Yemen crisis: between local politics and foreign agenda (part One)

The governmental transition process started in 2011 has not brought any positive outcome in Yemen. Nowadays, the country is on the edge of disaster, both from humanitarian and political points of view.

yemen crisisThe 20th March deadliest terror attacks to two mosques in the Yemenite capital called the international attention back on Yemen. Just some days after the attack in the Bardo museum, in central Tunis, the massacre in San’a continued to feed the fear for the jihadist threat spreading. Clearly, the outrageous episode did not come out of the blue, and a more complex political context stands behind it.

Yemen is a young country, as it was born after the 1990 unification between the two Yemenite Republics of North and South. The former northern president, Ali Abdallah Saleh, became President of the united Yemen, and started a process of centralization of power; despite of this, factionalism and internal divisions endured.

Firstly, the division between north and south reached the point of attempt of secessionism of the southern regions. Secondly, the Sunni-Shia divide, as the main cleavage in the region, opposed the Sunni Islamists, with Wahhabi and Salafi influences from Saudi Arabia, and a Zaidi branch of Shia Islam, the Houthis. From a closer point of view, the latters also confronted the President Saleh in six rounds of war, from 2004 to 2010. Thirdly, the presence of rival groups, like the terrorist groups – primarily Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) –, the tribal leaders and the Islamists, contributed to destabilizing the country.

At the beginning of the 2000s, the Islamists and the tribal sheiks established the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (al-Islah), and later, in 2005, they came under the umbrella of the banner of the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). In 2011, on the wave of the “Arab Spring”, the JMP’s constituents formed the National Council for the Forces of the Peaceful Revolution, by demanding President Saleh’s ouster. Equally, the Houthi encouraged the President’s overthrown. Consequently, in November 2011 the president resigned, by transferring his powers to the Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, in office since 2012.

The Gulf Countries Cooperation Initiatives sealed this project to solve the impasse following the uprisings, together with a UN resolution sponsoring the Yemen’s transitional government process and pushing for Saleh to leave the boat. Since Saleh’s resignation did not produce concrete changes, but a reshuffle of longtime political players, the rival groups always showed dissatisfaction. Among them, the Houthis took initiative, in fighting with the central government to obtain more recognition, legitimation and prerogatives. Thereupon, in September 2014, they took over the capital, San’a, gaining ground in the Sanaa region, and then spread over other regions –Ibb al Baida, Dhamar, Hudaydah, Taiz – crashing with Hadi’s supporting tribes and with AQAP’s militants, guardians of a radical Sunni Islam ideology.

After the capital’s conquest, Hadi fled to the city of Aden, in the south of the country, where he established a new governmentThe Houthis approached the new government headquarters at the beginning of April, trying to control the Aden region as well, and exacerbating the crisis. “Yemen is approaching the “edge of a civil war” and could degenerate into an “Iraq-Libya-Syria” scenario”, declared Jamal Benomar, UN Special Advisor to Yemen, by analyzing the Yemenite context, where Houthis, tribesmen and Islamist leaders, Al Qaeda and Islamic State’s militants, Hadi’s supporters, as well as Saleh’s backers, confront each other, on the ground of one of the poorest, smallest and most populated countries of the region. This assumption seems truthful.

In this catastrophic and complicated plot, two coups de théâtre came out. On the one hand, there is the possibility of the return of former President Saleh, presenting himself as the peace promoter. On the other hand, chaos empowers the jihadists, with AQAP increasingly free to recruit and train, and the IS able to push the sectarian button better. What are the interests and the role of both the international community and the regional players in this story tale?

[Follow up in “Yemen Crisis – Part Two”]


Giulia Formichetti

Pubblicato il 12 aprile 2015

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