Yemen Crisis explained. Part II-More than just another Middle East sectarian battle.
In our last post we went through the history of Yemen, through 1962. This week we shall move on to the contemporary crisis and attempt to demonstrate that it is more than just an Iranian attempt to exert hegemony over Yemen.
As we left off last week, apart from their own regional civil wars, North Yemen and the PDR were fighting a Greater Yemen War. With pressure from the Arab League, peace or more specifically an armistice, was brokered. Under its terms a new unified government formed that had Ali Abdullah Saleh as president, and the then President of South Yemen, Ali Salim al Beidh, as its vice-president.
Saleh won re-election with 93 per cent of the vote. His administration, however, was marked by an amazing amount of corruption. An economic downturn in 1992, and the ensuing food riots, led to yet another civil war. During which time, Vice-president Ali Salim al Beidh walked out of the government, protesting among other items, the attacks in the north upon his socialist forces.
Meanwhile, in the north, the incipient Al Qaeda affiliates got a distinct shot-in-the-arm when their counterparts in Saudi Arabia merged with them to form Al Qaeda in the entire Arabian Peninsula, though`based in Yemen (no doubt due, in part, to the iron hand rule by the Saudi family in S.A.). Al Qaeda then managed to get President Saleh to release 176 Al Qaeda prisoners. Yemen became a major source of terrorist exporting. Keep in mind that Al Qaeda is Sunni. And that the invading countries, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are predominantly Sunni. Yet this is ironically, largely a Sunni problem.
Meanwhile, in January 2004, Hussein Badreddin al Houthi, the leader of the Zadi Shia supported anti-government uprising. Saleh argued that the Houthis wanted take over the government and establish Sharia, or Islamic law. For their part, the Houthis denied this and claimed discrimination against their Shia by government forces. About 40 per cent of Yemenis are Shia.
With the aid of Saudi Arabian “military advisers,” in 2009 the Yemeni army started a major offensive against the Houthis. The U.S. at this time supported Saleh, perhaps due to their close connections to the Saudi leadership. The Houthis were fighting a two-front war, both with the al-Qaeda and the Islah Party. Nevertheless in September of 2014, the Houthis took control of Sana’a, the capital and largest city in Yemen. Saleh escaped, and a new unity government was announced in the territories still under non-Houthi control, with Abd Rabbuh Mansyur Hadi as Prime Minister. Hadi, in turn, resigned on January 22 of this year. Later, in hiding, he rescinded his resignation and sought to establish a new government in Aden.
In the folder marked “strange bedfellows” is a section on claimants to the Yemen government. Now, under a tricky, and perhaps not viable, tacit agreement, Saleh, once the nemesis of the Houthis, and the client of the U.S., is fronting for Houthi claims of legitimacy, as an alternative to Hadi.
At the same time, most of Aden has fallen to the Houthis. Saudi Arabia is bombing Houthi strongholds, and presumably a large force of Saudis is poised to enter Yemen. Nearer to the Red Sea, a similar threat of Egyptian invasion is underway.
The U.S. pulled its remaining forces out of Aden just before it fell. Arguing the need to fight “Iran’s Proxy,” we are supporting Hadi, at least nominally, and possibly with logistic support for the Saudi forces.
Now it’s clear that in the new bi-polar Islamic Middle East, the Houthis are receiving weapon support from Iran. Which is not the same as saying that they are proxies for Iran. The question of who will head a new government, Saleh or his successor Hadi, as well as how the Saudis can keep their dictatorial government back home, may well be the key underlying motivations of the combatants.