Yemen crisis reaches beyond its borders
The Yemen crisis has captivated the world’s attention. The unrest has torn the country apart as the worst fighting in decades threatens to ignite a powder keg in the already volatile Middle East. Regional and global powers are nervously jockeying for position as the security of the region and the world teeters on the edge.
Yemen is an impoverished country, but its strategic importance cannot be understated. The Western world has a particular interest in what happens in Yemen, since the rising influence of Iranian hegemony is upsetting the delicate balance in the Middle East. At the heart of the conflict is discord between different groups of people, causing Yemen to descend into a conflagration akin to civil war. The conflict is centred around forces supporting President Mansour Hadi, and the Zaidi Shia contingent. As a result of the conflict, President Hadi was forced out of the Yemeni capital in February.
The loyalty of Yemeni forces is split between multiple groups, including President Hadi, his predecessor Saleh and the Houthis. The Sunnis in the south of the country support Hadi, along with the tribesmen of the region. Their enemies include al-Qaeda splinter groups from the Arabian Peninsula. Also, ISIL/ISIS has managed to infiltrate the tenuous situation in Yemen. Multiple bombings have taken place in the Yemeni capital this year, with no end in sight to the conflict. Now, the Saudi Arabians, Egyptians, Moroccans, Sudanese and Jordanians have taken concrete steps to get involved in the crisis by launching air strikes against the pro-Iranian Houthis.
While Yemen is a third world country, the technical capabilities of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have Western governments deeply concerned. The advances made by the Houthis have put the West on the back foot. Two dominant power-blocs have emerged in Saudi Arabia (Sunnis) and Iran (Shias). Arab Gulf states believe that Iran is aiding and abetting the Houthis while they are backing the exiled President.
Since Yemen links the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea, it is strategically i mportant. Any Iranian-allied takeover of the strait will be devastating to the regional power balance.
The Houthis seized power in Yemen and they are looking to establish an interim assembly with a presidential council. This has filled the void left by President Hadi’s departure. Sunni dissent in the south of the country means that the Houthi takeover has not been recognised. All in all, the power struggle in Yemen is a result of the unequal access to resources and power of different groups. Endemic corruption, poor infrastructure development, unemployment and large scale instability have rocked this country for the better part of the 20th century. Even after unification in 1990, the Republic of Yemen was racked by infighting and insurgency. Yemen remains the most poverty stricken of all the countries in the Middle East. The situation is fluid and it’s all taking place against the backdrop of difficult nuclear negotiations with Iran and the P5+1.