Yemen’s Civil War: Everything You Wanted To Know

There’s a lot going on. We get it. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about Yemen’s Civil War, Yemen, Houthis, and the foreign policy machinations at play in a war that has killed over 10,000 people — sort of.

Where Is Yemen?

Glad you asked! Yemen sits on Saudi Arabia’s southwestern border — otherwise known as the end of the Arabian Peninsula. It shares a border with Oman and sits across from Eritrea.


Why Is It Important?

Other than the fact that, you know, people live there and Saudi Arabia and its allies (Morocco, The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Senegal, by extension the United States) are using famine as a weapon of war?

Throughout its history, Yemen has experienced incredible fortune — brought on by its strategic position at the mouth of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden — and horrific suffering — brought on by people coming to exploit its strategic position at the mouth of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Since the construction of the Suez Canal, which cuts a path from the Mediterranean through Egypt and the Red Sea, Yemen has played a vital role in the region, serving as a refueling and security center for commercial shipping operations.

With the War on Terror came a new American focus — its political instability and Al-Qaeda operations in the small Arabic nation. In October of 2000, Al-Qaeda attacked the USS Cole, killing 17 U.S. personnel. In 2002, they attacked an oil tanker, killing 1 person and injuring 12 others. 

In the beginning of 2009, the Yemeni and Saudi Arabian branches of Al-Qaeda merged into Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, basing themselves in Yemen. They claim responsibility for the failed bombing of a U.S. airliner that altered airport security procedures to include removal of shoes and body scanners.

Why is Yemen At War?

That’s a BIG question, so we centered it. Consider it a category now! This answer requires several paragraphs of lengthy explanation to fully grasp the conflict’s complexities. Please bear with us. Rawr.

Yemenis took to the streets in 2011 — the same time as the Egyptian revolution that ousted then President Mubarek and as part of the larger “Arab Spring” — in protest of economic instability and proposed changes to its 20 year old constitution. These changes included:

  • Eliminating the presidential term-limit, in effect making then President Abdullah president for life. 
  • Extending the parliamentary term to six years.
  •  Expanding role and authority of the Shura council.

What is the Shura Council?

A 111 member government-appointed counterpart to the Assembly of Representatives.

What Happened Next?

The initial protests became calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s resignation. During an attempted assassination attempt, Saleh received shrapnel injuries and serious burns that required treatment in Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Protests and anger greeted Saleh when he returned from receiving medical care in the United States.

After this, Saleh relented to resignation calls. Powers were transferred to Vice-President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was elected President on February 21, 2012. He had no electoral opponents.

Why Didn't People Like President Saleh?

Economic instability. Corruption. He embezzled billions of dollars in aid money intended for his citizens. 

Abdullah was no stranger to Yemeni politics.

Prepare yourself for lots of different iterations of Yemen — border-gore fans, get excited.

Abdullah was President of the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) from July 1978 to May 1990, when the Yemen Arab Republic and People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen united to become the Republic of Yemen (an event itself deserving of a question, please hold). 

To give you a sense of Yemen’s instability, Abdullah became President of the Yemen Arab Republic after his boss, who became president after his boss was assassinated, was assassinated.

When the two nations unified in ’90, Abdullah became President of the Republic of Yemen and the President of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, Ali Salim al-Bedh, became Vice-President.

Following food riots in ’92 and ’93, al-Bedh went home and refused to return to governing. From there, unification broke down.

From May to July of 1994, the segregated Northern and Southern armies (sound familiar?) fought the Yemen Civil War, resulting in the destruction of the Southern armies and completed unification.

Since unification, the nation has fought wars with its neighbors — a border conflict with Eritrea — as well as ongoing conflicts with the Houthi insurgency.


Who Are The Houthi?

Besides being a great name for an indie rock band, the Houthi are Zaidis — a sect of Shia that exists almost solely in Yemen. 

Zaidism emerged in the 8th century (700s) on the basis of revolution against corrupt leaders.

Otherwise known as Ansar Allah, the Houthi began as a political movement in northern Yemen in the 1990s. The Yemeni Army killed the Houthi leader, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, in 2004, sparking the ongoing insurgency. 

Following the outbreak of revolution in 2011, peace talks were held and a new constitution was agreed on. The Houthis rejected proposed federalization of Yemen on the belief that it divided the country into poor and rich regions and didn’t provide enough protections against corruption. 

In 2014, they befriended former president Saleh and, in conjunction with him, seized control of Yemen’s government. 

In 2015, a Saudi led coalition launched air strikes and a naval blockade against the Houthi government. They support reinstatement of President Mansur Hadi. 

Saleh broke off his alliance with the Houthi at the end of 2017 and was killed in brutal fighting while trying to escape to Saudi controlled territory.


Why Are The Saudis Involved?

Ignoring that instability on your southern border is dangerous, the Saudis are involved because the Iranians are. Similar to the Vietnam War, the conflict in Yemen is a proxy war between the Iranians and Saudis — both are vying for regional hegemony, with the Iranians backing the Houthis against the Saudi led coalition.

Who Is In The Saudi Coalition?

The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Senegal. The coalition is backed by many western allies, including the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. 

Rumors are circulating as of late that coalition forces are fighting alongside Al-Qaeda as well. 

Both the Houthi and the Saudi coalition have fought ISIS at various times in the conflict. 

What's Happening Now?

The Saudis are promoting starvation and disease among Yemenis. The United Nations, which has proved powerless to stop the war (or any others), believes that continued fighting in Yemen will lead to the worst famine the world has seen in decades.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Yemen is also being ravaged by the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history.

None of this is removed from the ongoing war. Earlier this week, Saudi planes bombed a market in the city of Saada, killing at least 50 civilians, including 29 children under the age of 15. They were on a school bus. 

Without a stable peace plan, the war looks to extend beyond Yemen. Certain circles believe that, as the Houthi lose territory, they’ll launch attacks outside of Yemen, further embroiling the region and, by extension, the region’s allies (the United States, Russia, China).


How Can I Help?

According to journalists, aid workers, and others active in Yemen, these are some of the best organizations and charities to support.

  • MonaRelief, which provides food and other necessities to families.
  • Yemen Hope & Relief, which provides medical care and support for malnourished children and their families.
  • Yemen Aid — run by a Yemeni American, this group provides assistance and resources to Yemenis regardless of race, religion, political affiliation, or any other category.
  • Yemen Our Home — United Nations development project established to help the Yemeni disapora (Yemenis living outside of Yemen) support projects in the country.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross 
  • The International Rescue Committee 
  • INTERSOS — provides humanitarian aid to displaced persons and refugees.
  • Doctors Without Borders — currently has approximately 1,600 staff members providing medical care across Yemen.
  • Oxfam — global food organization delivering aid to north and south Yemen. It has helped roughly 1.4 million Yemenis since 2015.
  • The World Food Program — has been providing food and aid to Yemenis for decades. Known as one of the best actors in the region, the World Food Program often shares resources and transportation with other organizations and has drastically increased its operations in the country.
In the process of writing this, we also came across this Google doc put together by Yemenis detailing local organizations worthy of support. 

Journalists/People To Follow

There’s no lack of information available to those seeking it. We’ve done our best to identify journalists, bloggers, and other media entities working to report from and on Yemen. It has been noted by multiple entities that journalists are being targeted and attacked by both sides of the conflict, making support of their ongoing work incredibly important. Since war broke out in 2014, at least 16 journalists have been killed in Yemen, and countless others have been forcibly detained by both Houthi and Saudi-coalition forces. 

  • Afrah Nasser — a Yemeni journalist living in Sweden. Reports on Yemeni politics and the ongoing war for dozens of publications. 
  • Tawakkohl Karman — a Yemeni Nobel Laureate, she writes about ongoing struggles around the world, including in her home country.  
  • Shaimaa Khalil — BBC journalist that reports on Yemen, among many other things.
  • Louisa Loveluck — Washington Post’s Middle East correspondent.
  • Alex Emmons — reporter for The Intercept.
  • Ziad Majed — writes/discusses ongoing Syrian conflict, occasionally delves into Yemen.
  • Farah Al-Wazeer — Yemeni aid worker

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