Saudi Arabia, supported directly or indirectly by a coalition of other Arab countries especially Egypt, has intervened with air strikes in Yemen's internal war. We can assume the Saudi intervention is backed by the US, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
How did Yemen’s internal war develop? Powerful President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Shia, was forced to resign in February 2012, after 22 years, following strong Arab Spring demonstrations and pressure from a United Nations resolution supported by the US and Saudi Arabia.
His successor was his vice president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a Sunni, who was backed by Saudi Arabia and the US. It was hoped internationally that this would initiate a democratic process.
Instead, the change unleashed upheaval followed by civil war.
Shia Houthi rebels, having occupied Yemen’s capital Sanaa since September 2014, are now advancing towards Aden, the main city in south Yemen where President Hadi took refuge in February 2015 following house arrest by the Houthi in January.
Conflict between the Shia Zaidi sect Houthis and the government has continued since 2009 with little exposure in the media until they seized Sanaa.
About 40 per cent of Yemen’s 24 million population is Shia and some 60 per cent Sunni. The Shia Houthi are supported by Iran and President Hadi by Saudi Arabia, who also had US backing as he was helpful in fighting al-Qaeda.
To complicate matters further, al-Qaeda opposes both President Hadi and the Houthis, and the US has begun informal contact with the Houthis.
Terrorist attacks on two mosques in Sanaa, which killed more than 130 people on March 20, were supposedly inspired by al-Qaeda striking against the Houthis. There is also a strong Sunni movement proposing independence for south Yemen, especially Aden.
It appears that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh is still pulling strings in the background despite being ousted three years ago. He may want to pave the way for his son's accession to the presidency. This is weakening President Hadi further.
We warned, in a statement on October 20, 2014, of a Syria-like proxy war in Yemen. We also said last week that partition between north and south Yemen would be preferable to a chronic civil war.
Saudi Arabia's intervention is likely to force Iran to give more support to the Houthis. A long proxy war, as in Syria, is becoming more likely.
Regime change is necessary sometimes, but it requires careful assessment of the consequences and a basis to create a credible, robust new structure based on the principle of law. Successors need the necessary internal support. Therefore, regime changes engineered abroad are rarely successful.
International recognition alone is not enough. Examples of disastrous regime change engineering include the developments in Syria and Iraq. Only a military coup in Egypt avoided major disaster there.