yemeni civil war


   Yemen has been a country open to foreign interventions throughout its history, it has become visible on the international agenda especially after 2015. The political situation deteriorated due to the lack of control of the political uprisings, still has not recovered. Therefore, in this article, the Yemeni Civil War is analyzed in terms of its socio-political, socio-religious, historical, relationship with global and regional powers.

Keywords: Houthi, Iran, Yemen, Zaydiyya, Islamism, Sectarian Conflict, Arab Spring, Salefi


   Due to its geographical location, administrative and social structure, Yemen has been the scene of constant turmoil and conflicts. However, if we look at the past, North Yemen came under the Ottoman rule in 1517. Due to the problems experienced in some periods, the Ottoman Empire could not establish complete dominance over Yemen. Although South Yemen was under the rule of Portugal and the Ottomans at certain periods, it became a colony of India with the invasion of England in 1839. It remained under British rule for a long time, but the 1952 Egyptian coup and the 1956 Suez Wars affected Yemen. The steps were taken by the British to control South Yemen more closely provoked the people, and the National Liberation Front under the leadership of Kathan al-Shaabi established the People’s Democratic Republic of South Yemen on 30 November 1970 with a Marxist ideology. 

   Their desire to reunite in a self-controlled way of North and South Yemen was realized in the 1980s.’’ By the end of the 1980s, the discovery of oil in the Maribü’l Cevf region, which is located between North and South Yemen, and the rapid increase in the oil output was the first trigger on the road to the unification of the two Yemen’s. The two countries signed an agreement in 1989 to conduct joint exploration in the oil field. As a result of the ongoing negotiations, a draft constitution was agreed upon and with the approval of the parliaments of the two countries, the only Republic of Yemen, whose capital is Sana, was established on 22 May 1990.’’ (Türel:154). Instead of creating a peaceful unity, this unification process turned into a rivalry that would go back to the civil war. In the elections held in 1993, the rivalry of the Northern and Southern parties has reflected the public. The fact that the South Yemeni parties remained in the background created tension and started a rebellion to demanding withdrawal from the unification. Unification was restored in 1994 with the suppression of the Aden-based rebellion. This was just the beginning of all the problems.

The civil war in Yemen.  


   Traditionally, tribes have a great influence on the social structure of Yemen. It can be interpreted that the power is divided within the framework of these tribes and sects, which deeply affect the political and social structure. “The sectarian disorder in Yemen was politicized and emerged as the spokesperson of the oppressed Zaydi Shiite minority in socio-economic and political terms and organized the resistance in the northern regions of Yemen. The Houthi family undertook the leadership of the Zaydi rebellion against the Salafi-supported and Sunni-Shafi-dominated Yemeni regime, which was pushed to the secondary level since the collapse of the Imam regime in Yemen in 1962.’’ (Öztürk: 2019:84). The corruption of the Abdullah Ali Saleh regime, which came to power in 1978, and the deteriorating economy are among the other reasons for this revolt.

   The Zaydis of Yemen, who brought Zaydiism to the present day, defined themselves as the fifth right sect instead of introducing themselves as Shia as a necessity of rational choice. When Abdullah Ali Salih, who is also a Zaidi, realized that the Islamist ideology was a powerful weapon against the Marxist movements that triggered the civil war in 1994, he cooperated with Islamist circles that included Salafist elements. The government’s support, thanks to the financial assistance of Saudi businesspeople and Saudi-supported non-governmental organizations, has caused Salefism to gain strength against Zaydiism and Shafi’ism in the last 30 years. This started to disrupt the existing harmony and peace.

   In 1990, Hizbü’l-Hakk (Hak Party) was founded. In 1991, an organization called al-Şebâbü’l Mü’min (Mumin Youth), a civil activity group within the party, was established. The founder of the Yemeni Houthi movement, Hussein Houthi, was active in Shabaab until 1999, but in the early 2000s, he started to interpret Zaydiyya thought from an Islamic perspective, causing deep divisions within Shabaab. ‘’ It was a conflict between the “moderate” (moderate) party that preferred innovation, openness, and dialogue, including herself and the narrow-minded “traditional” (taqlid) party that wanted to revive the political and military face of Islam.” (Büyükkara: 2011:131). As a result of the sermons that Hussein Husi have after his departure from Shabab, he succeeded in gaining a significant following. The Qur’an is at the center of Hussein’s thought. ‘’According to him, belief, action, idea, politics, and action should be inspired entirely from the Qur’an” (Lux:2009:419). The anti-imperialist approach of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the world order enabled Hussein Houthi to speak highly of this situation. According to Houthi, Zaydiyya is ahead of the Iranians and Hezbollah in positioning against the USA and Israel. Hussein Houthi believed that all the issues that troubled him stemmed from the conspiracy plans of Jews and Christians and described the USA as the “Great Satan”. In his sermons, he called on people to boycott the goods of this country and to shout slogans against these countries against the USA and Israel. 


  The Houthis, who were organized with the motive of restoring the Imamate position, which was abolished after the 1962 coup, against Israel and the West to prevent Salefi expansionism, to resist the repressive rule of the Saleh regime, and to oppose social-economic discrimination, carried out their first uprising in 2004. In the first and bloody phases of the conflict, Hüseyin Houthi and his friends were pressed in a cave in the Marran Mountains. Despite being asked to surrender, Houthi and his friends who did not respond to this demand were shot at and Hüseyin Houthi died on September 10, 2004, along with his companions. ‘’Although the relationship between the Houthis and the central authority historically there has been conflicting, the struggle that took place between 2004 and 2010 and known as the Sade Wars or the Six Wars in the literature caused the Houthis to expand their base in the region by developing a group identity.”(Tınas:2020:122). As a result of these uprisings, which will cause six wars between 2004 and 2010, all Zaydi Tribes in the Northern region began to be called Houthi. The number of insurgents, which was 3-4 thousand, in the beginning, reached around 120 thousand in 2010. This number proved the seriousness of the situation and the failure of the Yemeni state to suppress a political uprising. ‘’The fact that Saudi Arabia entered the conflict in the last phase of the war made the Houthi rebellion an international problem. The Saudi administration states that it has been on the side of the Yemeni government since the beginning of the problem. The fact that the Houthis took the Iranian revolutionaries and Hezbollah as a model in their Islamist line and methods naturally made the Saudis nervous.” (Büyükkara: 2011:140). The Arab Spring process, which started in December 2010, also affected Yemen in 2011. Despite the mobilizations targeting the power of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Saleh resisted staying in power, but he agreed to hand over the power to Vice President Abdurabbu Mansur Hadi on the condition that he would be granted immunity through the initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council. After the resignation of the President, Vice President Abidrabbu Mansur Hadi, who was in charge of governing the country for 90 days, ruled the country until the elections and was elected the President of Yemen on February 21, 2012, as he was the only candidate. Despite Hadi, the political turmoil continued, and an order could not be established. The movements intensified with the effect of the Arab Spring. “In short, it is stated that although it is impossible for the Hadi regime to survive without the Saudis, the Houthis can continue their activities in the region as an important resistance force without Iran.” The Houthis took control of most of the country, including the capital Sana, in 2014. On January 17, 2015, the Houthis, rejecting Hadi’s draft constitution dividing the country into 6 provinces, occupied the presidential palace. On January 22, Hadi and his cabinet were placed under house arrest and resigned. The Houthis established the “Supreme Revolutionary Committee” on February 6 to rule the country. Meanwhile, Hadi fled to Aden and declared on February 21 that he was the legitimate President. The fact that the major provinces came under the control of the Houthis directed the attention of the regional powers to Yemen.


   On March 26, 2015, the Arab Coalition was established under the leadership of Saudi Arabia with the participation of UAE, Jordan, Bahrain, Sudan, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Djibouti, Senegal, and Malaysia to prevent the progress of the Houthis. Under the leadership of Saudi Arabian Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, the Arab Coalition launched Operation Decisive Storm. ‘’Countries such as Qatar, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Sudan, which supported the operation led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, later left the Coalition Forces. Among this group, Sudan was the last to cut its military support and witnessed protests and a change of administration. It should be said that the two most important actors in the Yemen intervention, which started with Operation Decisive Storm, are Saudi Arabia and the UAE ‘’(Telci&Yetim&Ereli:2020:7). Although Saudi Arabia and the UAE are in the leading role, the future scenario of Yemen is different from each other. Rather than Yemen’s current geopolitical position, it has established military structures in the Perim Islands under the pretext of supporting the UAE’s Hadi Government. Yemen has an important place in UAE foreign policy. Instead of providing unity, it aims to support separatist movements and make them dependent on themselves. On 8 June 2019, the UAE’s decision to reduce its military presence in Yemen left Saudi Arabia in a difficult position. In fact, this decision turned out to be a redeployment rather than a retreat. In August, heavy attacks occurred in Yemen. At the same time, Amnesty International published a report that the UAE illegally supplied weapons equipment to terrorist organizations in Yemen and used it for the separatist struggle in the south. In July 2019, a picture emerged between the UAE-backed South Yemen Transitional Council and the Saudi Arabia-backed Hadi government. The actions in Yemen were supported under Barack Obama and the Trump administration. “While the Trump administration supports the Saudi Arabian and UAE governments, this is not a policy shared by all US institutions. In particular, decisions were taken by the US Congress to stop the military equipment support and cut the political support to the Saudi Arabian coalition in Yemen between 2018-2019.” (Landler&Baker: 2019). Especially after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, criticism has increased in the eyes of Congress and the US society. The USA has not taken responsibilities in the field except for the discourses of its diplomats. The activity of Saudi Arabia in the region naturally disturbed Iran. As revealed by the UN and other organizations, it has been revealed that the Houthis received military equipment and financial support from Iran. “There is no doubt that it is very meaningful and necessary for the Houthi movement that states such as Iran and Iraq and Shiite Muslims feel their moral support behind them. However, on the other hand, this support carries with it the risk that it will isolate them from both the Zaydis and the Yemeni Sunnis, with whom they have a common historical background.” (Büyükkara:2011: 144). The UN is the most effective diplomacy organization among the International Organizations. Although negotiations were carried out between the Houthis and the Saudi Arabian-led Coalition countries in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, in December 2018, the Hudayda ceasefire has not yet been fully implemented. Distrust between parties is one of the biggest reasons for this.


   Yemen, which still has not reached a minimum level of development, has been the scene of struggles and conflicts due to economic difficulties, political and social problems. In 2015, with the involvement of regional actors, it began to appear in the international community and in the media. While the struggle of the Houthis with the central authority continues in a multidimensional way, it can be said that the motivation is sought locally, but external actors also affect the actions of the Yemenis. Diplomatic dialogue continues in hopes of finding a solution. Although the situation on the ground challenges the hopes for a political solution, it is striking that, local actors are in dialogue. The experience of the Houthis in the last six years can be used. However, if such an attempt is not made, the Houthi movement will continue to be a toy in the international power struggle and the turmoil in the region will not be contained for a long time.

Prepared by Irem Albayrak for The FEAS Journal.


  • YILMAZ Türel, 2011, Uluslararası Politikada Ortadoğu, Barış Kitap.
Magis academicum, magis profectum.
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