Posted by on January 28, 2015 in Blog

By Maha Elsamahi
Winter Intern, 2015

This past month and a half has seen some of the most transformative events in Yemen since the uprisings and resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in February 2012. Following their September 2014 takeover of Sana’a, the Houthi (also known as Ansar Allah) rebels solidified their dominance on January 20th as they took over the presidential palace and President Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi offered his resignation to parliament just days later. However, these new developments leave Yemen’s future in a flux as the Houthi takeover has increased calls for secession from Yemen’s south. Despite reassurance that the movement is indigenous and with little foreign influence, the days since the Houthi takeover has seen Yemenis taking to the streets in opposition and Houthi forces striking back in attempt to suppress protests.


Hailing from the country’s north, the Houthi’s are a predominately Zaydi Shia movement who had been engaged in clashes with Saleh’s security forces since 2004. Those who do support them see the Houthis as a necessary, strong force against a government that still remains rife with corruption despite the uprisings of 2011. The Houthis have also been largely successful in their fight against Al Qaeda in the country, which has won them favor. However, their detractors see them as an Iranian-backed movement that is “aimed at preserving the political dominance of the northern, Zaydi highlands”. Despite their rapid ascension, the Houthis seem to lack a clear political plan, having only succeeded so far to prevent Hadi’s establishment of a Federal system in Yemen that would have jeopardized their dominance in the north.


The recent events in Yemen have cast even more doubt on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy decisions in the Middle East, especially in light of  the President’s declaration four months ago that the country served as a model for the rest of the region.  However, the reality is that the country had long been heading towards potential disaster. Aside from the obvious counterterrorism issues, such as the rapid rise of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Yemen has been facing an increasingly disastrous humanitarian and resource crisis. According to Oxfam, 16 million Yemenis are in need of some form of aid, meaning that one in three people in the Middle East who are in need of assistance are Yemeni and experts forecast that water and oil supplies will be depleted by 2017.


American policy towards Yemen has long sacrificed humanitarian issues, choosing instead to largely focus on counter terrorism. As with most crises, the looming humanitarian disaster in Yemen will disproportionately affect the lives of the country’s youth, who make up nearly half of the country’s population.  If the goal is stability, more attention and resources will need to be directed towards the development of the country and to strengthening the institutions that deliver basic social services. 

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