Yemen has been devastated by war and is suffering the worst humanitarian crisis in history. Here is a short timeline of events to help you understand the conflict, its consequences, and what you can do to help.
Firstly, let us identify some of the major players of the conflict:
Major Players of the Conflict in Yemen
President Ali Abdullah Saleh
The first President of unified Yemen who served until 2012.
President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi
Originally the Vice President for Saleh but eventually became the President of Yemen in 2012.
Movement of tribal fighters who belong to the Zaidi Shia Muslim minority that makes up a third of Yemen’s Sunni majority population.
Have been linked to the Houthi movement and are known to provide logistical and military support to the group.
Head of a coalition of countries which have supported Hadi’s government.
South Yemen was an independent country until 1990 when the north and south unified. The Southern Separatists want to restore South Yemen’s independence.
Al-Qaeda have taken advantage of the countries instability and used it to grow their influence.
images: wikimedia commons
The Arab Spring
In 2011 a series of anti-government, pro-democracy protests spread across the Arab world. The protests in Yemen were against poor economic conditions, unemployment, corruption, and proposals to make changes to the constitution. These protests were the start of what would become a brutal civil war and one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
Rise of militant groups
Protesters called for the then President, Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down, but he refused to do so. The violent tactics used against protesters fractured the Yemeni government. In March 2011, Saleh loyalists disguised as civilians opened fire on to protesters and killed at least 50 people. As a result, many government officials and members of parliament resigned in protest. As unrest continued and support for Saleh weakened, security forces withdrew from the outer provinces of the country to try and quell protests in the capitol. This meant many militant groups such as Al- Qaeda and the Houthi rebels were able to take advantage of the weakened government control in these areas and take control of many cities.
Transfer of power
Eventually, after months of unrest, Saleh agreed to stand down and signed an internationally mediated agreement to transfer power to Vice President Hadi in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Under Hadi, the country remained unstable. Unemployment soared, GDP remained low, many suffered from food and water scarcity. Amidst this, support for the Southern Separatist movement grew as many called for the independence of South Yemen.
Houthi occupation of the Capitol
A fresh wave of protests began after the President failed to improve conditions and introduced significant cuts on fuel subsidies. The Houthi rebels accused the government of corruption and in September 2014, they seized many government buildings in the capitol. Under a UN brokered deal, the Houthi’s were given representation within government but refused to stop occupying the capitol unless a new Prime Minister was appointed whom they favoured.
In January 2015, the Houthi’s overtook the Presidential Palace, forcing Hadi to resign and be placed on house arrest. The Houthi’s dissolved Parliament and declared that a presidential council would be formed. The UN security council condemned this.
Hadi was able to escape to government-controlled Aden, where he declared he was still President. He called for international support and fled to Saudi Arabia. Many countries led by Saudi launched airstrikes to prevent Houthi’s from occupying Aden.
Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh formally announced his support for the Houthi rebels.
The Saudi led coalition was successful in moving most of Houthi control out of southern Yemen. However, the rebels still had strong control over the capitol and much of northern Yemen. Heavy bombing in these areas by the Saudi coalition has killed thousands of civilians and damaged much of Yemen’s infrastructure.
UN-sponsored peace talks and the killing of former President Saleh
Peace talks were put forward by the UN which allowed fighting to cease in many areas for a few months. Former President Saleh encouraged peace talks with the UN, which were looked down upon by the Houthi rebels. They saw this as an act of betrayal and murdered Saleh in his home in December 2017, ending their alliance.
Al-Hudaydah is a port city which the Houthi’s controlled. They relied on the port as a main source of income through taxing cargo. It is also the main port which receives life-saving humanitarian foreign aid. In an attempt to weaken the Houthi’s, Saudi advanced onto Al-Hudaydah in June 2018. In the last two years, a series of ceasefires and periods of heavy fighting have left civilians starved of food and aid.
Yemen has become a battleground for a multi level proxy war. Rebel groups like the Houthi’s do not have the means to overthrow a government on their own, they receive support from a range of other countries and movements. Stronger countries have exploited the situation and taken advantage of the instability to pursue their own agenda. Iran has previously been caught transferring weapons to the Houthi’s, and Saudi Arabia alongside its allies like the USA have launched countless airstrikes supporting the Yemeni government, killing thousands of civilians along the way.
Tensions are exacerbated by the existing conflict between Iran and the USA over its nuclear programme, and Sunni-Shia rivalry existing between Saudi and Iran. All these factors make the situation complex and explain why some countries are hesitant to get involved and help.
Leaders of Superpowers like Trump have an extremely significant influence on the conflict. In 2018, when tensions between the USA and Iran were very high, Trump bypassed Congress and announced a $8 billion weapons sale to Saudi. In 2019, Trump vetoed a bill passed by Congress to end USA’s support for the conflict. These actions have cost hundred of thousands of lives.
The current situation
The country is currently suffering from a range of problems with 24 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
- Cholera: Lack of access to medical aid and poor sanitation has led to a rise in cholera cases. Saudi led airstrikes have damaged water systems and increased risk of infection.
- Flash floods: intense flooding has killed and injured many people and has destroyed infrastructure.
- Covid-19: The lack of testing kits and medical assistance means Coronavirus poses a grave risk to the population of Yemen. The effect of the virus on a starved and unprotected population will be devastating. Cases are escalating fast and many international aid agencies are being forced to leave the country.
- Hunger: 15.9 million people wake up hungry every day according to the World food programme.
What you can do to help
- The UK government have provided RAF personnel to Saudi to help them train their own army. They have also been supplying weapons and diplomatic support to the Saudi-led coalition. Write to your local MP to pressure them into speaking out in Parliament.
- Sign petitions to raise awareness and pressurise the government. Click here for a link to our petition page.
- Donate to charities who are providing life-saving aid. These include The Red Cross, Save the Children and Oxfam among others.
Written by Halimah Akhtar