Yemen on the Brink of Civil War

Houthis
Houthi rebels have overthrown the Hadi government and are facing off against Al-Qaeda and ISIS as well. Photo credit: Al Jazerra America

Yemen is on the brink of civil war, after the Houthis, a well-organized group of Shia rebels, put current interim President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi under house arrest, leading to his resignation. Hadi fled the capital city Sana’a in late January and settled in his hometown of Aden, where he claimed the legitimate government resided. He declared the Houthi takeover a “coup” and forces close to him have been battling the Houthis with the support of Saudi Arabia.

Last month, the Houthis, who are supported by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Iran, took control of the southern city of Taiz and look to make even more gains. They also officially dissolved Parliament in favor of a new assembly and five-member council, which would rule for up to two years. Historically, the Yemeni government has carried out six offensives against the Houthis, due in part to the Houthis anti-American sentiment at a time when Saleh was becoming allied with the US and the Houthis’ religious beliefs. During the Arab Spring in 2011, the Houthis were able to consolidate some of their power by taking advantage of the protests against Saleh. They were then a part of the National Dialogue Conference in 2013, but dropped out over the provisions of the brokered compromise, which would have given immunity to Saleh. Houthi leaders instead opted to strengthen their power in the North. This has all led up to the current crisis.

However, that is not the only problem that the beleaguered Arab nation faces. There is also the armed threat of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the South, which has had a large presence in Yemen since 2009. AQAP opposes Hadi and the Houthis because it is Sunni, giving a sectarian edge to this conflict. Sunni groups are expected to support Al-Qaeda in an effort to defeat the Houthis. AQAP, which is made up of the Saudi and Yemeni branches of Al-Qaeda, has long been seen as a threat, with numerous attacks carried out in the Middle East and attempted attacks in the U.S. (such as on Christmas Day 2009 when it targeted a plane bound for Detroit). Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by a US drone strike in 2011, was one of their chief propagandists, inspiring the likes of Nidal Hasan, who was responsible for the Fort Hood shootings in 2009. Drone strikes such as these have been carried out by the U.S. with Hadi’s support, making the fate of these operations unknown.

There is also the emerging threat of ISIS. ISIS is trying to push an even more extreme agenda than Al-Qaeda. Just this past week, ISIS claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings at mosques that killed 140 people, making it one of the worst attacks ever in Yemen. There has been doubt about whether the attack was carried out by ISIS or AQAP, though Al-Qaeda has condemned attacks against mosques in the past as well as other ISIS tactics such as beheadings. However, the climate in Yemen may allow ISIS to gain a following– be it for religious reasons or because of their extremism. This may make Yemen the next battleground after Syria in the fight against ISIS.

Because of its strategic geographical location and internal sectarian strife, Yemen is in for a period of extreme instability in a country where that is already the norm.