Ye­men cri­sis reaches be­yond its bor­ders

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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