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 offers readers a 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. This 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 of Saudi Arabia will look at 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 (South 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 (Saleh’s General People’s Congress) / 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 subsequent religious radicalisation under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood whose members found protection under Al Islah’s political umbrella.

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

For three decades, Yemen now saw the reelection of Ali Abdullah Saleh at the presidency. Saleh’s rule, like that of many of his contemporaries,  was to 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 at Yemen with much suspicion indeed. 

Thus 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.

Though kept in check under Saleh’s presidency, the Houthis grew both in strength and ambition, and continued to do so 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 decide to mobilise against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, asking for his resignation and new elections after three decades in power.

September 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.

February 21, 2012 – Hadi is confirmed 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 (National Dialogue Conference) 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.

 

 

 

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 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 of Saudi Arabia 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 of Saudi Arabia 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 contributes to the humanitarian crisis facing Yemen’s growing population.

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 has shown great resilience and has 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.

And finally

Before we ask just how much destruction Yemen has suffered in the current war, 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 wages war in 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.

 

 

 

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.

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. 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.

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. 

 

 

Yemen’s who’s who – The road map of a conflict

Cutting across tribal, political and religious lines Yemen’s conflict is as protracted that it has been structurally  fluid in its ever-evolving alliances – which alliances, whether local or regional have at time, ran counterintuitive to parties’ interests.

Yemen is a complicated socio-political beast; to reduce the war to a single upset would be to ignore the plethora of agendas currently being played out within its borders. While Yemen’s future remains murky … and one might add, tentative at best, it will also determine much of the region’s future through the formation of a new geopolitical order.

Following is an exhaustive list of all main local and regional actors.

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THE HOUTHIS –

Born initially as a knee-jerk reaction to what was perceived (1990s) as an encroachment against North Yemen religious independence by the Muslim Brotherhood (a member of Al Islah and Yemen’s strongest opposition block to the ruling party: Al Motamar/General People’s Congress), the Houthis, organised under the leadership of first Hussein Badreddin Al Houthi, and then his son: Abdel Malek Al Houthi fought several war against Sana’a central government starting 2004.

Once a  small opposition movement, the Houthi movement has become a major player, both nationally and regionally by the weight of the alliances it managed to broker to support its ideology – a mixture of Islamic revivalism, nationalism and republicanism

The Houthis linked to Shia Islam has often been exploited to assert group members’ ‘natural’ ideological disposition towards Iran’s Islamic Republic. While the group has maintained strong links with Tehran at a time when it has been shunned by the international community, it serves to note that if in fact the movement falls under the ‘Shia’ label, Zaidism is profoundly unlike Shia Twelver Islam. 

In matters of law or fiqh, the Zaidis are  said to be actually closest to the Sunni Shafie school.

The Houthis emerged as a potent political force on the back of 2011 uprising. In the wake of President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s election (2012), its militiamen took up arms against the Muslim Brotherhood in North Yemen, slowly advancing towards the capital, Sana’a.

In 2014 following Hadi’s televised resignation and subsequent self-imposed exile to Aden, and then Saudi Arabia, the group assumed de facto control of the state institutions. Within months, the group joined into a loose coalition of tribes and political factions to oppose Saudi Arabia’s military aggression.

LOYALISTS TO LATE PRESIDENT ALI ABDULLAH SALEH

Yemen’s strongman rose to power in 1978 at a particularly turbulent time in Yemen’s political life. An adept politician and grand strategist, Saleh stayed on as Yemen’s president for three decades – the leader of the General People’s Congress aka Al Motamar.

His resignation did little by way of diluting his ambitions or that of his party’s members – at least those members within the GPC who remained loyal to his leadership as opposed to that of his successor and long-serving former Vice-President: Abdo Rabbo Mansour. 

An institution onto himself the Saleh’s name still commands great authority in Yemen across the board: tribes, military and political circles. Several of his family members now in exile, most notably Gen. Yehia Mohammed Saleh (nephew) and Gen. Ahmed Ali Saleh (eldest son and former Commander in Chief of the Republican Guards) have been considered natural heirs to the GPC’s political legacy.

In May 2015, Saleh and his loyalists openly allied with the Houthis against Saudi Arabia’s aggression. To this day much of the war efforts against the Kingdom has been overviewed by GPC Saleh loyalists – a reality often dismissed by both the media and state officials.

PRESIDENT ABDUL RABBO  MANSOUR HADI

Hailing from South Yemen, Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi rose to prominence in 1994 after he sided with President Saleh’s war efforts against the Southern Secessionist Movement. 

Yemen’s longest serving VP, Hadi was elected in a one-man election in 2012 for two-year term. His mandate provisioned for the ratification of a new constitution and Yemen’s transition into a fully fledged democratic state. 

Following an extension of his term in 2014 and fears that Hadi sought to consolidate his grip on power over his people’s calls for democratisation, the Houthis began their long march towards the capital.

Hadi resigned from power in 2014, to seek exile in Saudi Arabia where he now resides. Hadi is still recognised by the United Nations and the Saudi war coalition  as Yemen’s legitimate authority, despite his term having technically ended.

A member of the GPC and former Saleh’s loyalist, Hadi  broke rank in 2012 to form his own sub-faction.

In a bid to secure a base in Yemen proper, Hadi chose to align himself to the Southern Separatist Movement in Aden in 2015 in view of fighting off the Houthi-led Resistance movement. 

A recent breakdown in relation with separatists and antagonistic political views left Hadi without any real political authority or legitimacy.

AL ISLAH PARTY,  THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD AND AL AHMAR CLAN

Also called the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, Al Islah was President Saleh’s only ever tangible political opposition. Backed in large by Saudi Arabia, Al Islah remains as eclectic in its make-up as it is in the formulation of its political thought. An umbrella for several religious and tribal factions, Al Islah has often been compared to the palatable face of Yemen’s own brand of pan-Islamism. Al Islah accounts within its ranks members of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as well-known radical Islamic with ties to Al Qaeda: Sheikh Abdel Majid Al Zindani for example.

The main face of Al Islah, Al Ahmar brothers are Yemen’s biggest contenders to power. The family is the head of the Hashid tribal confederation, the most powerful of Yemen’s two tribal confederations.  The other being the Bakil.  

Made strong by Saudi Arabia’s financial support over the decades Al Ahmar brothers have acted a buffer to Saleh’s otherwise uncontested hold over Yemen. If this tentative political ‘balance’ served Riyadh for great many years, the clan’s propensity to lean on Islamists for socio-political relevance proved in fact counter-productive. To some extent, if to put mildly, Al Islah has offered a convenient cover for members of both the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda in Yemen so that it could better offset President Saleh’s ability to rule over a united nation.

Today Al Islah is one of the strongest opponents of the Houthis, and some of Hadi’s most staunchest allies.

SOUTHERN SEPARATISTS/SECESSIONISTS and  THE SOUTHERN TRANSITIONAL COUNCIL

Formed in 2007 the Southern Secessionist Movement, also known as Al Harak, is a political movement and paramilitary organization which has actively and systematically called for the formation of a state independent from Sana’a. Held as political pariahs under Saleh’s rule, Yemen’s secessionists have looked onto Yemen’s Arab Spring as an invaluable political opportunity.

At present, its political branch, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) is led by Aidarus al-Zoubaidi, is the de facto leadership in all provinces of the south.

Formed in 2017, the Southern Transitional Council is a secessionist movement focused on gaining independence for South Yemen. Comprising of 26 members, the STC includes five governors from Southern Yemen and two former government ministers. The STC emerged after Hadi fired Aden governor Aidarus al-Zoubaidi for alleged disloyalty in April 2017. 

It is important to note that both the southern-eastern provinces of Hadramawt and Al Mahra have rejected calls to join the STC as they themselves ambition to stand independently from both Sana’a and Aden.

AL-QAEDA IN THE ARABIAN PENINSULA – AQAP

The militant Islamist group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was formed in January 2009 through a union of the Saudi and Yemeni branches of Al Qaeda. Jihadist antecedents in the region date to the early 1990s, when thousands of mujahadeen returned to Yemen after fighting the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. Analysts rate the Yemen-based group as the most lethal Al Qaeda franchise, carrying out a domestic insurgency while maintaining its sights on Western targets. The group’s threats have disrupted operations in dozens of U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, and it has inspired or directed attacks in the United States and Europe.

In the late 1980s, the Saleh regime fostered jihad in what was then North Yemen by repatriating thousands of Yemeni nationals who had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. Saleh dispatched these mujahadeen to fight the Soviet-backed Marxist government of South Yemen in a successful bid for unification, and subsequently, to crush southern secessionists.

The returning Yemenis were joined by other Arab veterans of the Afghan war, foremost among them Osama bin Laden, who advocated a central role for Yemen in global jihad. A corps of jihadists who had trained under bin Laden in Afghanistan formed the militant group Islamic Jihad in Yemen (1990–94), one of several AQAP predecessors. Other such groups include the Army of Aden Abyan (1994–98) and Al Qaeda in Yemen, or AQY (1998–2003).

SAUDI ARABIA’S WAR COALITION

The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, also called the Arab coalition was launched in late March 2015 in response to calls from President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi for military support against the Houthis. Composed of 9 countries from the Middle East and Africa, the coalition has been accused of war crimes for its targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructures.

Saudi Arabia has long argued Iran’s influence in Yemen and the UN Resolution 2216 to frame its military campaign as both politically legitimate and legally sound.

Arguably Saudi Arabia’s frontal campaign against what it perceives as a threat to both its national interests and its regional rationale has served to feed the fires of dissent within the region – de facto accelerating the formation of a pan-Arab ‘Resistance Block’.

NOTE – Yemen has become increasingly fractured since President Hadi was ousted from the capital and went into exile. The country is torn between ascendant Houthis, remnants of the former government, AQAP, and a secession movement in the south, and none are capable of controlling the entire country. A transition plan backed by the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United States has faltered. Foreign embassies have been closed in the capital. Internal divisions, splintering national agendas  and foreign intervention have created further instability for AQAP and Ansar al-Sharia to exploit.

NEWS BRIEF YEMEN – SEPTEMBER 29, 2019

Yemen’s Houthis confirm access to high grade weaponry

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Sources close to  the Houthis leadership confirmed access to high grade weaponry. According to several military officials, Sana’a de facto government now wields drone technology and other long range ‘capabilities’, an acquisition they warn will dramatically shift the balance of power and bring war within Saudi Arabia should Riyadh fail to heed the Houthis’ call for a truce.

Such admission comes on the back of several reports of conversation in Iran that the Houthis had been able over the past 18 months to replicate at home  Iranian-made military technology. 

Made strong of its alliances with other like-minded and ideologically driven outfits across the region: Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, Yemen has said to be ready to move against both Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to defend its interests.

Yemen’s Houthis breached Saudi Arabia’s borders – 1000s are made prisoners of war

 

479The Houthis confirmed late on Saturday that their troops now control large swathes of land in Najran – Saudi Arabia’s south-western province, formerly under Yemeni control (Jeddah Treaty 2000).

Speaking to media, Colonel Yahiya Sarea said Saudi forces had suffered “huge losses in life and machinery”. All those captured would be paraded on the Houthi-run Al Masirah TV network on Sunday, he added.

The operation was the largest of its kind since the conflict began.

In exclusive comments Head of the National Negotiating Delegation Mohammed Abdulsalam warned that Yemen’s move against the Kingdom was but the first of many steps to reaffirm Yemen’s sovereignty and political independence against foreign intervention.

 

NEWS BRIEF YEMEN – SEPTEMBER 26, 2019

Yemen ‘peace initiative’ still stands despite coalition airstrikes

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The Houthis renewed  on Wednesday their offer of a truce with Saudi Arabia stating that should the Kingdom agree to halt all strikes against Yemen, they would refrain from further escalating their targeting of Saudi Arabia’s key infrastructures. Parties close to the Houthis confirmed that Saudi Arabia was not the only target on the Resistance’s list – the UAE also could face retaliatory attacks by Yemen, as a mean to pressure Saudi Arabia-led coalition into returning to the negotiating table.

Hisham Sharaf,  the Houthis’ foreign minister, told AFP. “If they want peace, we are for peace. If they don’t want peace, they know how we can hit them hard.”

The Houthis have claimed responsibility for the September 14 attacks on Saudi oil installations that knocked out half of the OPEC kingpin’s production and sent shock waves through world energy markets.


Amnesty International calls the US into question in Yemen

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A bomb manufactured by a US corporation was used in a Saudi-led attack on a residential home in Yemen, killing six civilians including three children, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

The air strike, carried out by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition, took place on 28 June and targeted the non-military site in the Ta’iz governorate, located in the southwest of the country.

It has been revealed that the laser-guided bomb was manufactured by US company Raytheon and is the latest evidence in allegations pointing to US involvement in the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen and serious violations of international humanitarian law.

NEWS BRIEF YEMEN – SEPTEMBER 25, 2019

Two million children are out of school – UNICEF

As the new school year starts amid continuing violence in Yemen, 2 million children are out of school, including almost half a million who dropped out since the conflict escalated in March 2015. The education of another 3.7 million children now hangs in the balance as teachers’ salaries have not been paid in over two years.

“Conflict, underdevelopment and poverty have deprived millions of children in Yemen of their right to education – and of their hope for a brighter future. Violence, displacement and attacks on schools are preventing many children from accessing school. With teacher salaries going unpaid for over two years, education quality is also at stake,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Representative in Yemen.

“Children out of school face increased risks of all forms of exploitation including being forced to join the fighting, child labour and early marriage. They lose the opportunity to develop and grow in a caring and stimulating environment, ultimately becoming trapped in a life of poverty and hardship,” added Nyanti.


Kuwait contributes US$ 2 million to support FAO’s emergency programme

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The Government of Kuwait has contributed US$ 2 million to boost FAO’s emergency agricultural interventions and improve food security and nutrition in Yemen. The Kuwaiti funding in support of FAO’s Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen will be crucial in providing assistance to some of the 8.6 million severely food insecure Yemenis.

“This new agreement reinforces the relationship between the State of Kuwait and FAO,” said H.E. Jamal M. Al Ghunaim Ambassador Permanent Representative of the State of Kuwait to the U.N. in Geneva. “We aim to work closer together to accelerate humanitarian efforts towards the people of Yemen and other countries in the near East region who are suffering from conflicts.”


Air raid in North Yemen claims 16 civilian – 7 children

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A series of airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition on Tuesday killed 16 people including seven children, an official and a doctor confirmed.

The raid came days after the Houthis offered to halt drone and ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia as part of efforts to end a war.

UN High Court Rules in Qatar-UAE Case

A year since the blockade against Qatar, the Gulf nation has for the first time taken the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) over what it described as human right violations.

The boycott, which has been in effect since June 2017, is led by Saudi Arabia with the support of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – all previous partners of Qatar in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – and Egypt.

In June, Qatar’s government put forward a case, seeking reparations by arguing that the UAE enacted a series of measures that discriminate against Qataris. The measures include expelling Qataris from the UAE, prohibiting them from entering or passing through the UAE, ordering UAE nationals to leave Qatar, and closing UAE airspace and seaports to Qatar.

Qatar’s government argues that these actions were in violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) – including discrimination on the basis of nationality. A tactical move by Qatar as the UAE and Qatar are the only Gulf signatories to the convention.

In response, the UAE offered a defence to Qatar’s case, citing similar allegations that were leveled against Qatar when the diplomatic row broke out last year. The UAE’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Saeed Al-Nuwais, has dismissed Qatar’s discrimination case as baseless and rejected all allegations.

However, on Monday, the ICJ ruled in favour of Qatar. The vote, albeit a narrow one with eight judges in favour and seven against, ruled that the measures put in place by the UAE amounted to racial discrimination and must immediately reunite Qatari families affected by the blockade and allow Qatari students to continue their education in the UAE. The ICJ’s decision, whilst provisional is nonetheless binding and a further proceeding is expected to be scheduled at a future date.

Despite the difficulties, Qatar overcame the economic impacts of the blockade – maintaining healthy growth. The blockading countries were already under economic hardship as a result of low oil prices, and have themselves suffered from cutting economic trade with Qatar. Energy-rich Qatar tapped into its massive wealth reserves to absorb the initial impact on its economy and secured alternatives means of trade for food supplies and maritime routes and ports.

This is a small victory for Qatar, who still remains isolated and estranged from neighbouring countries. A political solution to the Gulf crisis seems further far afield, as neither Qatar nor the blockading nations have shown any signs of backing down.