Yemen (Houthis / AQAP / SMM)


Conflict Summary

Popular protests during the Arab Spring ended Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule as president. In a transition backed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), vice president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi was elected in 2012, despite being the sole candidate. Hadi inherited a state teetering on the brink of failure, facing economic collapse and no effective control over large swathes of territory. Hadi headed the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), launched in 2013 to reconcile political divisions and form a new constitution, in preparation for elections within two years. The NDC’s recommendation to divide Yemen into six regions was rejected by southern secessionists and the Houthis. Southern secessionists demand the re-establishment of South Yemen, which unified with North Yemen in 1990. The Houthis, a Zaydi-Shia movement from northern Yemen that fought six wars against the government, feared marginalisation and moved to use violence to secure its interests. The Houthis seized the capital, Sana’a, in September 2014. They subsequently signed a power-sharing agreement with Hadi to form a technocratic government but continued to consolidate their power. Protesting their increasing unilateralism, Hadi resigned in January 2015, and the Houthis placed him under house arrest. He fled the capital to his hometown, the southern city of Aden, where he rescinded his resignation and declared Aden Yemen’s ‘temporary capital’. The Houthis followed him to Aden, allying with Saleh, who retained significant support within the army and various tribes and sought to make a political comeback. Hadi invited international intervention to reinstate him, and Saudi Arabia, which views the Houthis as an Iranian proxy, formed a coalition of eight Arab states, backed by the US. In addition to airstrikes and a blockade, the coalition deployed ground troops in Yemen. It has also armed and trained pro-Hadi battalions known as the Popular Resistance, which span various tribal and political allegiances, including southern secessionists who frame their role as liberating South Yemen. While the country remains divided between a Houthi-controlled north and a Hadi-controlled south, jihadi groups have targeted both parties and exacerbated insecurity. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) remains a potent threat, despite a US drone programme that has targeted its leadership. Franchises of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, have also gained traction. The civil war has had severe humanitarian implications, killing thousands of civilians and heightening the risk of famine for millions.