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The Big Picture – Yemen and West Asia: Where is the conflict headed?

The Big Picture – Yemen and West Asia: Where is the conflict headed?


Yemen considered as the poorest country in the Arab world is falling apart. For the last several

months the strife in the country has seen its President being taken into custody by Houthi rebels,

escape and take refuge in neighbouring countries. Now, the country is witnessing bombings by Saudi

Arabia led forces creating panic and mass evacuation of people including thousands of Indians. The

complex relationship between countries and interests in Yemen as well as Arab world in West Asia is

making it more complicated.

Basically, the conflict is between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Yemen. The US is also seeing this as an

opportunity to appease Saudis by supporting them against Yemen. The United Nations is warning of a

“total collapse” in Yemen. Saudi-led coalition of Sunni countries has been carrying out airstrikes

against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite group which has received support from

Iran, have aligned themselves with former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh to challenge the rule of the

internationally recognized President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The Houthis practice a form of Shiite

Islam—Zaydism—that exists almost exclusively in Yemen and is closer to Sunni Islam than the

Twelver Shiism dominant in Iran. Most Yemeni Sunnis belong to a branch known as Shafii.

The conflict between the Houthis and the elected government is also seen as part of a regional power

struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which shares a long border with

Yemen. Saudi Arabia is closely aligned with their fellow Sunni Gulf states including Kuwait, Jordan,

and the UAE, all of which belong to the Gulf Cooperation Council. Sunni Egypt has also thrown their

support behind the Sauds in this conflict, offering to send troops to Yemen if needed.

Yemen might be the poorest country in the Middle East, but it has great strategic importance for its

neighbours. The country sits on the Bab al-Mandab Strait, a waterway linking the Red Sea with the

Gulf of Aden, through which much of the world’s oil shipments pass Including Saudi Arabia’s. If Iran

were to control this waterway, it would give them a significant advantage in the flow of oil both

countries export so heavily. Yemen also has a long border with Saudi Arabia, making the country

important for Saudi national security. The country would also serve as an important symbolic victory

as two powers fight for control of the region.

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