War by Proxy

As of March 22, 2015, Yemen has been in a civil war. Within Yemen, there exists two factions that have been fighting in the civil war: the Shia Muslim Houthi rebels initially led by Hussein Al-Houthi and the largely Sunni Hadi government loyalists supporting President Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi. What was initially a dispute over the future of Yemeni governance and politics, it has transformed into what the BBC called “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” leaving roughly 73.12% of the population in need of humanitarian aid. 

In fact, Yemen, like Egypt and Tunisia, experienced its uprisings during 2011, urging President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down as the people faced increased unemployment and desired political and economic reform. Once Saleh stepped down, a 10-month National Dialogue Conference was held to discuss Yemen’s political future during which, Houthi leader, Abdulmalek Al-Houthi,  had expressed demands for fuel subsidies and greater political representation of political groups and activists, to name a few. As Houthi rebels capitalized on the public’s discontent with increased fuel prices, they gained even greater public support which was seen in the 2014 protests that called for the government to step down. The conflict ultimately lies in the Houthi Rebels, and many Yemeni civilians, believing that the government works purely in the interest of international super-powers like the United States and not the people, and as such they reject the current government’s legitimacy. 

Undoubtedly, the internal factors of unemployment, oil prices, Shia-Sunni sectarianism, and previous north-south tensions were the initial causes that encouraged the civil war and Hadi-Houthi conflict. However, given that Saudi supports the Hadis and Iran supports the Houthis, Yemen appears to be the battleground for Saudi Arabia and Iran’s fight and this has perpetuated the Yemen civil war. It is well-known that Iran and Saudi Arabia’s tensions run deep and primarily rest on the age-old Sunni-Shia conflict: Saudi representing a Sunni majority, and Iran representing a Shia majority. That, paired with the fact that Iran and Saudi are competing regional superpowers, and are simultaneously engaged in militaristic action in Yemen further indicates that Yemen is a shadow war.

Millions of Yemenis lack basic sanitation, security, safety, food, education, and various other human rights. According to the UN Office for the coordination of Human Rights, out of the approximately 28 million Yemenis, 11.3 million need protection for their safety, 17 million are food insecure, and 7 million do not even know when their next meal will be. The UNOCHA also identified 540,000 cases of Cholera and 2,000 associated deaths, which Saudi Arabia worsened block-aid of the UN. This was in addition to Saudi Arabia having already bombed schools, hospitals, and neighborhoods in Houthi territories. Consequently, thousands of Somali refugees in Yemen are returning to Somalia along with 30,560 out of the 3 million displaced Yemenis. The fact that Yemenis are fleeing to Somalia, which was a war-torn failed state not long ago, speaks volumes about the distress Yemenis face today.

The Yemen war is complex from the intertwined historical, economic, and political contexts complemented by demographic factors. Still, it is clear that the Iran-US-Saudi relations has and is continuing to fuel the conflict, with more nations holding a stake in the matter. As the shadow war persists, air strikes continue to launch, and lives continue to be lost more and more human rights are being violated as Yemen becomes collateral damage.