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Beyond evacuations: the Yemen crisis explained

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 14 June 2015, 15:46 IST

Intense fighting has been going on between the Houthi insurgents in Yemen and a Saudi Arabia-led multinational force that supports the ousted Sunni President of Yemen. This quick guide explains who is fighting whom and the consequences of the civil war, which has now become a war involving regional powers.

What is the crisis in Yemen about?
  • It's about at least four different groups competing to establish a hold over the country - the Houthi rebels, the forces loyal to the ousted President of Yemen Mansur Hadi, the forces loyal to one-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Who is the main aggressor and what do they want?
  • The main aggressors are the militant rebels known as Houthis. They belong to a minor Shia sub-sect, Zaidi Shias, constituting about 35-40% of the Yemeni population (60-65% of the Muslim population in Yemen is Sunni).
  • The Houthis overthrew Yemen's Sunni government led by President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in January 2015 by seizing the Presidential palace in the capital Sana'a. They put in place a 'Revolutionary Committee', which then assumed the powers of the presidency.
  • Hadi later escaped to Aden, from where he reclaimed the presidency and announced the port city as the new capital. The Houthis launched an offensive on Aden, forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia, reportedly by sea.
  • The Houthis would want complete control over Yemen. Their traditional area of influence is Northern Yemen.
Who supports the Houthis?
  • A faction of the Yemeni armed forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh is fighting along with the Houthis. Abdullah Saleh hopes to make a bid to regain power through the Houthis. He had ceded power after more than 33 years to Hadi, the current president.
  • Saudi Arabia claims that Iran is also supporting the Houthi offensive both financially and militarily.
  • Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shia-majority Iran are competing for influence in the Middle East.
Yemen crisis explained

Smoke rises after Saudi-led warplanes bomb weapon storage sites held by Houthis in Yemeni capital Sana'a on 11 May. Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

What role is Saudi Arabia playing?
  • Following President Hadi's escape to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has launched airstrikes in Yemen against the Houthis - apparently at the request of Hadi.
  • Saudi Arabia claims that it wants to restore the legitimate Yemeni government, which is a key ally in the US-led war against al Qaeda in the region. President Hadi had indeed been cooperating with the US in its operations against the AQAP.
  • The other Middle Eastern countries who have joined the Saudi offensive are: Egypt (Sunni), Morocco (Sunni), Jordan (Sunni), Sudan (Sunni), the United Arab Emirates (Sunni), Kuwait (Sunni), Qatar (Sunni), and Bahrain (Sunni government, Shia majority). Only Oman from the Gulf Coordination Council countries has not joined in the Saudi-led military alliance.
  • Saudi Arabia wanted Pakistan to join the military operation but Pakistan's Parliament has rejected the move summarily.
What has been the impact of the war on Yemen?
  • It has already claimed over 650 civilian lives.
  • Thousands of Yemenis have fled the country, with many countries such as India and China evacuating their citizens.
  • The tensions in the strife-torn region have increased with countries in the region polarised for or against the Houthis.
What could happen in the future?
  • The AQAP, believed to be quite strong already in parts of Yemen, might become stronger. The US and its allies fear that this crisis might allow the AQAP to consolidate itself and use Yemen to launch strikes against them.
  • The Islamic State is also reported to have moved into Yemen. It has claimed some suicide bombings in Sana'a. It could use the turmoil to expand its base in Yemen.
  • Global oil supplies could be threatened. Millions of barrels of oil pass through the Mandeb Straits or Bab-el Mandeb, which connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
  • Yemen also produces 0.34% of global oil supplies. Oil production could pass into the hands of the IS, like in Iraq, or in the hands of the AQAP.
What has been the impact on India?
  • Over 4,000 Indians were living in Yemen and the government came under pressure to rescue them.
  • Nearly 3,500 of them have been evacuated.
  • As during the Iraq evacuation months ago, those who come back from the Middle East have to start worrying about their livelihood. It was in search of jobs that they had gone to Yemen in the first place.
  • This is the reason why some Indian workers have chosen to stay on in Yemen and work instead of being rescued.
First published: 14 June 2015, 15:46 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.