May 4, 2015
Despite growing American reservations, Saudi Arabian hardliners seem determined to impose a military solution on the Yemen crisis. Instead, Riyadh is likely to find itself mired in Yemen for a long time in an unwinnable war.
The intense fighting that resulted in the virtual takeover of Yemen by the Shia Houthis earlier this year sent foreign nationals fleeing the chaos, resulting in the recent, splendidly executed, and deservedly, well-publicised rescue of more than 5,000 Indian and foreign nationals by the Indian government. It also sent shock waves through neighbouring Saudi Arabia which chose to react robustly though there was no attack on Saudi Arabia by Yemenis.
To properly understand the situation, one first needs to study Yemen, its politics and its turbulent history. The Shia Imams ruled Yemen for over 1,000 years till 1962, when the Imamate was overthrown by nationalist military officers led by Col. Abdullah Sallal. Both Col. Sallal and Republican Yemen’s second President, Abdul Rahman Yahya Al-Iryani, were Zaydi Shias; Ali Abdullah Saleh, President for 34 years, is also a Zaydi. In fact, Mr. Saleh waged a bitter military campaign against the Houthis from 2004 to 2010. The Muslim Brotherhood is quintessentially a Sunni entity, but in Yemen, its chairman and secretary general are Zaydis. Thus, all this shows that political contestations in Yemen have always been driven by personal ambitions and political ideology, and never by sectarianism.