Yemen Civil War: another tale of two factions
Yemen is in a state of civil war, more than three-thousand people have died, and the country is divided roughly in half between two factions both claiming to represent the legitimate government. I will attempt to explain the background of the conflict, so that the causes, and the path to resolution can be better understand.
Yemen is divided roughly 60/40 between Sunni Muslim and Shia Muslims. Sunni and Shia are the major global sects of islam. There has been violent conflict between the Sunni and Shia sects since the 7th century, which has flared up again in the last fifty years.
In Yemen, most of the Shia Muslims are part of the Zaidi denomination. For decades, the Zaidi have been complaining of discrimination towards their people, by Sunni Muslims, and Sunni authorities. In 2004, the Zaidi cleric; Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi started an insurgency against the Sunni in Yemen. After his death, his followers named themselves the Houthi’s.
The Yemeni government, led by corrupt president; Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was himself a Zaidi, opposed the Houthis and contested them. Up until 2015, the Houthi insurgency had resulted in roughly 25,000 deaths.
In 2011, following the popular uprisings in Egypt, and Tunisia, the Yemeni people rose up to oppose their president, demanding democratic reforms. The Houthi backed off temporarily giving time for the protestors to campaign. President Saleh eventually stepped down, and gave over power to his general; Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who began planning democratic and popular reforms.
After three years of General Hadi in power, the Houthi scaled their conflict back up, claiming incompetence from General Hadi, and continued discrimination against the Zaidi people. The Houthi seized the Yemeni capital and initiated a full-scale civil war. Former president Saleh returned from exile, and sided himself with the Houthi.
The civil war began in February 2015. Yemen is now divided between General Hadi in the east, and Saleh and the Houthi in the west.
It is possible to imagine a peaceful resolution that would provide democracy for the people of Yemen, and protection for the Zaidi. Unfortunately the global community is not rallying to this peaceful resolution. Two groups have got involved, that is Iran, and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, but their aims are not ideal. Iran is a majority Shia country, and are believed to have been funding the Houthi for the last decade, to create allies among the Zaidi/Shia sect. Saudi Arabia are a majority Sunni Country, and are leading a coalition into the conflict to oust the Zaidi and ensure Sunni control. Their intervention is fuelling the conflict, as both sides struggle for victory, rather than peace. The conflict has in fact given Daesh (ISIS) a chance to seize large parts of northern Yemen.
A third country like the UK or the USA could intervene and help broker a peace, were it not for the fact that NATO and particularly the USA are longstead allies of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the USA have promised support for Saudi Arabia in the conflict.
Where does this leave us then? Well, Yemen is not a wholly unique case. It’s part of a broader global problem. It requires large-scale change in much of the world, both from governments and people. We’ve made a lot of progress; the Iraq war march was the largest protest in british history, but we still have a long way to go.
Outside of politics, we can try to reform the system, by tackling greed, and fear. What makes modern conflict particularly upsetting is that we now have the technology for everyone to live a good life without harming others. We need to encourage systems where wealth is redistributed from the rich to the poor, where the rich spend their money ethically; avoiding exploitative practices, and where excessive wealth is not regarded as necessary for a ‘good life’. This could go a long way towards discouraging warring factions from starting and sustaining conflicts.
Politically there is a lot that can be done; we can educate people, and we can gather attention for issues with protests and marches. We can campaign on individual issues, and for internationalist candidates. Many politicians claim to be internationalists, but in our confusing political landscape, these people often misunderstand the problems. A serious internationalist needs to recognise that radical change is necessary, that progress requires hard diplomatic work, a serious commitment to foreign aid, and international peacekeeping.