On November 14, the House passed the conference bill of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2018. The finalized bill includes two provisions led by Congressman Ted Lieu that provide much-needed congressional oversight over the US’ role in Yemen, seeking to limit US participation in the war. The YPP applauds the passage of these provisions and thanks Representative Lieu for his tireless efforts to rein in US military involvement in Yemen’s civil war.
This week, the State Department published its 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, which ranks governments on their efforts to combat human trafficking. Yemen is classified as a Special Case in the report because of the increased difficulties in obtaining information about human trafficking due to the ongoing war. The conflict in Yemen has intensified the magnitude of violence and lawlessness in the country while hindering the government’s ability to address and prevent human trafficking. The violence and accompanying economic and humanitarian crises have left significant numbers of people vulnerable to human trafficking, whether it takes the form of forced labor, sexual exploitation, or underage military recruitment:
Tuesday, May 23
The Associated Press reports that US special operations forces raided a suspected al-Qaeda hideout in the al-Sarim area of Marib Governorate. US Central Command claimed that at least seven militants were killed, possibly more. Later, it came to light that at least five civilians were killed, including an elderly man and a teenaged boy. It was the second publicly-acknowledged ground raid US forces have conducted in Yemen this year. The first, conducted in January, killed 25 civilians and sparked international outrage.
We want to hear what you think about the conflict in Yemen and America’s role in Yemeni affairs. Record an audio message using your mobile phone or computer, and email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll include your message in an upcoming episode of the Mafraj Radio podcast and post it on the Mafraj Blog. We welcome comments on any aspect of the conflict, but here are a few prompts to get you started:
- Should the United States continue to support the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in Yemen?
- Do you think the planned coalition campaign to capture/liberate al-Hudaydah is a good idea?
- If you were in charge of the peace process, what would you do to bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table?
We look forward to hearing from you!
The Yemen Peace Project (YPP) has learned that the White House is expected to sign off on the Pentagon’s request for the United States to support the Saudi- and Emirati-led offensive to take control of the seaport and city of al-Hudaydah, which is currently controlled by the Houthi-Saleh alliance. It is our understanding that a major attack on al-Hudaydah is therefore imminent. In addition to providing support for the coalition in the forms of “surveillance, intelligence, refueling and operational planning,” the US administration is also reportedly considering direct US military engagement against the Houthis as part of this offensive. The YPP joins a broad coalition of NGOs, US lawmakers, and representatives of international organizations in calling on President Trump to withhold American support for any offensive against al-Hudaydah.
Monday, February 27, 2017
Foreign policy published an article critiquing the US administration’s approach to the Yemeni civil war. They warn against treating the Houthis as though they are tightly allied with Iran and against greater military involvement in Yemen, stressing that this will likely only strengthen the relationship between the the Houthi movement and Iran.
As Yemen’s war drags on, the country’s economic deterioration is impacting all aspects of life. Proper healthcare is increasingly scarce, government salaries are left unpaid, and prices for food supplies and fuel are fluctuating.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Saudi Arabia's entrance into Yemen's war. The war takes different shapes in different parts of the country, and all parties to the conflict have committed horrible acts of violence against Yemeni civilians. For residents of the capital, San‘a, the past year has been defined by daily airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. This post was sent to us by a special guest contributor, Fatima Noman. Fatima is 17 years old, and in her fourth year of high school. 365 days are no longer just a year
Tell me how did you spend the last 365 days? Did you end up getting that job offer? Did you get that scholarship you were working so hard to get? Did you graduate high school/university or perhaps you just got your PhD! Whatever you achieved I congratulate you! Well I'd like to speak of my 365 days. You know how we always chant the phrase day by day it all seems the same but looking back it's so different. I aged a life time within 365 days. I have experienced so much from fleeing my home to running down a set of 70 stairs in fear of a jet blowing up our third floor. Crying for nights and nights feeling death encircling me to laughing to the sound of explosions. Yes, I have lived some of the worst days of my life but I wouldn't change them for the world. Only now have I realized what an enormous amount of pride comes with being Yemeni.
I am now in my senior year and I have broke down into fits of tears more times than I can count in school due to the sudden air raids but my friends support me with a jolt of strength I've never experienced before. This year everything is so different. once I was crying in class from a mix of fear and stress then suddenly the whole class surrounded me with a group hug and I don't remember feeling so loved in my entire life. This coalition has done and is still doing damage that seems irreparable at time but one thing that no one but them has managed to do is unite this country into one.
I feel so complete. Now I know I am capable of facing anything life throws at me, I know I am strong enough. I will always have a constant reminder of my strength the blood of the martyrs who sacrificed everything for me to be able to live a life, a life worth living. It's truly quite peculiar how even though death has the key to my back door I sleep safe and sound. I still do get grounded and I still am clumsy you'd think death would make me a bit more graceful but nope! I still am the same girl who runs around tables and makes weird faces at my mom to make her laugh cause oh boy does her laugh make me feel five again.
365 days are enough to change people's perspectives, their ideologies. 365 days of undeniable strength, of determination. 365 days are no longer just a year.
You can read more of Fatima's reflections on life during wartime on her blog, here.
March 14A UAE fighter jet participating in a combat mission in Yemen’s Aden crashed on Monday morning in the city’s western district of al-Buraiqeh, killing both pilots. The crash was reportedly due to a technical failure.
March 15 A coalition airstrike struck a market in Hajjah on Tuesday. Initial figures reported 41 civilians killed, but that number tripled by the end of the week. Recent estimates say that of the approximately 120 killed, at least 24 were children.
March 16 The Saudi-led coalition said on Wednesday that it would launch an investigation into the Hajjah airstrikes. The coalition had said the day before that pictures of the aftermath are not proof that the casualties were caused by airstrikes. Brig. Gen. Al-Asiri said that the casualties “could have been caused by another type of attack.” It has since been confirmed that the deaths were in fact the result of a Saudi-led coalition airstrike, with the UN condemning the attack on civilians.
Despite the destruction wrought in Hajjah, Brigadier General Al-Asiri said on Wednesday that Yemen will need Saudi Arabia’s help to secure peace and stability. Al-Asiri also claimed that the conflict is coming to a close.
March 17 The reported death toll of the Hajjah market assault reached 119 on Thursday, making it one of the war’s deadliest attacks so far. UN’s Ban Ki-Moon demanded an investigation into the bombings.
Al-Asiri told AP on Thursday that Saudi Arabia will be scaling down its operations in Yemen, although it will continue to provide air support to Yemeni forces battling the Houthis. He claimed that “the aim of the coalition is to create a strong cohesive government with a strong national army and security forces that can combat terrorism and impose law and order across the country." He added that the coalition’s main goal from now on is to help build a Yemeni army.
March 18 The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described on Friday the “carnage” from Tuesday’s airstrikes on Hajjah as evidence of the “repeated failure” by the Saudi-led coalition to avoid hitting civilian targets. UN personnel visiting the site in Hajjah on Wednesday found no evidence of the military installments that the Saudi-led coalition claimed to be targeting.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent released a statement on Friday saying that the organizations are “appalled by the failure to protect aid workers risking their lives on a daily basis for the sake of humanity in Yemen.” The statement comes after four volunteers with the Red Crescent were injured, one critically, on March 14 when workers were shelled while trying to retrieve the bodies of those killed in Marib.
March 19 UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed arrived in San’a on Saturday to try to restart peace talks with the Houthis, a day after holding talks in Riyadh with Hadi. A new round of negotiations next month has since been agreed upon, and will reportedly be preceded by a ceasefire lasting “a week or two.”
March 20 At least 55 people, including 14 civilians, were killed in two days of fighting between pro-government forces and Houthis. Dozens of fighters were reportedly killed on Saturday during clashes in Ta’iz after Houthi forces attempted to retake the city. The coalition responded with a series of airstrikes to prevent their advance.
This is the first in a new series of monthly or semi-monthly reports on the conflict, with special attention to the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and the role of the United States in the war and the peace process. This report summarizes important recent developments regarding Yemen’s armed conflict and the worsening humanitarian crisis in the country. The Yemen Peace Project provides periodic reports to policymakers and nongovernmental actors, intended to inform discussions of US policies toward Yemen and America’s role in the conflict. The body of this report includes links to primary sources referenced.
Summary of issues covered:
- In early February, Saudi Arabia sent official diplomatic messages warning UN staff and humanitarian agencies to leave areas under Houthi control, indicating that the Saudi-led coalition would not guarantee their safety from airstrikes. The Saudi warning has negatively impacted aid operations.
- Both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi-Saleh alliance are imposing blockades on food and other necessities in parts of the country. International law and US military regulations prohibit the use of starvation of civilians as a military tactic.
- The World Food Program was recently been able to deliver medical supplies to the city of Taʻiz for the first time in months. The city, which remains under siege by Houthi-Saleh forces, is approaching a famine-level food emergency.
- The Saudi-led coalition has used US-made cluster bombs in heavily populated areas, despite US prohibitions on such use. The ordnance used also fails to meet US standards for reliability.
- Houthi-Saleh forces are conducting a massive crackdown on peaceful opposition activists, politicians, and journalists. As many as 800 people have been forcibly disappeared by Houthi authorities in and around Sanʻa, according to local sources.
- UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told the UNSC that parties to the conflict had not yet been able to agree on terms for new peace talks.
- The UN Special Advisors on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect reported that all sides in the conflict have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law.
- According to UNICEF, well over a million children have been displaced from their homes by the war. At least 1.3 million children under the age of five face severe malnutrition, and over two million have been prevented from attending school.
Read the full report below, or download a PDF version here.
Belligerents’ interference with humanitarian assistance
On February 11, news sources reported that the Saudi mission in Geneva had informed the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) via note verbal to notify all international organizations working in Yemen to relocate outside “…regions where the Houthi militias and the groups belonging to them are activating.” A similar letter was sent on the same day by the Saudi Embassy in London to international aid organizations and their employees. Apart from the Southern city of Aden, the Houthi/Saleh forces control areas where the majority of Yemen’s civilian population lives, including Sanʻa, where most aid and UN operations are headquartered.
Briefing the Security Council on February 16, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien reported the Saudi notification, noting that it had already impacted the humanitarian community’s work on important missions. O’Brien also reported other Saudi interference with humanitarian activities, including diversion of a World Food Program chartered vessel en route to deliver food aid to an approved port in Yemen to the Saudi Arabian port of Jizan.
O’Brien reminded parties to the armed conflict of their duty in the conduct of military operations to protect all civilian persons and objects, including humanitarian and healthcare workers and facilities. He stated that UN agencies and their partners will continue to deliver impartial and neutral assistance across Yemen according to need.
While Saudi Arabia and its allies continue to hinder the flow of aid and commercial shipments into Yemen, forces aligned with the Houthi movement and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh are also imposing blockades inside the country, most notably in and around Yemen’s second-largest city, Taʻiz. The World Food Program (WFP) reports that Taʻiz is suffering a severe food emergency, only one step above the UN’s “famine” classification. WFP was able to deliver food inside the most hard-hit area of the besieged city in mid- February. On February 10, following months of a siege on Taʻiz by Houthi-Saleh forces, The World Health Organization (WHO) was allowed to deliver medical supplies to three hospitals in Taʻiz. Three districts of the city remain inaccessible to medical assistance efforts and throughout the city patients are suffering from both chronic diseases and emergency injuries that cannot be addressed due to lack of basic medical supplies. In recent weeks the UN has made repeated calls to allow humanitarian access to besieged areas throughout the country.
The Director of Operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported on 11 February on his visit to Yemen: “Their quest for survival, food, water and shelter is a daily struggle amidst continuous air strikes and ground fighting. The restrictions on the movement of fuel, food and medicine into and around the country are making the crisis even worse.” In Yemen the destruction of civilian infrastructure is a daily occurrence. More than 2.7 million people have had to flee their homes; more than 6,000 have been killed. Over 30,000, including women and children have been injured, while health facilities have suffered more than 100 attacks since March 2015.
Ten of Yemen’s 22 governorates, some 7.6 million people, are currently at the WFP’s “severe food emergency” level. The YPP notes that the use of starvation and blockade of food supplies to a civilian population as a military tactic is widely considered to be a war crime. The new Department of Defense Law of War Manual affirms that the starvation of civilians as a method of conflict is prohibited, regardless of conflict classification.
Belligerents’ use of prohibited arms and tactics
In a detailed report supported by on the ground investigations, issued in mid-February, Human Rights Watch reported the Saudi-led coalition’s use of US-provided cluster munitions in Sanʻa and other heavily populated areas of Yemen, causing numerous civilian casualties. Similar evidence was provided by Amnesty International in a January report. While the United States and Saudi Arabia are not parties to the international ban on cluster munitions, US law does prohibit the use of such weapons in areas with civilian populations. US law also bans the export of cluster munitions with a failure rate higher than one percent. Evidence gathered by HRW proves that the US-made weapons used by the coalition have a failure rate that far exceeds that standard. Both the coalition’s use of these weapons and the US government’s provision of the munitions violate international and US law.
Human Rights Watch has documented a massive crackdown by Houthi-Saleh forces on peaceful opposition activists, politicians, and journalists. As many as 800 people have been forcibly disappeared by Houthi authorities in and around Sanʻa, according to local sources. Based on interviews with witnesses and family members, the report claims that Houthi authorities are depriving many detainees of food and water, preventing them from contacting anyone on the outside, and holding them in otherwise illegal and abusive conditions. One journalism student, for example, who has been imprisoned for more than four months, was “first held for three days without food or being allowed to use the bathroom.” A professor at San‘a University’s medical school “was being held in a three-by-three meter cell with 14 other men and was only allowed to use the bathroom once a day.”
United Nations officials brief the Security Council
Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed reported to a February 17 session of the Council that “The parties to the conflict are divided over whether a new round of talks should be convened with or without a new cessation of hostilities.” He noted that the previous round of talks in December had included creation of a De-Escalation and Coordination Committee. This committee has had some successes; however, the security situation in Yemen has deteriorated dramatically in the past two months. This has been accompanied by a continued deterioration in living conditions for civilians amounting to what under Secretary General Stephen O’Brien told the Council was a “humanitarian catastrophe”.
The chairman of the Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts also briefed the Council (covered on video of counsel session) on the dire humanitarian situation and called on all parties to respond to the Panel’s requests for information and to cooperate with the Panel’s members during their visits to Yemen. In January a widely leaked report by the Panel stated that coalition air strikes had targeted civilians in a “widespread and systematic” matter. It also confirmed that civilians were being deliberately starved as a war tactic.
In a February 16 joint statement, the Secretary General’s Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect and the SG’s Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide reported that serious abuses and violations of international law by all sides in the Yemen conflict have been extensively documented, including by the United Nations. “Evidence gathered suggests that some of these violations may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” The statement concluded, “We must, collectively, make the protection of the civilian populations of Yemen our primary consideration if we are to avoid a catastrophe in this region.”
UNICEF reported in January that the deadly combination of military attacks, disease and deprivation has had a particularly serious impact on children. Children make up at least half of the 2.7 million Yemenis displaced from their homes, while 1.3 million children under five face acute malnutrition, and at least 2 million cannot go to school.
Other recent reports on Yemen’s conflict
This section summarizes only reports that set out a broad, comprehensive review of the Yemen conflict. There are many more specialized reports, including some referenced above, that provide coverage of selected incidents and issues. Information about current developments is provided on a daily and hourly basis on the YPP’s blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.
- The Yemen Peace Project, United States’ Policy and Yemen’s Armed Conflict, September 2015. This report, prepared in cooperation with Sanʻa Center for Strategic Studies and Resonate Yemen, reviews the origins of the internal conflict, its transformation in 2014-15 into a countrywide, internationalized armed conflict, devastating the economy and political structure of the State and resulting in a humanitarian catastrophe. The report focuses upon US policy and engagement, military and diplomatic. It concludes by recognizing the crucial role of the US in bringing Yemen’s warring parties to the table to secure an end to the present hostilities. Just as important, the report notes, will be the US role in a postwar Yemen. US policymakers should begin working now to develop a just and constructive US policy, in line with America’s values and its obligations under international law, which recognizes the civil and human rights of the Yemeni people. Several specifics steps to this end are set out.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Humanitarian Needs Overview, November 2015. This report is a very comprehensive, annual overview prepared by OCHA.
- International Crisis Group, Yemen: Is Peace Possible? February 2016. This report deals extensively with the principal belligerents, the regional context, and the UN – led negotiations. Various recommendations are provided including steps that could improve chances for a cease fire and durable political settlement.
About the Yemen Peace Project
The Yemen Peace Project (YPP) works to transform the relationship between the United States and Yemen by promoting understanding between Americans and Yemenis and advocating for a peaceful, constructive foreign policy.
To this end, the YPP seeks to provide accurate and in-depth information about Yemen’s political, social, and cultural issues; to facilitate communication between Yemenis and non-Yemenis; to create new opportunities for Yemenis to make their voices heard.
A recent episode of Al Jazeera’s Inside Story featured human rights activist Baraa Shiban, researcher Adam Baron, and civil society activist Mohammad Al Shami, discussing the country’s failed revolution, ongoing war, and humanitarian crisis. The consensus among the three experts was that the failed transition following the 2011 revolution, which allowed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to stay in the country, is largely to blame for the current situation in Yemen. According to Shiban, there was an underestimation in 2011 of the counter revolution and how willing Saleh was to push the country into all-out civil war. It was already clear in 2011 that Saleh would try to spoil the transition, and the GCC agreement simply delayed the conflict that Yemen is now witnessing, according to Shiban. Baron agrees that the transitional period only managed to postpone further bloodshed. “The transitional authority was incompetent and split between parties that had been at war for a year.”
The alliance forged between Saleh and the Houthis is one of convenience and survival, according to Al Shami, and the threat now posed by the Houthis to Saudi Arabia exacerbated the already deeply complex situation in Yemen as it pushed the Saudis to intervene in 2015. Baron states that the conflict in Yemen is not a proxy war as much as it is a series of inconnecting political battles. At its essence, he argues, it is locally rooted.
The incessant fighting in Yemen has taken a toll on all citizens, but Al Shami says that the younger generation is most profoundly affected as many young people are participating in the war, mostly as a way to earn money or privilege from various factions.
In order to end this war and prevent future conflicts, Shiban says that Saleh must be removed from Yemen or face sanctions. Baron notes that “unless there’s a genuine shift in how politics is done in Yemen, we’ll just see conflicts repeating in some other form.”
View the episode here (not available in all countries).
International Crisis Group has issued a report summarizing the steps that need to be taken by all players in the war in Yemen to achieve a general ceasefire and improve the chances of a durable political settlement. Even before Saudi Arabia launched its military campaign in Yemen, the country was deeply divided: “the intervention has layered a multidimensional, thus more intractable, regional conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran onto an already complex civil war, significantly complicating prospects for peace.” The result is an increasingly entrenched conflict with no end in sight, according to ICG.
Each side’s commitment to UN-led peace talks is lukewarm. Neither is defeated or exhausted; both believe they can make additional military gains; and neither has been willing to make the compromises required to end the violence.
International Crisis Group makes a number of recommendations for each party to ensure a general ceasefire and a durable political settlement. These recommendations include participation by the government of Yemen, the Houthis, and Saleh’s GPC--without delay or preconditions--in UN-brokered negotiations. The Saudi-led coalition must encourage government support for the UN special envoy’s negotiating agenda and suspend military action in San’a as a show of goodwill prior to negotiations.
The UN Security Council permanent members, especially the U.S., UK, and France, must back the UN special envoy and condition the supply of weapons and ammunition to Saudi-led coalition members on their support for an immediate ceasefire and inclusive political negotiations.
Crisis Group also recommends that negotiations be expanded to include additional Yemeni stakeholders, such as the Sunni Islamist Islah party, Salafi groups, and the Southern Resistance. These negotiations should include regional security concerns and Yemen’s economic reconstruction.
December’s peace talks in Switzerland failed to generate a solution to the war in Yemen, a war that is driven both by regional geopolitical rivalries and by factional conflicts within Yemen itself. In an op-ed for Al Jazeera, analyst Farea al-Muslimi argues that this failure is rooted in the interest of all parties involved to remain at war. According to al-Muslimi, one of the founders of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, Yemen “needs a dealer who can ‘redistribute the cards’ and convince the various players to invest in peace.”
The latest round of peace talks failed because many of those involved do not know what they want out of the UN-mediated process, and because they do not believe it is in their immediate interests to have peace. After nearly a year of war in Yemen, the cycle of business, economy and power now revolves around one main thing: war. Should the fighting suddenly end, many players from both sides would stand to lose.
The Houthis appear to be most comfortable on the battlefield, and if the conflict were to end, they would have to face the undesirable reality of negotiations and power sharing. Meanwhile, former president Saleh, whose agenda differs from that of the Houthis, relies on a state of war to convince those around him that he is indispensable. The Islamist militant organizations that have made notable gains in Yemen certainly have no interest in seeing an end to the conflict that has provided them with the chaos and instability that is so easy to exploit.
Hadi is also a clear loser in any successful peace process as all parties to the conflict would need him to step aside. The Saudi-led coalition, which did not make any attempts at diplomacy prior to waging war, must understand that it will not win by military means. Finally, the West cannot believably call for peace in Yemen while also profiting from weapons sales that are bringing such destruction to the country.
[This post was sent to us by a special guest contributor, Fatima Noman. Fatima is 16 years old, and lives in San‘a. This is her third post for the Mafraj Blog.] The thing is when I close my eyes tighter، I hear them louder. Shutting down one sense only clarifies another. The speed of light is a thousand times faster than the speed of sound, the only thing faster than that is the rate at which my heart beats. 9 months later and nothing has changed; my mouth dangles and my eyes widen, enlarge and I taste the end, not of this coalition; but of my life. My life that seems to have been ephemeral and now is burdened be.
Looking back on how much I've grown, the only visible difference is how any sound whether cars passing by, motorcycles approaching my neighborhood or one of my siblings slamming the door too fast or strutting harshly in the second floor -or third or fourth-, scares me and makes me tremble to my feet. I've grown accustomed to my realm of vulnerability.
They say there have been over ten thousand air raids on Yemen, I've seen every memory of the past 16 years flash before my eyes at least ten thousand times. With every air raid I remember my mother's warm embrace at 6 and my father's loving arms at 8. My sister's advice at 13 and my brother's fights on daily basis. The last time I laughed till my stomach hurt and cried tears of joy. I then remember God and sometimes think; how bad can it be under his arms, it can't possibly be scarier than here?
With every unannounced burst of light I regret every fight with my dad and argument with my mom. I remorse every time I discarded my sister and boycotted my brother for his "nuisance". As much as that illuminance of light terrifies me, it reminds me how blessed I was and am and will be. Yes, will be; I won't die. I refuse to die, not in their hands. I will live to be 80 and I will make memories enough to heal all the scars made since the 26th of March. I will heal and I will blossom.
Everything seems minuscule and diminutive when compared to death. Your existence, your hopes, your aspirations. You can never really submit to death and accept it, we know it accompanies us wherever we go. Yet we never act like it's tangible we deem it as an "imaginary friend". A friend we only address when we meet face to face. Once we leave its residence, we go back to disregarding it. Whether its a blessing or a curse to become so resilient to death, I'll never know. But for the time being I will dispose the thought of death because I know a burst of light propelled towards me from a jet miles away will not be the death of me. I refuse it to be.
And as 2015 comes to an end I have never been happier to end a chapter in my life. 2015 has been by far the hardest year of my life. Looking back at it, I hit so many milestones and I've reached my highest and lowest points all in the course of 365 days. It's crazy how much one year can do. I met some of the greatest, most inspirational people this year, and for that I am eternally grateful. I was privileged to witness a coalition attack my country first hand whilst having no valid reason to attack. I can't wait to have children one day and tell them all about this year, the longest most fruitful and vain year ever. I can't wait to speak about 2015 in past tense.
Happy New Year
In a recent article for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Yemeni analyst and commentator Farea al-Muslimi explores the role of sectarianism in Yemen's current conflict. Al-Muslimi also gives a brief overview of the role religious identity has (and hasn't) played in Yemeni political conflicts since the mid-20th century. It has become common for foreign observers to classify Yemen's war as another manifestation of the apparent conflict along sectarian lines that is being played out in other parts of the region. But Yemen specialists generally take issue with this characterization, and say that sectarian rhetoric is new to Yemen's political scene. There's truth to that position, but it's not the whole story. In this article, al-Muslimi does an excellent job of tracing the peaks and troughs of sectarian framing across several decades.
While Yemen is home to two major religious groups, the Zaydi Shia Muslims in the north and the Sunni Muslims of the Shafi’i school in the south and east, the religious divide has historically been of limited importance. Internal conflicts have certainly been endemic to Yemen, but they have typically been driven by political, economic, tribal, or regional disparities. While these conflicts sometimes coincided with religious differences, they were rarely a primary driver. Instead, religious coexistence and intermingling was taken for granted by most Yemenis and seen as a normal feature of everyday life.
But with the outbreak of the most recent round of conflict after the 2011 Arab Spring, sectarian discourse has become more heated, reorganizing Yemeni society along sectarian lines and rearranging people’s relationships to one another on a non-nationalist basis. It seems that the trend of sectarian polarization that plagues the region, from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, has finally arrived in Yemen.