Issues at Yemen Crisis
Yemen, second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula after Saudi Arabia, has nowadays become the attraction of the global news because of the political crisis going on in the country. Prior to its unification, Yemen existed as two separate countries - the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) in the north and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) in the south. In 1990, both chose to unify and create the Republic of Yemen. However, southern part soon began complaining of political and economic marginalisation by the government in Sanaa, and fought a civil war in 1994 in a failed attempt to reverse the unification.
Currently, Yemen is in the grip of its most severe crisis in recent years where different forces are fighting to gain control. The world has not shown similar concern for the countries like Somalia, Ukraine which too are going through similar crisis because of the geopolitical importance of Yemen. As Yemen is located at the coast of Red Sea, which is a part of important trade route between Asia and Europe through Suez Canal, lack of governance in Yemen could adversely affect the trade between Asia and Europe.
Beginning of the Crisis
The current Yemeni crisis started in 2011 with the beginning of revolution to oust then President Ali Abdullah Saleh who had remained at the top position for more than two decades. In 2012, he agreed to step down in exchange of immunity granted and his former Vice President AbdRabbuh Mansur Hadi, a Sunni, was elected President unopposed and was largely supported by the international community.
Houthis are the most powerful and organised political and military group in northern Yemen controlling huge stretches from Saada in the north to the south of the capital Sanaa. Houthi’s take their name from Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who launched an insurgency in 2004 but was killed by Yemeni army forces in September 2004. The former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who was ousted in 2011 still retains huge influence among Zaidi tribes which also happens to be tribe of Houthis.
Officially, the Houthis say that their aim is to establish a vibrant democracy where minorities including themselves have a political representation in the government which was denied during Hadi’s rule. Meanwhile as the influence of Shia Houthis expand in Yemen, Sunnis who are in majority felt threatened. They accused Houthis of introducing Iranian agenda in the region.
The Shia Houthi rebels, who initially agreed to pull out their fighters once a government was formed, later backtracked saying that withdrawing their fighters from the capital would lead to more instability. As the conflict between Houthis and Sunni supported President renewed in 2013, by the mid of 2014, clout of Houthi’s increased and they took over the control of northern Yemen, including the capital Sana'a. On February 6, 2015, the Houthis declared themselves in total control of the Yemeni government, dissolving parliament and installing a Revolutionary Committee led by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi to lead the state. The announcement sparked protests across Sana'a and other cities in Yemen.
In September 2014, three major parties - Houthis, former President Saleh and current President Hadi agreed to form a unity government within a month but they could not reach agreement on the choice of Prime Minister. When Houthis and the General People's Congress led by Saleh announced their withdrawal from talks of unity government, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) imposed sanctions over Houthi’s and Saleh.
The conflict between the Houthis and the elected government is also seen as part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which shares a long border with Yemen. Saudi Arabia has expressed strong support for President Hadi as they staunchly oppose the Houthis who are Shia. In 2014, they also declared Houthis as terrorist organization. Meanwhile, Iran is widely seen as the main backer of the Houthis. In March 2015, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia responded to a request by Hadi to intervene and launched air strikes on Houthi targets. The coalition comprised five Gulf Arab states and Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan and Sudan.
Taking the advantage of sectarian violence, al-Qaida's branch in Yemen has taken advantage of struggle and is strengthening itself in the country's lawless hinterlands. US drones have continued to target the top al-Qaida leaders, but the campaign has suffered after removal of Hadi and closure of the US Embassy. In the absence of counterterrorism measures, al-Qaeda too would make best use of the situation to strengthen itself.
A new group of militants inspired by the Islamic State (IS) group has also emerged which claimed major attacks in Sanaa in March 2015. The IS views Shiites as apostates and has vowed to carry out more mass killings of civilians.
Now after controlling the formal power in Yemen, Houthis announced plans for a new interim assembly and five-member presidential council, which would rule for up to two years. This may fill the political vacuum in Yemen but Houthis are from Shia minority in North and are unacceptable to Sunni tribesmen and other leaders in south. With Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Saudi Arabia and Iran involved in the conflict, it is highly unlikely that peace would prevail anytime soon in Yemen.
The threat of war has raised fears over the security of oil supplies through the Bab al-Mandab shipping lane, a vital energy gateway for Europe, Asia and the United States. According to the US Energy Information Administration, more than 3.4 million barrels of oil per day passes through Bab el-Mandeb. Closure of the strait, which connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, could keep tankers from the Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal or Sumed Pipeline and would have to be diverted via southern tip of Africa. Egypt has said that if its interest is threatened due to virtual closure of Suez Canal, it cannot afford to remain a bystander in the conflict. As more countries involve in the conflict, deeper would be the crisis. Already, tribal conflicts and al Qaeda insurgency are disrupting oil and gas exports in other parts of the economy.
The international community is not just concerned about the oil supplies and other trade, but another concern is the strengthening of forces like al Qaeda and IS who are a threat to the every country in the world. Therefore, the early resolution of Yemen crisis is required for economy as well as regional and global peace and security.
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