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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Yemen's Houthi Takeover: No Laughing Matter

Recently, the small state of Yemen on the southernmost end of the Arabian peninsula fell victim to a coup d'etat which saw the Houthis, a terrorist group, take control of the government in the capital of Sanaa. To put it lightly, these are not a happy bunch.

The Houthi insignia. The Arabic script reads "God is Greatest. Death to America. Death to Israel. Damn the Jews. Victory to Islam." 

Not a pleasant greeting, is it? This is the rise of a barbaric fundamentalist group like Islamic State and Boko Haram. This group has effectively taken control of the already vulnerable government and the results could be disastrous for the already-suffering Yemeni people. 

Yemen is, by several notches, the poorest country in the Middle East, owing largely to its lack of oil and underdeveloped economy. For years after unification of the traditional northern part of the country and the communist south, Yemen had been under the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh governed as an autocrat for many years, and he was eventually removed from power in the Arab Spring protests, but his replacement, Abd Mansur Mansur Hadi, had much difficulty reforming the military and keeping terrorist groups at bay. Hadi was a pro-American Sunni leader.  

Yemen's tribal differences, poverty, and strong presence of fundamentalists make it an extremely dangerous and unstable country. It certainly doesn't help that the Houthi insurgency has adopted such a menacing motto-it's reminiscent of groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. It's yet to be determined if terrorist groups like the Houthis and Al-Qaeda are going to establish themselves as the rulers of Yemen and ally with these groups in other countries, and the United Nations is working to try to prevent that.

Despite these problems, Yemen has not disintegrated into total anarchy...yet. Hadi was able to resign in a relatively quiet and nonviolent manner and Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, a top aide of Hadi's was released Tuesday. 
Even though Yemen is not a very strong country in the region, it's a country that could have a very profound negative effect on the rest of the region if it descends further into anarchy. There exists considerable speculation that the Houthis are funded and supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran, as they are both subscribers to Shi'a Islam and fiercely anti-American in rhetoric.

On the northern border of Yemen lies Iran's not-so-friendly rival, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a Sunni absolute monarchy which competes with Iran for regional influence.  Saudi Arabia considers the Houthis a terrorist group and has deployed troops against then in the past. Al-Qaeda is an enemy of the Houthis as they are Sunni.

This presents a difficult conundrum for countries like the United States, who backs the recently-resigned government. The USA will likely continue to conduct drone strikes against Al-Qaeda, but it must be careful as to how it conducts itself as to the Houthis. If the US negotiates with them, relations with Saudi Arabia may sour, and if they refuse to work with the Houthis, the detente pursued with Iran by both Washington and Tehran may be hurt.

The greatest threat, however, may be the rise of other terrorist groups and what the Houthis may do in relation to Islamic State, Boko Haram. It's true that IS was just driven out of the Syrian/Kurdish border town of Kobane in a very symbolic victory, but they still control considerable territory in the Middle East. Boko Haram is taking over swaths of northern Nigeria, and part of the reason for their success is the poverty of the northern part of the country. The Houthis could amass control of Yemen quickly if they're able to fend off al-Qaeda and enemy tribes.

Yemen must act quickly and decisively if it is to avoid an all-out civil war, or at least win one should it arise. But the divided and impoverished state of this country is going to make this extremely difficult and may require international support. This in itself is a problem with the outrage over American drone strikes-and the Houthis could use this to their advantage.

There is also a separatist movement in the south which may use this upheaval to break the country in two once again-Yemen has only been a unified state since 1990.

It's sad to see this country, with its rich and somewhat unknown history, to see this violence and hardship. Yemen has long been a crossroads between Africa and the Arab world, and has many ancient cities, centers of the Ayyubid and Rashulid dynasties, where buildings remain as they were hundreds of years ago.

Further news here:

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