Yemen is facing the prospect of an all-out civil war as Houthi rebels advance further South toward Aden. The Houthis are members of a Shi’ite sect of Islam often at odds and war with their Sunni counterparts. In September 2014, the Houthis, demanding a greater part of President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government, stormed the capital city of Sana’a, sparking a civil war. In January, Hadi resigned and fled to Aden, a major city and former capital in the South of the country.
Hadi had been president of Yemen since 2011 when the pro-democracy protests and uprisings sparked by the Arab Spring forced his predecessor President Ali Abdullah Saleh to relinquish his powers after 30 years of rulership. During his presidency, Hadi came across as a moderate and pragmatist, working to restructure the military and create a more federalist type of government. His manner was somewhat enigmatic with officials dubbing him as “the quite president,” as opposed to the more influential Saleh, who retained a role in the transitional government. Hadi actually means “quiet” in Arabic. However, observers worried that the transition would weaken the military, and as a result power struggle ensued between the Sunni Salafist fighters in the South and the Shi’ite Houthis in the North. Hadi generated further criticism by depending on international intervention to solve problems rather than taking his opposition head on.
The rebels, after seizing control of the capital in September, announced a $100,000 bounty as a reward for Hadi’s capture on the state television network which they now control. The President now a fugitive in Aden has formed a rival government and appealed to other governments to intervene on his behalf. A great concern for the surrounding Gulf nations is that the Houthi rebels are backed by Iran, which is battling for hegemony in the region, already has a foothold in Syria and Lebanon, and who they fear is currently racing toward becoming a nuclear state. Saudi Arabia has responded to Hadi’s appeals by deploying its military forces near its border to the north of Yemen and this Thursday the Arab league is set to discuss a strategy.
However, Hadi’s appeals to outside powers may drive Yemen even further toward all-out civil war. AQAP, one of the major players in the conflict, is an extremist Sunni force which is an off-shoot of Al Qaeda who, in fact, claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo massacres earlier this year and as a result were the target of U.S. counter-terrorism measures. Because of the country’s deteriorating situation and the inability of the U.S. use Yemen as a counter-terrorism base, it was forced to withdraw its forces, creating more of a power vacuum that empowered the militants on both sides.
In the meantime Hadi has fled from his provisional palace in Aden after two unidentified fighter jets launched missiles in that direction, but instead an abandoned building had been hit. Some countries, like Saudia Arabia in the meantime have been moving their embassies out of Sana’a to Aden as they take more aggressive action. In a most recently development, Saudi Arabia has begun to bomb Houthi strategic positions with the goal of pushing back the Iranian influence. They have been given the go-ahead by other states in the Gulf region as well as the U.S., who at the same time is fighting Islamic State operatives who are ironically rivals to the Shi’ite forces, in Tikrit, Iraq.
The Houthis have called Saudi Arabia’s involvement an act of aggression, while imploring that all sides return to the negotiating table. Their goal, they state is to eliminate the Al Qaeda operatives while promising to respect the rights of citizens and prevent Yemen from facing the prospect of an all-out civil war.
by Bill Ades