by Ramy Jabbour

War in Yemen has had an alarming impact on civilians, prompting a strong condemnation by the European Union after the attacks on hospitals, schools, and homes on 1 April 2015. The situation has not changed over the past two years and the huge negative impact on the civilians is increasing further – all while media coverage is decreasing. However, this does not mean that the war ended or a peace agreement was made.

The Arab uprisings in 2011 largely affected the MENATI region including Yemen, where huge protests denouncing unemployment and the deteriorating economic conditions occurred across the country’s regions. The protesters’ demands eventually escalated into calls for the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Moreover, mass defections from the regime and its army affected the government’s control and authority on the Yemeni territory. The protests eventually turned violent and the peaceful uprising ended into clashes between the pro-regime forces and their opponents, with the Yemeni President stepping down after an assassination attempt.

The new government, consisting of the Islah party (the Muslim brotherhood’s branch in Yemen) in addition to several political figures from Southern Yemen, faced considerable challenges from the Houthi militias in Northern Yemen and the former presidential militias. The Houthis, officially called Ansar Allah, are a Zaidi Shia-led religious political movement that emerged in Sa’dah, northern Yemen, in the 1990s.

Fighting against the government of the ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh since 2004, the Houthis mended their relationship with the ousted president in 2014 and together they took control of North Yemen and the capital. Allied with Iran and Hezbollah, the Houthis continued their military expansion toward the southern capital of Yemen which led to an Arab coalition intervention led by Saudi Arabia against the Houthi militias.

This contribution prevented Iran’s allies from taking over Yemen, compelling them to retreat the Northern regions of the country. It is essential to mention that this conflict was not fully an internal issue, since Iran aimed at controlling Yemen. Noting that several Tehran-based generals announced their intention to take over Yemen as the fifth Arab state.

This struggle stoked the historical conflict between Northern and Southern Yemen, in addition to prompting a large-scale Saudi military intervention for the first time in history. Riyadh’s leadership considered the Houthi takeover in Yemen a direct threat to its national security by Iran. Moreover, this war has had two catastrophic consequences: one of them on Yemeni civilians and the other on the world’s security.

The principal victims of the Saudi blockade and the Houthis’ abuse of human rights have been Yemeni civilians, as poverty increased drastically and the movement of international humanitarian organisations able to provide relief has diminished simultaneously. Furthermore, a security threat to the international community became alarming after Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) improved their base in many Yemeni regions. This branch of Al Qaeda is known as one of the most dangerous groups, having previously masterminded attacks on European capitals or at least trained franchise terror groups or individuals.

Although Yemen is geographically far from the European continent, ending the war in this failed state may have a positive impact in combating terrorism and easing the tensions in the MENATI region. The European decision-makers have to play a major role in threatening to lessen their political relations with Iran since it is funding European stated terrorist organisations intervening in the Yemeni conflict.

Reaching a peaceful solution in Yemen with help that include the major political groups in Yemen (Southern/Northern/Islamist/Houthis) may facilitate the European strategy in combatting the dangerous Al Qaeda group in Yemen. It is important for the European states to play a part in restoring the balance of power in the MENATI region by containing the Iranian-Shi’ite expansion which is leading the oppressed Sunnis toward terrorist organisations.

25 May 2017
This text was published in Bullseye issue 68