Since 2015, Yemen has witnessed a war that the UN has described as the worst in the world. UN organizations have estimated that 20 million Yemenis risk starvation if the war does not end and large quantities of supplies can be imported.
There have been deep conflicts in Yemen long before the war of recent years. The population is divided between Sunni and Shia Muslims, society is made up of clans, it is full of weapons and the country has never had a strong central power – or for that matter a system that has secured political influence for clans and interest groups in different corners of the country.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Huthi rebels, who are the two main parties in the war, gathered at the end of 2018 for negotiations in Sweden initiated by UN envoy Martin Griffiths. After several failed conversation attempts over the years, it was a step forward that they started talking to each other.
The results of the negotiations have been limited, but no talks would have taken place at all if the parties had not been given the go-ahead by the great powers who have chosen to support various sides in the war. The Shia Muslim Huthi rebels are leaning towards Iran and the government side towards Saudi Arabia, two powerful countries with large claims, often called arch-enemies. In this way, the Yemeni war is perceived as a war between agents and a danger to the entire region.
According to simplyyellowpages, Yemen has long been an arena for complicated conflicts. Rebels have taken over the capital and ousted the government. Landsändar pulls in different directions and militant Islamist groups act without control. In the background, great powers pursue their own interests. Full war has raged since 2015, but distress and war fatigue can lead to war subsiding, and circumstances have begun to speak in favor of peace.
After colonial times, Yemen consisted for a long time of two different states, North and South Yemen, which merged in 1990. Coexistence was not easy. For example, the South, but not the North, had a communist system supported by the Soviet Union.
Already a few years after the merger, there were mutual battles. Contradictions between Sunni and Shia Muslims were one of the reasons. A clan-based society with weak central power and great access to weapons made every opposition and almost every political issue a possible powder keg.
In the prevailing wild wall, there was also room for armed Islamist groups to gain a foothold, such as sympathizers of the al-Qaeda terrorist network . Terrorist groups attacked foreign interests, prompting the United States to hunt down terrorists with drone strikes, especially after the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States by al-Qaeda. The governments that governed Yemen had many interests to balance. Many Yemenis opposed cooperation with the United States, even though they disapproved of the terrorist groups.
From 2004, there were clashes between the government, led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and a Shia Muslim movement from the north, the Huthi rebels (named after leader Husayn Badr al-Din al-Huthi). Shia Muslims had long been dissatisfied with the lack of influence. Saleh’s regime also met with opposition from the south.
During the Arab Spring, domestic protests led to the resignation of Saleh, hated by many. He handed over power to his Vice President Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi (read more in YEMEN: Modern History ).
Bomb mats and lack of food
In 2014, the Huthi rebels rejected proposals for constitutional amendments that were aired at a protracted conference on the country’s future. President Hadi and the government were chased away from the capital Sanaa and took refuge in the port city of Aden. The outside world continued to regard Hadi’s government as the country’s legitimate government, and Saudi Arabia, along with neighboring countries, launched military operations against the Huthi rebels in 2015. The Huthis, for their part, received support from the Shia Muslim regime in Iran.
Recurring airstrikes by the Saudi-led alliance have claimed thousands of civilian lives. The war has been described by the UN as the worst conflict in the world. There have been reports of 10,000 deaths, but several aid organizations claim that the actual number of deaths is much higher.
A blockade on the port of al-Hudayda, controlled by the Huthi rebels, has created growing misery around the country. The port is important for bringing in supplies from abroad. The Yemenis have faced food shortages and skyrocketing food and fuel prices. Abundant sanitary conditions have led to the spread of infectious diseases.
Hope for peace
The fact that representatives of the displaced government and the Huthi rebels began to talk to each other, through UN negotiations in Sweden in 2018, raised hopes for peace.
If a peace process is to succeed, it must require both efforts against hunger and confidence-building measures between warring groups, in addition to the risk of serious consequences of the covid-19 virus pandemic. The Treasury must also be replenished, and oil countries in the neighborhood have promised to help. Several of the neighboring countries have been part of the alliance that has put Yemen under bomb carpets since 2015.
But if the step is far to peace between the government side and the Huthi rebels, it is even further to a process that takes into account more groups. Not only the Huthis have been dissatisfied with the proposals for governance discussed for Yemen. In the south, large demonstrations have been held to regain self-determination. An organization called the Southern Movement, and later the Southern Transitional Council, gathers some of the zeal for independence. In 2019, armed South Yemeni forces, tired of the fruitless cooperation with the government, instead of taking control of the port city of Aden, where the government had sought after Sanaa’s fall to the Huthi movement in 2014. The government and separatists in the south settled after mediation with neighboring countries. to resume its cooperation, but in the spring of 2020 it broke down again and the Transitional Council exercised autonomy.
Pressed great powers
What is it that has led to the conditions for stopping the war being improved after all? A murder at a consulate in Istanbul. A cracked agreement on Iran’s nuclear energy program. A capricious president in Washington. A pandemic. At first glance, these circumstances may seem irrelevant, but they tempt old alliances and upset the balance of power in the region. The tendency to talk peace has also increased among great powers that in one way or another have contributed to the war.
Saudi Arabia, which is conducting military operations in support of the Yemeni government, is receiving increasingly harsh criticism for the ruthlessness of the war. It will take a long time before oil trade and major arms purchases are stopped by countries with which Saudi Arabia does business, but the country’s royal houses have found themselves in a situation where other states’ support for the Yemeni war is affected. Since it emerged that a murder command from the regime took the life of Saudi regime critic Jamal Khashoggi at one of the country’s consulates in 2018, almost no one wants to show cordial contacts with Saudi Arabia’s leadership. Putting the Yemeni War behind it would facilitate many kinds of relations.
Iran – the Shiite arch-enemy of Sunni Saudi Arabia – supports the Huthis politically, and is accused of sending weapons to the rebels as well. There is evidence, according to the UN. And Iran needs all the friends the country can get after being subjected to economic sanctions again. The fact that the United States in 2018 dropped an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear technology program and reintroduced a penal regiment affects the economy in the everyday life of every Iranian.
The United States, which in principle supports Saudi Arabia and is opposed to most of what Iran does, finds it difficult to defend its old positions. Even at home, politicians are protesting against President Trump’s foreign policy, in particular the friendship with the Saudi royal family, whose powerful crown prince has driven the Yemeni war. Even many of the president’s party comrades are taking part in decisions to end the war in Yemen and the friendship with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, even though they want to continue to attack terrorist groups in Yemen.
The peace negotiations in Sweden, which began in December 2018, were also accepted by the great powers that fueled the conflicts. When the parties left the negotiating table a couple of weeks before Christmas, they agreed to introduce a ceasefire in the city of al-Hudayda itself with port facilities. The parties also promised to withdraw their forces from the city within three weeks and exchange thousands of prisoners. According to the plans, the talks would continue in 2019, but the warring groups have so far been reluctant to fulfill all their promises, let alone move towards a real peace.
The Corona Pandemic 2020 has now posed new challenges for all parties. In a situation of global crisis, and difficult economic effects also for countries that can avoid sky-high death tolls, warfare in Yemen is said to be one of the things you want to put an end to.