is Yemen’s allegiance today which stands the real battle-ground.

Set aside geopolitics and military hunger to consider, even if for a brief moment, that Yemen’s war echoes in fact of a drawn-out battle between two competing “political” legitimacies. At its core, Islam’s schism speaks not of antithetical theologies, but rather a dispute fought over institutional legitimacy and religious legality.

Yemen’s history reflects such a struggle. Yemen’s war holds a mirror to such competing agendas and ambitions.

Another domino to have fallen to the Saudi Arabia – Iran nexus, Yemen has been denied the courtesy of its religious heritage so that its communities could be absorbed into a political construct that claims itself sanctified.

In between Saudi Arabia and Iran

For all the great many attempts to dilute Yemen’s heritage to make its traditions more palatable to an over-bearing Salafist audience, Yemenis’ link to Shia Islam is as old as the tale of its conversion to the Islamic faith – and why not!

Where nations across the Middle East exploded in a grand yearning for democratic reforms, 2011 came to crystallise Yemen’s religious revival – or rather, a people’s desire to return to a system of governance it judges more in sync with its own socio-political ambitions.  It is not that Yemen wishes to be fundamentalist in its religious expression, but rather that its communities’ ambition to mold their own democratic future, in keeping with their own sensitivities. 

Driven by a need to reinvent their nation and more importantly the principles that command and define them as a nation-state following decades of blind nepotism, Yemenis rose in rejection of Saudi Arabia’s intervention as they viewed it as yet another attack against their right to political self-determination – and like magnets they rallied behind the only faction which stood in rejection of it: the Houthis. The Houthis’ popularity is largely by default, and not necessarily by choice.

It is from a yearning for social-justice and political emancipation that Yemen withdrew behind its religious heritage, and there, found a new centre for its national ambitions. One can argue that for a lack of institutional identity and economic prospect Yemenis were essentially forced to return to the one default setting that has united its many tribes: religion.

Depletion of Yemen’s cultural and national capital

An important aspect of the war on Yemen has been so far ignored – under sustained bombing Yemen, an important world historical, religious and cultural landmark has seen its patrimony and its heritage disappeared, exploded and overall annihilated. 

Whether such a campaign is by design or by default remains to be determined. It is nevertheless important at this stage to recognise that such loss of national cultural capital will gravely, and irrevocably affect the future of the impoverished nation – and beyond, that of the entire region.

The loss of historical landmarks – mosques, shrines, UNESCO listed landmarks, museums and other precious reminders of Yemen’s rich and buoyant cultural makeup will weigh heavy on both the economy and the country’s socio-religious fabric. Without a past to hold on to and associate with, without landmarks to remind a people of the bonds which unite them and make them who they are as a nation-state, Yemen could be claimed, and re-invented by such groups as al Qaeda, or ISIS.

Yemen, a country with three UNESCO world heritage sites – the Historic Town of Zabid, the Old City of Sana’a and the Old Walled City of Shibam – and a further ten on the organisation’s tentative list, has suffered greatly since March 2015. As well as the large-scale loss of life, important historic sites have been severely damaged, more often than not, intentionally.

Countless other sites and cities are at risk of annihilation: Al Qahira Castle in Taiz, (10th century) which suffered damage during an airstrike in June 2015 according to UNESCO. And then Taiz museum in 2016 when a fire engulfed the premises.

The Old City of Sa’ada – founded in the 9th century and on UNESCO’s list – has also seen a number of its historic buildings destroyed. Sa’ada, like Sana’a, is of worldwide cultural importance due to the extensive survival of its medieval architecture – including its city wall and 16 gateways, houses, palaces and mosques – and its importance as an early centre of Islamic learning. Sa’ada has almost completely disappeared under Saudi fire.

In July 2015, an emergency action plan for the safeguarding of Yemen’s heritage was announced by UNESCO, with the goal of raising awareness, gathering information and providing technical assistance to heritage experts in Yemen.

In July 2015 the Old City of Sana’a and the Old Walled City of Shibam were added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in Danger – in reaction to Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the war.

The UNESCO-listed residential neighbourhood of Fulayihi quarters has been hit by airstrikes.

A study conducted by the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies in collaboration with the Islamic Heritage Foundation established disturbing bombing patterns leading them to the conclusion that sites were being systematically targeted.

Speaking to the Middle East Eye in September 2015, Anna Paolini, UNESCO’s representative for the Gulf countries and Yemen slammed the kingdom for its intentional targeting of historical sites, warning that unless stopped such systematic destruction could claim more precious and irreplaceable sites.

In August 25, 2016, the ninth-century mosque of the Prophet Shuaibi in the Bani Matar area of Sana’a, was destroyed by an air strike. The country’s General Organization of Antiquities and Museums and the General Organization for the Preservation of Historic Cities confirmed the destruction.

Beyond the evident loss of patrimony, questions pertaining to the intent behind such campaign beg answering. Should Yemen’s cultural, religious and historical heritage had been declared war on, as part of asymmetrical military campaign strategy, such actions might be categorised under war crimes.

Movable heritage has also suffered severe losses, as in the case of the Dhamar Museum, which used to host a collection of 12,500 artifacts, and which was completely destroyed in May 2015.

Taiz National Museum also suffered many attacks – ancient manuscripts were damaged and and historic documents were burned.

More troubling still is the long term impact and social repercussions such a loss will carry to Yemen the nation-state. If we bear in mind that such radical groups as Daesh aka ISIL/ISIS or al Qaeda have been worked to erase History so that they could rise their own dystopian and warped religious and socio-cultural markers, Yemen could be made ready for a re-engineering of sort.

In August 2016 the Director General of UNESCO, Irana Bokova described Yemenis’ plight accurately saying: “It is evident that the destruction of their culture directly affects the identity, dignity and future of the Yemeni people, and moreover their ability to believe in the future.”

It has been unable so far to assess financial losses as such as teams have yet to investigate the extent of the damage. Economically speaking, Yemen is expected to suffer a dramatic income loss on its tourism industry for years to come – maybe permanently in some cases.

In an interview Amin Jazilan, former director general of Ibb tourism office confirmed that prior up until March 25, 2016 Yemen tourism industry was well set to exceed yearly expectations. “According to Yemen Tourism Ministry, the tourism industry generated an annual income of $848 million in 2012 as opposed to $780 million in 2011,” he noted.

The war on Yemen has cost so far an average of $6 billion per month or $200 million per day. If such resources were spent towards reconstruction Yemen’s future would be secured.

Before we ask just how much destruction Yemen has suffered under the Saudi-led military campaign, and look into those war dynamics, we ought to ask as well just how long will Saudi Arabia be able to sustain its war efforts without irrevocably damaging its own economy and thus precipitate the rise of other regional superpowers – Turkey, Iran.

Masood Ahmed, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department, wrote in 2012 that “fiscal sustainability will be an issue”  for Gulf Cooperation Council countries. In its 2012 regional economic outlook, the IMF recommended to “curtail current expenditures while protecting the poor” as a response to the risk of declining oil prices. 

It is important to remember the unspoken agreement existing in between oil-exporting monarchies and their citizens – the exchange of welfare for political freedom. Should this tentative balance fold under the weight of economic duress, it is likely Saudi Arabia will face dissent both at home and throughout its de facto economic colonies/zone of influence.

The longer the Kingdom will wage war on Yemen, the more politically vulnerable the Kingdom will be at home due to economic hardship. More importantly still, a loss in economic status will automatically mean a loss in political capital to Saudi Arabia’s immediate contenders: Iran, Turkey and to some extent Egypt.

It appears evident a bid to politically weaken Yemen’s Ansar Allah movement, the Kingdom has resorted to collective punishment. Only Sana’a has proven to be far more resilient than anticipated.

One can argue that the source of Sana’a endurance in the face of unprecedented, political, economic and military pressures is drawn from its position of perceived defense against Riyadh’s “aggression”. It is pertinent to note that where both the Houthis and Saleh were perceived as self-serving political entities right until 2013, when they began to position themselves against now resigned President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s then-rising regime, the two factions have managed to anchor their power in popular legitimacy, acting as the guardians of Yemen’s sovereign rights and independence.

It is unlikely brute force will dislodge the Houthis. The more foreign powers push against Ansarallah the further the group will assert its position as “freedom fighters” against Saudi Arabian hegemonic ambitions. 

Missing this dynamic will only prevent the promotion of a political settlements and entrench factions within the dynamics of war. 

For all intents and purposes, President Hadi has lost complete legitimacy – not even southern Yemen backs his bid to return. Whatever support Hadi enjoys in Yemen exists in reaction to  the Houthis, not out of any political loyalty. It would therefore be dangerous to anchor any resolution on Hadi’s gravitas since the people will automatically reject it.

War capitalism and the rising of a Black economy

Yemen appears to have become yet another domino to fall in a well-organised terrorist system in which human misery is a tradable commodity. If we look at the broader region in its entirety, and more particularly at those countries which have suffered at the hands of  radicals, we see a disturbing pattern emerging: Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and now Yemen. All these countries have seen vulnerable communities targeted by sex traffickers; their children sold into a system which profits and draws satisfaction from child abuse and dehumanisation.

In November 2014 Khales Journah wrote the following on Iraq: “Three months ago, the extremist group known as the Islamic State kidnapped hundreds of women from the Yazidi sect. Since then there have been many stories about what has happened to the women, including physical and sexual abuse, slavery and forced marriage.”

And:

“A lot of the kidnapped Yazidi women also seem to have been distributed in Baaj, around 120 kilometres west of Mosul, to fighters from the IS group. Doctors at Baaj hospital confirm this, saying they have treated a number of Yazidi women who have suffered at the hands of their captors, subjected to sexual and other physical violence.”

Whilst such acts of despicable terror unfolded in Iraq and Syria, Nigeria too was gripped by this terrible new phenomenon.  Lifting a veil on the unspoken villainy of Salafism, The Guardian reported in October 2014:

“Girls and women abducted by the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram have described life in captivity which includes forced marriage and labour, rape, torture, psychological abuse and coerced religious conversion. More than 500 women and girls have been seized and held in militant camps since 2009, including 60 reportedly kidnapped from two towns in north-eastern Nigeria last week.”

Systemic sexual abuse is conducted by terrorist militants for three purposes: to strike fear at the heart of communities, for self-gratification, and for financial gain.  Behind every abuse and every abuser has towered a system which has strived for, benefited from and leaned on sexual enslavement to assert its power and to industrialise its system.

It is absolutely crucial to understand at this stage that what we are witnessing across Africa and the Greater Middle East is the engineering of a system which seeks to mainstream sexual abuse by making it a matter of fact.  Terror as it were, is attempting to transition from an ideology into a socio-political system based on the degradation of those perceived as “lesser”.

As world powers continue to argue Yemen’s future – often by speaking over Yemenis, rather than to them – a great tragedy has unfolded, unspoken and unchallenged.

For a country which has already lost too many of its sons and daughters to war, seeing its children and young people stolen by the likes of Al Qaeda and ISIS is one abomination too many. 

So far, and due to the nature of these crimes, communities have been reluctant to come forward. Stigma, fear of social exclusion, fear of repercussions, shame, and distrust of the media, have driven many families to keep silent.  Still, a few brave souls have now decided to break this unspoken code of silence, albeit under the cover of anonymity, so that abusers can be outed and victims rescued.

Hundreds of children – mainly young girls aged 6 to 15 are claimed to have been kidnapped from across Yemen, to be sold as sex slaves by al-Qaeda’s trafficking network. 

Tribal sources in Abyan – a former stronghold of al-Qaeda, which also happens to be President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s home province – have confirmed that children have been trafficked out of south Yemen through Mukalla and the seaport of Aden by militants affiliated to Al Qaeda. 

Yemen’s run-in with human trafficking has run parallel to the rise of terrorism.

In 2009 the US State Department Trafficking in Persons report read:

“Yemen is a country of origin and, to a much lesser extent, transit and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation. Yemeni children, mostly boys, are trafficked across the northern border with Saudi Arabia or to the Yemeni cities of Aden and Sana’a for forced labour, primarily as beggars, but also for domestic servitude or work in small shops. Some of these children are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation in transit or once they arrive in Saudi Arabia.”

And again, in the 2014 edition of the same report:

“Yemen is a country of origin and, to a lesser extent, a transit and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour, and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Some Yemeni children, mostly boys, migrate to the Yemeni cities of Aden and Sana’a, or travel across the northern border to Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, to Oman, where they are subjected to forced labour in domestic service, small shops, or as beggars. Some of these children are forced into prostitution by traffickers, border patrols, other security officials, and their employers once they arrive in Saudi Arabia; some children are forced to smuggle drugs into Saudi Arabia.”

With the collusion of its patrons, Al Qaeda has built up an entire shadow economy generating millions of dollars through the exploitation of children.

As Yemen remains entrenched in a protracted and multi-fronted military conflict, socio-political dynamics as well as economic realities have evolved, and shifted to reflect needs – more often than not, to the detriment of civilian populations.

If war in Yemen has brought a litany of suffering, it has also opened-up financial “opportunities”; de facto allowing for the rise of a Black Economy.

Looking to Yemen’s descent into reactionary economy (following Saudi Arabia’s sustained attacks against Yemen’s financial welfare: humanitarian blockade, targeting of civilian infrastructures – including farming industry and historical patrimony), the impoverished nation has had to withdraw behind enemy lines, to find a new economic breathing space.

While it has often been assumed that only the Houthis  have dabbled into less than holistic activities to sustain their war efforts, all factions, on both sides of the fence, have had a hand in the looting of Yemen’s sovereign economy, in clear violation of the law – national and international.

Since war broke out, the Houthi-Saleh/GPC alliance [General People’s Congress, former ruling party) has transformed and evolved into a state-like construct whereby the two forces: comprised both of a para-military and political branches, joined together into an organic third entity, which purpose has been to survive the military onslaught by ensuring financial survival.

It is also worth noting that a certain fluidity has been observed between self-proclaimed warring factions as far as financial interests are concerned. Where very clear lines might have existed in the early stages of the conflict, in that individuals, tribal entities, political factions and coalition groups sat on very distinct shores, needs, and an imperious desire to generate money to overpower the opposition, have often led opposite sides to negotiate ‘access’. 

For example: weapon dealers based in south Yemen – those areas sitting under de facto Saudi occupation have smuggled weapons and ammunition to north Yemen via old tribal trading routes, as well as diesel, and other supplies. While such activities betray immediate military interests, it appears war has created too much of a lucrative space for any one party to ignore – safe maybe from those invested in peace.

Yemen’s descent into socio-economic, political, and to a greater extent: sovereign instability, since territoriality and national identity have been put under great stress as a result of a new rising narrative of war: sectarianism, tribalism and regionalism, has empowered radical elements within Yemen. The likes of Al Qaeda have been handed an ever-expanding space to thrive. Out of every vacuum this war has created, it is al-Qaeda and ultimately its patrons which have risen stronger still.

Yemen’s war has become too much of a liability to regional stability for parties to still entertain the notion that a further military entrenchment will generate positive results. War at this stage is a blessing for Al Qaeda and those parties benefiting from the annihilation of Yemen’s national sovereignty. Such an eroding of Yemen’s nation-state could have terrible repercussions, since it could allow for the rise of another socio-political system – that of the Islamic Caliphate.

Beyond all blame and culpability Yemen’s biggest threat remains Terror.

 

 

YEMEN NEWS BRIEF – Oct 16, 2019

Keeping Yemeni children in school

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The UAE is continuing to support Yemenis, under the framework of its humanitarian mission to ease their suffering and improve their living conditions, through reinforcing service sectors in the country’s liberated governorates, especially the education sector.

The Emirates Red Crescent, ERC, inaugurated Has-Hasa Elementary School in Al Saeed District, Shabwa, with the attendance of Ali Naasan, Director of the Governorate’s Education Office, and several officials.

Ali Naasan praised the UAE’s efforts to improve living conditions in the governorate, stressing that the restoration and furnishing of the school enabled around 500 students to return to class.

US Democrats calls for an immediate end to Yemen’s war over fear of regional destabilisation

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Former national security adviser Susan Rice, former US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes are among a group of signatories on a letter to Democratic leaders, obtained by CNN, that argues that the policy they were instrumental in implementing could lead to much bigger problems in future.
“The ongoing conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthis threatens fresh U.S. military action in the region,” they write. “President Trump recently signaled that the United States is ‘locked and loaded’ for possible intervention at the behest of Saudi Arabia, deployed U.S. troops to the Saudi kingdom, and escalated military tensions with Iran. In addition to making a war with Iran more likely, the conflict in Yemen is also imperiling tens of millions of the most vulnerable people on earth through disease, starvation and violence.”

 

The Trump administration has been insistent that is the President’s job to enact US foreign policy and that any attempt to limit his authority is inappropriate. In his veto message in response to SR7, Trump argued that Congress was the one overstepping its bounds.

Political agreement within reach in South Yemen

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Sources in Aden have confirmed that a signed agreement in between the STC (Southern Transitional Council) and Hadi’s forces are ironing out the last details of a truce – ending weeks of infighting in the region.

An announcement on a final agreement in indirect talks between the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) under the auspices of Saudi Arabia is expected on Thursday. The talks in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah are aimed at putting an end to the differences between the two sides.

YEMEN NEWS BRIEF – Oct 13, 2019

ERC continues aid efforts in Aden, Yemen

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The UAE has launched a relief campaign for internally displaced people camps in Aden governorate as part of its emergency response campaign in the liberated Yemeni governorates.

Around 1,400 displaced people across 14 different districts in Aden received the food aid, as part of the Emirates Red Crescent, ERC, efforts to improve living conditions in Yemen.

During the last week, the ERC dispatched food aid convoys to some 3,000 families in the Hodeidah governorate.

Yemen’s cholera outbreak to worsen

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Children’s advocacy group, Save the Children has warned that a increase in fuel shortages puts Yemen’s highlands at further risk of yet another cholera outbreak.

Save the Children wrote in a report this week: “Between August and September, there was a 60 percent decrease in the amount of fuel coming through Hodeidah port – this is because of a decree by the government of Yemen requiring customs duties to be paid in Aden before allowing ships to discharge in Hodeidah – of course this means double customs duty. The price of fuel has increased by 100 percent over the past 40 days, which made the transport of lifesaving goods to communities in need 30 percent more expensive. Transportation which previously took one day is now taking three days as trucks have to wait for fuel, resulting in huge delays in getting food and medicines to communities.

We ask the international community to work with the government of Yemen to waiver this decree immediately so that this unfolding crisis can be averted. It is vital that there is free, unhindered access for humanitarian and commercial goods, including fuel, into and across the country as this is a lifeline for many families.

The fuel shortage further compounds the health crisis in Yemen by attacking public sanitation. A lack of fuel means that sanitation workers can’t remove trash, and so it piles up in the streets of the capital and contributes to the spread of disease.”

Yemen’s Houthis say “spy drone” shot down in Hodeidah

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Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels said they shot down a “spy drone” over the Yemeni Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on Sunday.

“The spy drone of the aggressor’s forces was downed over Kilo 16 area,” the rebel TV al-Masirah reported, without giving further details.

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition did not comment on the rebels’ claim.

The coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015 to support Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after Houthi rebels forced him into exile after seizing much of the country’s north, including the capital Sanaa.

Hodeidah, the main lifeline entry of the country’s most commercial imports and humanitarian aid, has become a focal point of the Yemen war since June 2018, when the coalition forces advanced into the southern edge of Hodeidah in preparation to retake the port city.

 

US send additional troops to Saudi Arabia

The Pentagon confirmed on October 11 the deployment of 3,000 additional US troops and military hardware to Saudi Arabia to address the threat the kingdom finds itself under following a direct attack on its oil installations earlier this September.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper authorised the deployment of two more Patriot missile batteries, one THAAD ballistic missile interception system, two fighter squadrons and one air expeditionary wing, the Pentagon said in a statement.

“Secretary Esper informed Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)this morning of the additional troop deployment to assure and enhance the defence of Saudi Arabia … Taken together with other deployments this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorised within the last month.”

Esper later told reporters that the deployments were in response “to continued threats in the region” and came after a conversation with MBS about “efforts to protect from further Iranian aggression”.

The drone and missile strikes that lit up the Kingdom’s eastern province on September 14, knocked out over half of the state-owned oil company’s daily production of nearly 10 million barrels a day.
More importantly, it illustrated just how vulnerable the world’s largest oil exporter is to an attack, despite Saudi Arabia having the highest per capita defense spending of any country in the world.
Saudi Arabia has seen its energy infrastructure, including pumping stations, pipelines, supertankers and oil and gas fields, continuously attacked over the past five months. The strikes culminated this September with a strike on Aramco’s largest processing plant and its second largest oil field.

YEMEN NEWS BRIEF – Oct 10, 2019

Yemen to become poorest country in the world

 

Yemen-1-530x364War-ravaged Yemen is on course to become the world’s poorest country if the conflict persists, the United Nations said in a report.

“If fighting continues through 2022, Yemen will rank the poorest country in the world, with 79 percent of the population living under the poverty line and 65 percent classified as extremely poor,” according to the United Nations Development Programme report, published on Wednesday.

Because of the war, poverty in Yemen has jumped from 47 percent of the population in 2014 to a projected 75 percent by the end of 2019.

Hadi loyalists advance against Houthi strongholds

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Joint Yemeni forces have made vast territorial gains against the Houthis in the southern province of Dhale and closed in on the neighbouring province of Ibb, military sources have confirmed.

The progress comes after a massive offensive launched on Tuesday by both southern separatists and Hadi loyalists against the Houthis in the northern and western parts of Dhale, the province’s media centre reported.

The onslaught resulted in recapture of dozens of positions and villages from the Houthis and inflicting heavy casualties on them, according to the centre.

“The Southern Forces are steadily advancing towards liberating [Al Houthi-controlled] province of Ibb,” Col. Majed Al Shouaibi, the spokesman for the Joint Southern Forces, said.

Known as the “gate of the south” Dhale is a major military flashpoint.

The Yemeni forces confirmed the seizure of weapons including drones.

Yemen is losing its heritage to looters

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Yemen’s government has asked Washington to prevent the sale of Yemeni antiquities and artifacts in America, Saba News Agency reported on Wednesday.

Minister of Culture Marwan Dammaj said that a consultative panel from the American government is set to convene on  29 October to discuss the Yemeni government’s request to ban illegal trafficking of Yemeni artefacts in the country. Dammaj said that his government’s request was made based on Article 9 of the UNESCO agreement, adding that Yemen endorsed the article last September.

He pointed out that the Yemeni embassy in Washington is making efforts to prevent trade in Yemeni artefacts.

The internationally-backed Yemeni government accused the Houthi group of smuggling the antiquities out of the country as part of their plan to eradicate the country’s historical symbols.

According to Saba, the Yemeni Ministry of Culture has stopped 52 attempts to smuggle artefacts through Al-Mazyoona Crossing.

 

YEMEN NEWS BRIEF – Oct. 7, 2019

Houthi chief negotiator calls Riyadh’s truce overture into question

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Spokesman and Chief Negotiator for Yemen’s Ansarallah, Mohammed Abdul-Salam remarked at a meeting with British Ambassador to Yemen Michael Aron that Riyadh had yet to respond clearly to Sana’a latest offer of a truce.

 

Yemeni government, separatists close to deal on ending Aden stand-off

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Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and southern separatists are close to a deal that would end a power struggle in the southern port of Aden and see Saudi forces take temporary control of the city, three sources familiar with the negotiations said.

Saudi Arabia, leader of an Arab coalition battling Yemen’s Houthi movement, has been hosting indirect talks for a month between the government of Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) to end the stand-off that had opened a new front in the multi-faceted war.

The STC is part of an alliance that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to restore Hadi’s government after officials fled the capital, Sana’a. But the separatists, who seek self-rule in the south, turned on the government in August and seized its interim seat of Aden.

Two Yemeni government officials told Reuters that Riyadh submitted a proposal to include STC in Hadi’s government, while Saudi troops would deploy in Aden to oversee formation of a neutral security force in the city.

“There is progress in the Jeddah talks. The conversation is still ongoing and it is about bringing STC into the government, de-escalating tensions and redeployment of forces,” a third source familiar with the talks said on Monday.

The STC’s Security Belt forces tweeted on Monday that an agreement could be signed in the next few days.

UAE provides urgent aid to Yemen’s flood-stricken areas

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The UAE has provided emergency shelter and food assistance to those affected by floods south of Hodeidah, west of Yemen, and to displaced people in Yemen’s Red Sea Coast.

The Emirates Red Crescent responded to calls for help from local authorities and citizens whose houses were destroyed by heavy rains in villages west of Ad Durayhimi district.

The assistance included food baskets and tents which are being used as temporary housing by families unable to afford the reconstruction of their houses.

YEMEN NEWS BRIEF – Oct. 5, 2019

Yemen’s Heritage Sites are at risk 

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As a result of Yemen’s complex war – now in its fifth year – many of the country’s wonders have been damaged or are under threat. While the destruction pales in comparison to the human cost of the conflict, the country’s rich cultural heritage has also been ravaged.

At least 712 mosques and 206 archeological sites have been affected since the war broke out in 2015, according to the Legal Centre for Rights and Development in Sana’a. The true figures are believed to be much higher.

Shibam, a 1,700-year-old settlement in the valley of Hadramawt, has largely escaped direct violence, but is still suffering from years of neglect, despite being a Unesco world heritage site.

Efforts Ramping Up to Resolve Yemen Conflict

RUSSIA-INTERNATIONAL-SECURITY-CONFERENCESaudi Arabia says it views a truce called by the Houthis “positively”, two weeks after the group said they were halting drone and missile attacks against the kingdom.

Saudi Vice Minister of Defence Prince Khalid bin Salman said Friday on Twitter that “the truce announced by Yemen is viewed positively by the kingdom.”

In a series of tweets, Prince Khalid accused Iran of using Yemen “to further its own interests” and said Yemenis should “stand up along with us” against Iran.

The Houthis’ September 21 announcement came a week after they claimed responsibility for a missile and drone attack against two key Saudi oil facilities. The kingdom blamed Iran for the attack, an accusation Tehran rejects.

Southern Secessionists move to seize Socotra 

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Separatist forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council (STC) captured a police headquarters in the strategic island of Socotra in Yemen, an official said.

“Gunmen broke into a police station in the province and captured it,” an official told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.

The official said the move came with the ultimate aim to take control of Socotra province following a decision by Yemen’s President Hadi on Thursday to replace the security chief of the province.

Game Changer in Yemen – The Houthis enter Saudi Arabia in pivotal move against regional status quo

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”  Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Saudi Arabia has come once more under direct enemy fire … only this time the attack did not come from the air and it did not simply challenge a sector of its industry. In a move which arguably caught the Kingdom off-guard, the Houthis (aka Ansarallah), masterminded a ground incursion into Najran (south-western province of Saudi Arabia), challenging not only Riyadh’s sovereignty but the regional order.

To target Saudi Arabia on its home soil stands to ‘activate’ a series of alliances, with no clear understanding of the repercussions this will have on the immediate region, notwithstanding the long term economics fallouts any direct threat to Saudi Arabia’s energy markets will undoubtedly bring.

Whether anyone agrees or not with Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, or even Riyadh’s standing as far as Yemen’s war is concerned matters little now, it is evident that a ground war would be devastating for that world order we all have grown familiar with.

Yemen’s ragtag army is challenging decades of careful geopolitical planning and economic strategizing. What happens next is anyone’s guess … well maybe not entirely! 

What is evident today however, if anything else, it is that a new vision for the Middle East, and most accurately the Arabian Peninsula is absolutely and unequivocally needed.  To conform to old geopolitical models by virtue of their former merit has proven to be not only dangerous but extremely short-sighted. As everyone will recall Yemen’s war was meant as a strategic strike against an enemy: the Houthis, who were thought of as weak, disorganised, and incapable of sustaining political pressure. 

And yet here we are, a few years into this war, contemplating the possibility of an insurgency movement within the Kingdom under the leadership of a man: Abdel Malek Al Houthi, no one imagined could rally to his cause more than a few tribesmen from North Yemen.

As a statement released by the Houthi leadership proves, the tribesmen of Najran participated, even if by omission, to Yemen’s success in asserting control over large swathes of land within the Kingdom. Such a precedent could prompt others to imagine themselves free to pursue dreams of secession or political independence.

Needless to say that Saudi Arabia never imagined when it launched its first air campaign against Sana’a that its impoverished neighbour would strike so close to its seat of power.

And yet this is exactly what happened. The Houthis are the ‘black swan’ no one imagined but nevertheless came to pass.

I clearly recall a comment by General Yahya Saleh, nephew to late President Ali Abdullah Saleh on the onset of Saudi Arabia’s aggression against Yemen in late March 2015 which, in hindsight, all parties to this war should have listened to.

Speaking to the media he stated that an assault against his homeland would only serve to unite an otherwise abysmal mesh of rival tribal and political factions. His comment was accompanied by a warning; that a frontal attack on Yemen could spell the end of Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity and thus send the region in a tailspin.

As it were, Gen. Yahya Saleh was correct in his assessment. 

In just a few months the Houthis have affirmed themselves as formidable foes capable of wielding high grade weaponry. As of today, North Yemen’s military arsenal will account for several  new upgrades, courtesy of the United States of America … needless to say that if the Houthis posed a threat to the Kingdom before, they now represent a veritable existential threat to the regime, notwithstanding the devastation its drones could rain on its neighbours, namely the UAE.

Did I hear you say Energy markets? 

Yemen’s war is no longer regional, if it ever was that! The attack on Aramco earlier this month sent shockwaves across world markets, materialising fears of global recession. 

If the spike in oil prices the world witnessed in the wake of Aramco’s attack this September and Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s recent comments to CBS of a pending ‘oil crisis’ are anything to go by then it is rather obvious the Houthis’ ability to do harm, if pushed against the wall, exists far beyond Yemen’s borders.

Such a realisation should not be interpreted as an invitation, or justification for more violence; rather an opportunity for peace on the basis of regional cooperation. Yemen we ought to realise needs not be a failed state where all manners of violent ideologues come to play.

As the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths noted in comments to the BBC: what we need to do is waste no more time, but to get to the table to get the political agreement in place to end that conflict.”

Yemen needs not to suffer famine and outbreaks of cholera. Yemen could, given a chance, serve as a powerful  unifier, a bridge many may argue to heal much of the upsets which still plague the region. And yes evidently I’m referring to Iran and its longstanding ‘battle’ for geopolitical relevance with Saudi Arabia.

Among much regional political fluidity, one constant remains: Yemen’s geopolitical importance. From Turkey to Iraq, Iran and the GCC countries, Yemen’s future sits high on nations’ agenda … and indeed, Yemen’s geography alone warrants such interest.

If we now keep in mind those strategic alliances each of those regional players hold then readers will grasp I’m sure the challenge that is Yemen from an international perspective. 

By Catherine Shakdam

YEMEN NEWS BRIEF – OCT 1, 2019

Houthis move for further gains into Saudi Arabia 

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On Sunday, footage from a major attack on Saudi Arabia was broadcasted by the Houthi rebels, wherein 500 soldiers were killed or wounded, whilst others surrendered. During this offensive, the Houthis defeated three “enemy military brigades”, which led to them capturing “thousands” of troops, namely Saudi officers and soldiers, and hundreds of armoured vehicles. Evidence of the Houthi’s militarisation can be seen in the video, which shows said armoured vehicles and large piles of weapons and ammunition. Saudi Arabia has yet to respond to this claim, but this attack proves that, despite any formal alliances it may have with Western powers and the other countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia actually has in reality little support on the ground as the Houthis push further into their territory and gain access to Saudi resources, giving them the upper hand. Shireen al-Adeimi from Michigan State University confirms this argument: “If the Houthis are able to carry out this level of operation it poses a significant turn in this war.” 

Kuwait’s Peace Initiative

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During his speech at the 74th UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, restated that he is willing to host another round of peace talks in the hopes of finding a political solution to the ongoing conflict in Yemen. This follows Kuwait’s initial attempt to host peace talks in April 2016, albeit unsuccessfully, as the warring parties were unable to conclude a deal, despite the three-month long negotiations. The Prime Minister also expressed that he was ready to host the signing ceremony for an agreement on ending the war in Yemen again in December 2018. 

Sheikh Jaber echoed his words from 2018 at the 74th UN General Assembly restating that “there is no military solution to this conflict” and therefore the final political solution should be based on the GCC initiative and its executive mechanism, the outcomes of the national dialogue and the UN Security Council 2216. 

On September 26, 10 days after the 74th UNGA, representatives from the Governments of France, Germany, China, Russia, Sweden, the UK, the US and Kuwait met to highlight their continued support for the UN-led peace process in Yemen. During this meeting, the members present fully supported the UN Special Envoy to the Secretary-General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and his efforts to ensure that both parties to conflict adhere to the conditions stated in the Stockholm Agreement in the hopes of ultimately achieving a political solution to the conflict.