The conflict in Yemen has intensified even more. Senegal is sending 2,100 troops in support of the Saudi-led campaign according to its Foreign Affair Minister, Mankeur Ndiaye. Making it the first sub-Saharan African country to do so. The decision to deploy soldiers was announced by Ndiaye who read a message from President Macky Sall, before the National Assembly. Ndiaye said his country was responding to a request from Saudi to help secure the country’s Yemen boarder even though, according to Saudi’s foreign minister, the country was regarding a temporary truce in order for aid to be delivered to certain areas. Ndiaye went on to tell Senegal’s parliament that the aim of the coalition was to help protect and keep secure the holy sites of Islam, Mecca, and Medina. The announcement was met with immediate criticism. Modue Diagne of the opposition, said that neither Saudi Arabia or Islam’s holy sites are being threatened, and there is no credible reason for military involvement.
In the past month Yemen has fallen into conflicts by various different groups, bringing the country to the brink of implosion. The major fight is between President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and the allies of the Houthis who are Zaidi Shia, also know as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God). They ruled North Yemen for almost a 1000 years until 1962. The Houthi are named after Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi. He was their leader in their first rebellion in 2004. A rebellion that tried to win more independence for their region the Saada province. Due to a sensed intrusion by the Sunni they also felt the need to protect their Zaidi traditions, both religious and cultural.
The Yemen military killed Houthi in 2004, but his family has led another five rebellions until a cease-fire was signed in 2010 with the government. In 2014 when President Hadi announced plans for Yemen to become a federation of six different regions, the Houthis opposed the plan saying it would leave them weak.
The Houthis seized power in January and announced that it would dissolve the parliament, saying it would form a new five-member presidential council and an interim assembly. The decision filled a void in the government since President Hadi had resigned, along with the prime minister and cabinet. The resignations came after the Houthis had put the president and other leaders under house arrest. President Hadi was able to escape and went to Aden the new de-facto Capitol. He is still considered the legitimate leader by the international community. The Houthi are considered the minority from the north and their rise to power has not been recognized by southern leaders and Sunni tribesmen, adding to the chaos.
Yemen’s conflicts have intensified with loyalties split among different factions. Some security forces have remained loyal to President Hadi, while others have set their loyalties with the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The militia, Popular Resistance Committees and local tribesmen of the Sunni South are supportive of Hadi. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) opposes both sides, and has committed multiple deadly attacks. A Yemen associate of the Islamic State, which is trying to surpass AQAP has complicated things even further.
Saudi Arabia responded to a request by Mr. Hadi after rebel forces began to close in on the president’s stronghold in the south. Saudi Arabia led a coalition composed of five Gulf Arab states and Egypt, Sudan, Morocco and Jordan and launched airstrikes on Houthi targets.
Yemen is important because it is on a water way that links the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea, called the Bab al-Mandab Strait. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have concerns over a Houthi take over because it would jeopardize free passage through the waterway where a lot of the world’s oil is shipped.
All the fighting in Yemen has caused many foreign nationals to flee the country and displaced more than 300,000 people who have left their homes. The U.N. has warned many times that the country faces a grave humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabia vigorously responded even though Yemen did not attack them.
In a society where every individual has firearms it is not surprising that violence is used to resolve disputes. Chronic fighting is the norm in Yemen. Assassinations of leaders have occurred in the past, with two Imams being killed and one President too.
Saudi Arabia has tried to influence things in Yemen and has looked to have an impact on politics in the country. Soon after Saudi Arabia’s inception in 1932 it invaded Yemen and in Yemen’s civil war of 1962-1967 it threw its support behind the Zaydi Imam. It continues to try to impose its will by providing billions in aid.
Saudi Arabia has focused on Iranian involvement. Accusing the Iranian government of backing the Houthis, Iran has denied this and have said they are supporting President Hadi. The fighting between the Houthis and the government is viewed as a regional struggle of power between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shia-ruled Iran.
The increase conflict in Yemen worries the West. An unstable Yemen poses a risk of more attacks from the region. The Houthis increase in power has dampened U.S. operations on what they consider the most dangerous branch of al-Queda, the AQAP. Western Intelligence considers them to be very dangerous because of their global outreach and technical prowess. President Hadi allowed drone strikes against AQAP, but with the Houthis in charge the U.S. has had to decrease those strikes. Weak governance, corruption, instability, and mass displacement have obstructed development in the Yemen, considered the poorest country in the middle east.
By Jessica Hamel
Photo by Mark Reidy-Creativecommons Flickr License