On Yemen and the al-Houthi

On The Surface

The recent turmoil in Yemen is prompting immense amounts of insecurity in the international arena. The implications of a fragile Arabian peninsula go beyond just regional impacts, but global ones as well. As The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins explains “Yemen is now considered one of the most likely places from which al-Qaeda can mount an attack on America.” Furthermore, petro-states on the peninsula will only feel further tension as militant groups such as the AQAP continue to pressure domestic oil fields. Not many people know exactly what is fueling this intense conflict in Yemen, but in essence, it all comes down to the age-old conflict of sectarianism.

 

Who Are They?

The culprits in recent Yemeni instability are the al-Houthi, a Shia tribal group that comprises nearly 40% of Yemen’s demographic makeup. Followers of Zaidi, a branch of Shiism, the al-Houthi held considerable amounts of political clout up until 1962, when a coup planted al-Badr (a Sunni) in power. Under al-Badr’s rule, the al-Houthi were driven into the northwest province of Saada where they underwent considerable oppression flowing from the countries capital in Sanaa. The resulting turmoil has led to the present situation, escalating into a major conflict involving the al-Houthi making considerable territorial gains in the north, especially in the absence of a standing army to repel them.

 

Why The Conflict?

This recent turmoil stems largely from issues dating back to the 1962 Constitution. The 1962 Constitutional Convention saw al-Houthi tribal leaders forced to relinquish large tracts of territory. In 2011, al-Houthi spokesmen in Sanaa restated claims to both the Hajja (a settlement in western coastal Morocco near Rabat) and the al-Jawf province (both of these areas are in close proximity to some of Yemen’s largest oil fields).

However, this isn’t a political coup in the making; instead al-Houthi leaders are trying to express their voice in Yemen’s domestic affairs. In the last months, al-Houthi generals have led a brutal southward offensive, reclaiming key areas such as the al-Midi Port to the east and even stretching their reach to Sanaa. These coming months will be crucial in the development of this conflict. And though the regional implications of this issue are already evident, the inevitable international impacts that this conflict have yet to be observed.

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