From Libya to Syria, since the start of the Arab Spring protests in 2011 the region has seen several countries descend into chaos. In the middle of the proxy war dominating the region, Yemen has recently become the latest battleground between those allied with Saudi Arabia and those allied with Iran. Yemen, a country that boasts an ancient history, today faces its most serious threat to its existence.
The conflict in Yemen is a baffling one. Of the regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran are supporting conflicting sides. However both do tend to share a common enemy: ISIS. The group’s expansion into Iraq is what pushed Saudi Arabia to join the US-led coalition. On the other hand, Iran stepped up its support to the Iraqi government supplying it with arms and advisers, while also supporting the Shia militias that sprung up following the collapse of the Iraqi army when ISIS militants overran Mosul and vast areas of Northern Iraq. While both countries do not cooperate directly together, they do share a common concern. Any hope for closer ties between the two countries as a result of the shared threat were dashed when the struggle for Yemen erupted.
The conflict in Yemen pits President Hadi and his supporters against the Houthi rebels and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his loyalists. The Houthis, who belong to a branch of Shia Islam, see Hadi as corrupt, inefficient, and a stooge of the United States and Gulf Arab countries. They have allied themselves with former President Abdullah Saleh who wields significant influence since his removal following the 2011 Arab Spring protests in Yemen. Following Saleh’s removal, a great number of Yemen’s army defected and sided with him. Today, both are fighting Hadi’s supporters and Sunni Tribes around Yemen. Hadi regards the Houthis as stooges of Iran in an attempt for it to expand its sphere of influence in the region.
The conflict in Yemen has turned into a proxy war, with Saudi Arabia and Iran supplying each side with material and political support. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia has recently made an even bolder step in confronting the Houthis by launching air and naval strikes against Houthi positions in the country. The aim of the Saudi-led coalition, which includes all members of the GCC besides Oman, is to bring the Houthi rebels to the negotiating table for a mutual agreement on the future of Yemen. That would require the Houthis to disarm and be a sole political party. A scenario that today seems highly unlikely considering the current escalation of the conflict. Today, the Houthis control the capital Sanaa and key cities around the country such as Taiz and Lahij. Hadi’s supporters however control the port city of Aden and small pockets around the country.
With the situation in Yemen escalating daily and a mounting death toll of more than 500 in the past two weeks, there are fears of an all-out civil war. Already thousands have fled their homes and in one case, Yemenis fleeing the conflict have gone across the sea to Somalia, reversing a decade old trend of Somali refugees coming to Yemen. The polarization of world and regional powers has failed to stem the rise of conflicts around the region. In Libya, Syria and Yemen are the regional powers, while Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are all involved in supporting opposite sides.
With all these conflicts having conflicts within themselves there seems to be a greater need for dialogue today more than ever. Let us hope the world does not sit idly and watch as yet another country in the region descends further into the unknown. Today, millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees do not receive the support they desperately need and with the current situation in Yemen, there is great fear for the potential of a new wave of refugees.