Since March 23rd 2015, violence has escalated between the Shi’ite Houthi movement and its allies, and the anti-Houthi coalition led by President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and backed by Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar and the UAE. In September of last year, Houthi rebels, originating from and based in the northern Sa’ada governorate, were involved in battles with pro-government forces in the provinces of Amran and al-Jawf. They advanced southwards towards the capital Sana’a and with little resistance from the army and were able take control of key government buildings, including the Ministry of Defence, the central bank, the airport and the state television building in September. In early February 2015, the Houthis dissolved Parliament and replaced the Government with a presidential council. President Hadi meanwhile fled to the southern city of Aden. Unable to stand up to the Houthi rebels, President Hadi called on Saudi Arabia for support, who along with a coalition of other Gulf and Western states began their aerial campaign on 26th March. Saudi Arabia has mobilised 150,000 troops and said it is prepared to launch a ground invasion if necessary.
The Houthi, also referred to as Ansarullah, are a Zaydi Shi’a clan with many grievances against the Yemeni government that had formed as a rebel movement in early 2012 in the aftermath of the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings and the removal of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The leaders of the group have since depicted their activities as a continuation of this popular revolution. The group’s recent success does not only stem from outside support from Iran, but also from their ability to mobilise disenfranchised Shi’ites, who are suffering economic hardship. Widespread grievances stem from a general lack of access to resources and have been fuelled by cuts in fuel subsidies in July 2014 which played in the hands of the rebels. Currently, Houthi rebels have de facto control over much of the country’s north including Sa’ada, Hajjah, Amran, Al Hudaydah, Al Mahwit, Raymah and Sanaa and are pushing southwards to Aden. Many small groups ally with the Houthis including members of the former central security force, a unit seen as loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.