Yemen

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TM, ®, Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

TM, ®, Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Nations in Crisis: Yemen

  • (july 2021) Nations in Crisis: Yemen
    Yemen is a country of 30 million located at the bottom of the Arabian peninsula, facing east Africa (Eritrea across the Red Sea). The Ottoman Empire conquered the Arabian peninsula and controlled it until it dissolved at the end of World War I, in 1918. Yemen then became an independent monarchy with capital in the northern city of Sanaa. In 1962 a bloody civil war tore (North) Yemen pitting an Egyptian-backed republican movement against the Saudi-backed king that lasted until 1968 when Saudi Arabia finally accepted the republican government. British India held a territory in southern Yemen around the strategic port of Aden, which had been captured by the East India Company in 1839. It was already an important outpost for the sea routes between Europe and India and its importance further increased when the Suez Canal opened in 1869. In 1937 this territory became a separate British colony, and in 1967 it acquired independence as the country of South Yemen ruled by the Marxist movement (the National Liberation Front) which had led the independence war against Britain since 1963. A coup in 1969 installed a Soviet-supported government. While the actual border between South and North Yemens was determined by Ottoman and British enterprises, it made sense that the two states were separate: about 56% of Yemenis are Sunnis, mostly in the south, while 42% are Shiites, mostly in the north. The two countries fought two wars, in 1972 and 1979, largely a side-effect of the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union: the Marxist government of South Yemen was supported by the Soviet Union whereas the north was supported by the USA, Britain and its ally Saudi Arabia. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the general collapse of communist regimes around the world, in 1990 North and South Yemens agreed to unite in the Republic of Yemen under the president of North Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh. From the beginning some Shiites were not happy with this arrangement and began an insurgency led by the cleric Hussein Al-Houthi (who claimed to be a descendant of the founder of Islam, a "Hashemite"). He was killed by the government in September 2004. Instead of marking the end of the rebellion, this event galvanized it (coincidence or not, the USA had just invaded Iraq and was fighting against both Saddam Hussein Sunni loyalists and Iranian-backed Shiite militias). In 2011 the Arab Spring came to Yemen: mass demonstrations caused president Saleh to resign in November 2011. His successor Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi tried in vain to stabilize the country while the Houthis took advantage of the situation, supported by Iran. In late 2014 the Houthis ousted Hadi's government from Yemen's capital Sanaa and former president Saleh allied with the Houthis. After more than six years of war, Hadi's government (recognized by the United Nations, the USA and most countries of the world) is now based in the south and only controls the country's second largest port, Aden (captured by the Houthi-Saleh alliance in March 2015 but "liberated" by the Saudi coalition four months later), while the Houthi rebels control most of the north and the country's main international port, Hodeidah. The Saudi Arabian-led coalition that bombed and invaded Yemen in 2015 to defend Hadi from the Houthis continues to impose a blockade of the north. The civil war and the Saudi invasion have caused an economic collapse that has left 80% of the population reliant on international aid. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has called the current humanitarian situation in Yemen the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Yemen now competed with Afghanistan for the title of poorest country in the world. The war is also causing an environmental disaster due to the abandoned oil tankers. One just sunk and leaked fuel in the Gulf of Aden, and another one is about to do the same. The Houthis also took the war to Saudi Arabia: they frequently shoot rockets and drones over southern Saudi Arabia, and are known to be acquiring more sophisticated weapons and drones from Iran, although their strikes inside Saudi Arabia are largely symbolic. They took responsibility for the September 2019 missile attack on Saudi Aramco's oil facilities inside Saudi Arabia, but it is likely that the attack was carried out by Iranians or Iraqis. The Houthis are advancing towards the country's oil-rich Shabwah province and fighting for another oil-rich province, Marib, in northern Yemen, which is still controlled by the government (i.e. by Saudi Arabia and allied tribesmen). Due to international outrage, Saudi Arabia has reduced the indiscriminate bombings that have killed scores of civilians, but continues to provide anybody fighting the Houthis with weapons and to fund mercenaries, and intense bombing is reported around Marib. The Houthis have nothing in common with Al Qaeda and ISIS. They are regional rebels, born out of hatred for Saleh and interested only in their own region. Their alliance with Iran is probably just opportunistic. In 2019 the published a "National Vision for the Modern Yemeni State" that is closer to the aspirations of the "Arab Spring" than to Iran's theocracy. The problem is that Saudi Arabia's interventions has caused the movement to become more radicalized. Saudi Arabia killed the Houthis' moderate president, Saleh al-Samad, in April 2018: the Houthis replaced him with Mahdi al-Mashat, a hard-liner. Power in the Houthi movement seems to be still concentrated in the Houthi family: Abdulmalik al-Houthi is the man who took over when Hussein al-Houthi was killed, his uncle Abdulkarim Amir al-Din al-Houthi controls Sanaa (and is the minister of the interior) and Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi is their spokesperson and official leader.
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