Yemen: The Future of a Revolution

A look at how with the interference of neighboring Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni revolution spiraled into crisis

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Narration: In January 2011, thousands of the Yemeni people took to the streets of Sanaa and Taiz demanding the fall of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country’s long-time president. The Arab world’s poorest country had been facing multiple crises for years: a shortage of oil and water, hunger, dictatorship, corruption, an international terrorist presence and deep internal regional and political differences. The Arab Spring, as they would call it, was promising a rosy future for the nation. Now, the violence of the latest war that engulfs Yemen is a far cry from those hopeful days.

The immediate crisis dates back to 2011 when Yemen saw the removal of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled the country for 33 years. The Saudis and their Gulf allies, supported by the West, oversaw a political transition that brought in Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi as president. That temporarily avoided civil war but failed to introduce more fundamental changes, as Saleh who was given immunity from prosecution continued to manoeuvre behind the scenes.

In September 2014, after the breakdown of political dialogue that aimed to sketch the shape of a new constitution for the country, thousands of Houthi outhifighters from northern Yemen seized control of the country's capital. Hadi and his cabinet resigned. On 26 March, Saudi Arabia launched its airstrikes against Yemen without a United Nations mandate to restore Hadi to power. Soon enough, thick plumes of smoke rose over Sana as some of the heaviest bombing shook the capital, including residential areas. According to reports, over 2,700 people including women and children have so far lost their lives in the attacks. Hospitals, homes, schools and civilian infrastructure have been also hit, as have airports and power stations.

The Saudi assaults on the Houthis have indirectly helped empower Al Qaeda in ways the group had not enjoyed before. Yemen, strategically located north of the Bab-el-Mandeb oil transit chokepoint is home to a dangerous al-Qaeda group, known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP.

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Narration: The Houthis who are the group’s most determined foe in Yemen have been preoccupied with aerial assaults from the Saudi-led Arab coalition. In early April, AQAP fighters launched a jailbreak near Mukalla that freed about 300 prisoners, including several dozen of their comrades. In addition, A brazen territorial grab in Yemen together with a $1-million bank heist has given the terrorist group fundraising and recruitment tools.

AQAP has recently announced that it is offering 20 kilograms of gold to anyone who kills or captures the leader of Yemen’s Houthi movement, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi. The announcement comes as Saudi Arabia is pushing ahead with its military campaign against the Houthis or Ansar Allah who adhere to a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism. Notably, the group’s foundation was rooted in a reaction to foreign intervention of countries like Saudi Arabia and the United States of America. The government’s corruption and the marginalization of much of the Houthis’ home areas in Saada constituted the group’s key grievances. Since 2011, the Houthis has launched peaceful protests and participated in Yemen's Conference of National Dialogue. By aligning themselves with popular demands - whether the overthrow of the widely unpopular unity government, frustration over rampant corruption, or anger over the removal of fuel subsidies - the Houthis gained the ability to introduce themselves as a national, non-sectarian movement.

Yemen’s future path remains anything but clear. Houthi spokespeople have stressed that the group is open to dialogue and power-sharing. On the other hand, AQAP aim to stoke the sectarian flames, taking advantage of the potential power vacuum while capitalizing on the grievances of those frustrated with the chaos the country is plunging into. The plans of supporters of former president Saleh who is quite powerful remain unclear. But what is abundantly clear at the moment is that this remains an internal Yemeni political conflict—one that, despite frequent sectarian mischaracterizations and potential regional implications, remains deeply rooted in local Yemeni issues and any foreign invasion or intervention will only fan the flames of the war. The Saudi-led coalition has stated that its goal is to restore Hadi. But bringing him back into the seat of the presidency is undeniably easier said than done. Hadi's weakness as president ultimately paved the way for the current crisis; the fact that his current location is unknown only heightens the questions regarding his ability to restore the central government's hegemony over the whole of Yemen.

At this point, it remains clear that the only solution is a form of peaceful dialogue. Neither Saudi Arabia, nor its allies, nor any other country including Yemen, stand to gain from an extended armed conflict. 

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