OPINION | The Situation in Yemen: A Boiling Cauldron? by Federica Fanuli
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OPINION | The Situation in Yemen: A Boiling Cauldron? by Federica Fanuli

OPINION | The Situation in Yemen: A Boiling Cauldron? by Federica Fanuli

By Federica Fanuli
Editor at Mediterranean Affairs 

Yemen’s Zaydi’s, a moderate Shi’ite sect – different from Iranian Shi’ism – dominated the country until the abolition of Imamate and the creation of the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) in 1962. In spite of theunion of the northern Zaydi Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen and South Yemen in 1990, a desire for greater autonomy by North Yemen from the capital Sana’a resulted in clashes between various tribal and confessional groups. Such clashes exemplified a flawed division of power that characterized the States deprived of the benefits of the various processes of democratic liberalism and nationalization of resources.

In 2013, Tens of thousands of Yemeni Shia Muslims have buried the remain
of the founder of the armed Houthi rebel group - Hussein al-Houthi, 9 years
after he was killed in fighting with Government forces. /
In 2004, the leader of the Zaydis, Hussein al-Houthi led the insurgency in the provinces of North-West of the country and was killed by the army of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, also a Zaydi. In 2011, under the pressure of the Arab Spring, the Saleh regime fell after 37 years and his deputy, the Sunni Abed Rabbo Marsour Hadi, came to power. The new President Hadi declared that he would have overcome the divisions of the country with the “Conference of Dialogue National” – a forum assigned to reform the State and issue the Constitution – and granted autonomy to the six regions in which the country was divided. He favoured the centralization of government and sustained the Sunni tribes. In September 2014, the Houthi rose and conquered Sana’a with the support of the former President Saleh, once a political opponent.

Today, Yemen is in total chaos. President Hadi resigned from his officefled to Aden, and then took refuge in Saudi Arabia, asking for support against what he called an “Iranian Proxy War“. The (temporary) successes of Yemen’s Houthi rebels are a worrisome cause for Riyadh, especially after the recently agreed framework on Iran’s Nuclear Program.

King Salman Saud at GCC meet on Yemen Crisis /
PHOTO COURTESY : Independent, UK
Moreover, fear over a new geopolitical order in the Gulf prompted Saudi Arabia to proceed unilaterally and commence airstrikes on rebel strongholds across Yemen. The recent fall of Aden into the hands of Houthi forces and their subsequent advance towards the Bab-el-Mandeb strait – a strategic route for Gulf oil and the exchange of goods between Europe and Asia – evoked regional support for Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen through the Arab League. This “Arab Coalition” endeavors to contain the Houthis and allowing for the establishment of a government free from any Iranian influence. Washington’s decision to support Saudi Arabia however, carries great risk of radicalizing the Yemeni Sunni’s, strengthening the Al-Qaeda, and creating a power vacuum. In the long run, this decision may pose several policy issues for Obama. One, the US is fighting alongside Shiite militias against the Islamic State in Tikrit. Two, Obama needs Tehran to resolve the Syrian issue. Three, continued support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen could undermine US’ warming relations with Iran which could may well derail any chances for arriving at a comprehensive nuclear agreement this June. In the given circumstances though, the fluctuating price of oil could stop Iran from supporting the financial weight of the poorest State in the region. Economic factors, not bombs, could very well determine the outcome of the conflict and effectively, the Arabian Peninsula.

           This opinion was first posted at  The Sunday Sentinel, New Delhi on 19th April 2015