After toppling the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, the plague of the Arab Spring next hit Yemen in early 2011. The Yemeni people took the streets, marching against Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who remained in office for 20 years. Seeing the people rise against the Head of State, the Saudi Government intervened and, with the help of the GCC states, overthrew President Saleh and installed Mansour Hadi. However, the Houthis, a Shiite minority group from Northern Yemen, had been isolated and marginalized in the past. After realizing that once again, they would be deprived of power, a political voice shook hands with Saleh and took control of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. This forced Mansour Hadi to go into exile in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, this is when it all went downhill for Yemen.
No one could have foreseen that a conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis would lead to the largest humanitarian crisis. Both conflicting parties have been in a constant battle back and forth to gain power and seize control over Yemen, utterly heedless of the collateral damage and human lives and homes destroyed along the way. According to estimates, 23.4 Million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance. Up to 19 Million people require food assistance, and 17.8 Million require access to clean water and basic sanitation.
Is There an End to This Crisis?
A two-month extension for the ceasefire for the third time in August may be a sigh of relief for the people of Yemen and the International community, but to perceive this atmosphere of peace to be sustainable would be naïve. When two arch nemesis involve themselves in a showdown, one has to become a victor, the other being entirely overthrown by the victor. This was witnessed in the Cold War, with the U.S. becoming the Hegemon and the Soviet Union annihilated. The situation in Yemen is just about the same. With both the regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, involving themselves in a proxy war in Yemen and aiding completely opposing sides, their regional hegemony is at stake.
When a state involves itself in a conflict, it will try to attain its intended objectives by all means. Some might be cautious of any human rights violations; some would not. In case of Prince Mohammad bin Salman, many have argued against him in view of his claimed involvement in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Moreover, if this is the case, one may go to any extent to attain his objectives. Moreover, being the wealthy state that Saudi Arabia is, money would not be an issue for prolonging the war until the desired objectives are met. Decreasing intensity of war or putting an end to it is subject to curbing Iranian influence, denying any support to Houthis, securing the Bab el-Mandeb Strait is secured, and construction of a pipeline in the province of Al-Mahra. However, this would still not guarantee the inclusive end to the war.
In a constant struggle to gain the upper hand, or better yet, complete domination over Saudi Arabia, Iran has constantly supported the Houthis. Despite clandestine material support to the Houthis, Iran is firm on its stance of not providing arms to the Houthis at all, even though the reports of the United Nations indicate otherwise. The Yemen crisis can be seen as a renewed Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran trying to impose their ideologies in the country. Iran, a Shi’ite Muslim state, supports the Houthis with common ideology. It would be in the interest of Iran to have a Shi’ite government in Yemen with the same views as theirs. While Saudi Arabia, being a Sunni Muslim state, would want vice versa. Therefore, this conflict is also sectarian and is one of the reasons why there currently seems to be no end to the Yemeni crisis.
The response from the international community to the Yemen crisis has been disappointing. For the past eight years, Yemen has been orphaned and left to the wolves to devour. No impactful initiatives have been taken by the United Nations or the United States to either end this crisis or provide adequate humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen. Even though there was an appeal in the recently-held OIC conference to raise $32 million for Yemen as humanitarian aid, it did not bear much fruit.
In addition, despite the ceasefire being extended for two more months, a complete end to this crisis is nowhere in sight. This zero-sum game in which Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved would lead to one state overpowering the other and winning undisputedly, just like in the Cold War. Moreover, it is this fear of defeat that both the states would go to any length to avoid. Meanwhile, the Yemenis would continue to suffer for something they have no say in.