This video by CaspianReport discusses the background of the current political crisis in Yemen. Yemen is located in the Southwestern part of the Middle East and is evenly divided between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. This central location, the lack of strong governmental institutions, and disputes between both religious sects made a conflict within the county inevitable. The conflict in Yemen began in 2011 and was part of the Arab Spring wave of protests against corrupt and authoritarian governments (often backed by Western powers) within the Middle East. The protests were led by both secular and Islamist opposition groups. Longtime rebel groups such as the Houthis (a Shi’a group primarily supported by Iran, Syria, Russia, and Lebanon) and the Southern Movement participated in the protests. President Ali Abdullah Saleh (who assumed dictatorial control of the country in 1978) responded with a violent crackdown that destabilized the country and made his downfall inevitable. Saleh was almost killed when a bomb went off in a mosque where he and other top government officials were praying in June of 2011. During Saleh’s time receiving medical treatment, he left Vice President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. As acting president, Hadi met with the opposition and expressed support for political reforms. Saleh agreed in late 2011 to resign from power, and the opposition groups subsequently agreed to allow Hadi to stand unopposed for the presidency in 2012.
Hadi’s election was one of the first democratic transfers of power in Yemeni history and was an encouraging sign for Yemen’s political future. Despite the initial optimism surrounding his presidency, Hadi struggled to deal with numerous issues, such as attacks by Al-Qaeda, separatist movements, corruption, unemployment, and food insecurity. The Houthi movement, which champions Yemen’s Shia Muslim community (which has been the victim of much governmental repression despite their near majority in the country) took advantage of the new president’s weakness by taking control of their northern heartland of Saada province and neighboring areas. Disillusioned with the transition, many ordinary Yemenis, including Sunni’s, began to side the Houthis and in September 2014, the Houthis entered the capital, Sanaa.
In January 2015, the Houthis reinforced their takeover of Sanaa, surrounding the presidential palace and other key points and placed political figures under house arrest. The Houthis and security forces loyal to Saleh then attempted to take control of the entire country, forcing Hadi to flee abroad in March 2015. Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by Iran, Saudi Arabia and began an air campaign aimed at restoring Hadi’s government. Even though the Saudi-led campaign has received widespread logistical and military support from countries such as the US, Israel, UK, and France, the tactics used by the Saudi military in Yemen are subject to widespread internal condemnation. Many international observers accuse the Saudi’s of indiscriminately targeting civilians, committing a religious genocide against Shi’a Muslims, and leading the country to the brink of widespread famine. Much like with many other conflicts in the region, one can argue that the primary goal of Saudi Arabia through their intervention in Yemen is to weaken the regional influence of the Iranian government and prevent any indigenous political movements in support of independence and political freedom from emerging.