Yemen conflict

Quick Guide To Understanding The Yemen Conflict

photo by Irin Photos via Flickr

The revolution in Yemen has fostered instability and given way to a new and more violent set of sectarian conflicts.

Update 3/26/15:  Saudi Arabian forces backed by the US have begun shelling the Houthi stronghold in Sanaa in an attempt to deter the rebels’ advancement. 

Since 2011, Yemen, much like the rest of the Middle East, has been in a state of flux. Regime changes have fueled ferocious fighting, claimed innocent lives, and has drawn the ire of global terrorist cell, Al Qaeda.

But how did Yemen get here, and what does the instability mean for the Yemini people?

The spark

Like many conflicts in the middle east, Yemen’s violence stems from an age-old rivalry between Sunni and Shia muslims.

In 2004, the conflict, which is still raging today, was sparked when Yemen’s Sunni government attempted to silence former Shia-affiliated religious leader Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, offering a bounty of $55,000 for his arrest, eventually leading to the leaders execution.

In this attempt, the Yemeni government hoped to quell a growing Shia insurgency, which many other Sunni countries–including Saudi Arabia–feared may soon challenge Sunni authority.

The results were a sustained conflict between the Yemeni government and revolutionaries dubbed “Houthi” fighters, which culminated in the Houthi control of a large swath of territory located in northern Yemen.

Yemen conflict

map from Wikipedia modified by Curiousmatic 

The Houthis, though they have been successful in their push to gain control of the Yemini capital Sanaa, as well as a large portion of Northern Yemen, now have multiple threats, including the formidable Al Qaeda and Saudi Arabian resistance.

The current situation

Houthi fighters, backed by the momentum of the Arab Spring–which riled protests in both Egypt and Tunisia as well–were expected to institute radical political change, however, much of the country has since devolved into some of the most violent fighting in years.

Now, with Yemen’s president Hadi ousted, Saudi Arabian forces actively shelling Houthi fighters in their stronghold of Sanaa, and the withdraw of US special forces from the region, fighting spirals into what may be imminent civil war.

The Houthi’s push to extricate the Yemeni people from government control has also created a new enemy in Al Qaeda – a group which considers itself a part of the Sunni majority.

Despite hopes that Houthi’s would insight radical political change and a welcome dose of stability–which has been severely lacking since the uprising in 2011–the situation in Yemen has only escalated.

As the Houthi’s inch closer to Al Qaeda and President Hadi’s territory, battles – like the one for Yemen’s airport – have begun rapidly springing out across the country. Control of the airport in Aden, once claimed by the forces loyal to Hadi,  now deters on the edge of Houthi control.

According to a report by a Yemeni think-tank, 7000 people were killed in 2014 as a result of sectarian fighting–1200 of such deaths being civilian casualties.

Perhaps even worse yet has been the galvanizing effect Houthi control has had on Sunni tribesman and Al Qaeda forces, who view Houthi fighters as heretics.

The drone war has also played a major role in tarnishing U.S. relations in Yemen, since according to the yearly drone report, there have been 102 drone strikes in the country accounting for 80-87 civilian deaths since 2012.


James Pero