• Katherine Everitt

Who, What, When, Where, Why? What You Need to Know about the War in Yemen

Who: Pro-Yemeni Government

Backed by Saudi Arabia

Supported by Western Allies: the United States, the United Kingdom, and France

Supported by Middle Eastern Allies: UAE


Houthi Rebels

Backed by Iran (contested)

What: A civil war in Yemen, with substantial outside backing from the West and Saudi Arabia, between the Yemeni government and a group of Yemeni rebels called the Houthi.

When: 2011-Present, Saudi Arabia escalates when they militarily intervene in 2015 alongside a UN-backed Ch. VII Resolution

Where: Mostly Western Yemen. The capital of Sanaa is currently held by the Houthi rebels. The port city of Hudaydah is in the process of being handed over to the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, under a UN negotiated treaty.

Image from Wiki Commons
Green = Houthi control; Red = Yemeni Government control; Yellow = Secessionist Group (STC); White = Al Qaeda

Why: The Houthi rebels overthrew the Yemeni government potentially to create a more inclusive state, disaffected with high unemployment and exclusion from government. Saudi Arabia is concerned the Houthis are an Iranian proxy. Saudi Arabia seeks to maintain control over Yemen, a country in their geographic sphere of influence that has traditionally been a subordinate to their south.

The Arab Spring as Backdrop: In 2011, the Arab world saw a series of pro-democracy protests spread from Tunisia to Egypt, and subsequently to states like Yemen, Syria, and Libya. These latter states devolved into civil wars, which continue today. The 2011 protests are known as the Arab Spring.

The Religious Dynamic: The Houthis are a pre-existing rebel group made up of Shia Muslims. Yemen is about 65% Sunni and 35% Shia. The Houthis have claimed to seek greater representation in government, but Saudi Arabia takes this as a guise for Iranian interests on their southern border. Either way, Saudi Arabia does not want a Shia-backed government to their south.

The Power Dynamic: We have seen asymmetric tactics used, between the less equipped Houthi rebels and the powerfully equipped Saudis, who have been supplied American aircrafts and weaponry. Saudi-led campaigns have mostly been aerial and naval, with some on-the-ground fighting. Houthis have been accused of placing gunmen on hospital roofs to shoot at Saudi aircrafts.

The Terrorist Dynamic: In the east, where a power vacuum has taken shape, Al Qaeda and ISIS have reemerged and taken control of more rural areas.

The Western Dynamic: The U.S., as a staunch ally of Saudi Arabia, has continued to supply arms to the Saudis, despite a Congressional Resolution ordering a stop to these weapons. The U.S., along with the U.K. and France, have the dual interest of maintaining close ties with Saudi Arabia and of stamping out potential Iranian influence in the Middle East.

The UN Dynamic: The UN issued a Ch. VII Resolution, authorizing a Saudi-led military invasion. Since then, the UN has attempted to play peacemaker, holding their most recent talks in Sweden between the Houthis and the Yemeni Government. Currently, the talks stipulate a prisoner swap and a handoff of the Port of Hudaydah to the Yemeni Government. Some food aid has been shipped in, which the UN claims was captured and sold by Houthi forces.

The Human Rights Dynamic: Yemen is currently witnessing the world's greatest outbreak of cholera and starvation.

What's Next?: The likely resolution will see a re-establishment of control by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government. The asymmetry of force and gradual weakening of the Houthis leads one to believe a return to the status quo, with huge humanitarian costs, is the likely road ahead for Yemen. They will need substantial aid in rebuilding and with treating the many civilian casualties of the war.