SANA’A, Yemen — As the security situation in Yemen continues to deteriorate, many fear the country is heading into a civil war between different armed groups. Yemen has never been a particularly stable country, but over the past four years the situation has quickly gone downhill.
In 2011 then President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down and was replaced by a transitional government under Mansour Hadi. The transitional government was backed by the west and neighboring gulf states and was intended to bring the country’s various factions together as part of a national dialogue. The Houthi militia in northern Yemen originally took part in the dialogue, but eventually grew frustrated with it.
In 2014 the Houthi launched an offensive and quickly took control of the north of the country. They then began to advance toward the capital, Sana’a, which they took control of in January, ousting the interim government. The Houthi have declared themselves to be the new governing body in Yemen but are not recognized by the international community. They also face strong opposition and resistance from the southern and eastern parts of the country.
There have already been numerous violent clashes between Sunni militants and Houthi fighters, who are Shiite. The fear is that a civil war may soon break out between the Houthi and Sunni militias hailing from the south. There is also fear that war could break out between the Houthi and Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in eastern Yemen, creating a three-way conflict.
Sunni militias in Yemen’s oil region are arming themselves with help from Saudi Arabia and threaten war if the Houthi try to enter. The Houthi in turn are backed by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main rival, creating fear that the two countries may try to exploit the conflict in Yemen as a proxy war.
The effects on Yemen’s economy have been devastating and are likely to get worse. Yemen’s economy has long been severely underdeveloped and the country is the poorest in the Middle East. It is also one of the ten poorest in the world. Following the ouster of President Saleh in 2011, things just got worse. Merchants and shopkeepers talk about a major decline in business. Many go several days without a single customer. Though it is not a major oil producer compared to its neighbors, oil is the country’s principle source of revenue, meaning a war over oil would be even more devastating.
Unemployment continues to rise, which in turn means more recruits for militias and terrorist groups. If a civil war does break out, it will be another major humanitarian crisis for the Middle East.
– Matt Lesso