Yemen’s many problems could soon render the country ungovernable, enabling the lawlessness in the Horn of Africa to leap across the Gulf of Aden, says Trends magazine.
March 11, 2010 10:13 by Olivia Cuthbert
A bloody civil war between Al-Houthi rebels and the Sana’a government has raged intermittently since 2004 but today’s tensions have deeper historical roots. In 1962, Yemen became the Arabian Peninsula’s only modern republic when Egyptian-backed troops invaded the capital and brought an end to the country’s 1,000-year Zaydi Shi’ite Imamate.
The deposed imam fled to mountains in the north of Yemen and gathered support among the Zaydi Shi’ite tribes of the region. Backed by Saudi Arabia, Imam al-Badr waged a series of counter-offensives against the republican Sana’a government, plunging the country into civil war for the next eight years.
In 1970, Saudi Arabia, which had been the principal opponent of the Sana’a regime since it was first installed, suddenly announced their recognition of the Yemen Arab Republic, and other nations, including the United Kingdom, quickly followed suit. Last August, Yemen’s government launched a military incursion against the Al-Houthi rebels in the north, and was joined by Saudi forces not long after the fighting began.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and the rebels further deteriorated when Saudi Arabia began their own attacks on the resistance fighters, claiming that they were protecting their border regions from rebel incursions. Late last year, rebel troops invaded Saudi Arabia, seizing control of a small mountainous region and killing over 100 Saudi soldiers.
On January 25 this year, rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi offered to withdraw all his forces from Saudi Arabia in return for a ceasefire. The government offered to end their offensive against the north if the rebels acceded to its demands. Rebel leaders responded by saying they found some of these conditions “unworkable.”
On February 12, following days of negotiations, a ceasefire was announced and Abdul-Malik al-Houthi ordered his men to abide by the terms of the truce. Al-Houthi leaders have repeatedly claimed that their uprising is a response to economic and political disenfranchisement of the Zaydi community by the predominantly Sunni central government. They seek autonomy in the north, complaining that the government is oppressing them and denying them the right to freely practice their religious beliefs.
The government accuses the Al-Houthis of acting under the influence of foreign powers at the expense of national security. They are concerned that the Al-Houthis would like to see the country revert to the Zaydi Shi’ite Imamate.