Yemen’s turmoil poses wider threat

Yemen’s turmoil poses wider threat

Houthi insurgents - Shia rebels - have overrun Yemen's capital Sanaa and conquered the port city of Al Hudaydah, one of Yemen’s largest towns on the Red Sea, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

The Houthis, founded in 2004, control large parts of northern Yemen. They fight what they claim is discrimination against their community by the government and adhere to a Shia sect. The Yemen government claims the Houthis are backed by Iran and intend to install their interpretation of Islamic law.

The United Nations bartered a truce between the government and the Houthi insurgents after Sanaa was conquered in late September.

The Houthis have since clashed with Al-Islah, a Sunni group opposed to Yemen’s government. Al-Islah are mainly Wahhabis, the fundamental Sunni denomination from Saudi Arabia.

Al-Quaeda fighters are also challenging the government and fighting the Houthis. Al- Quaeda seized the town of Radda and one of their suicide bombings injured several Houthis.

The southern Yemen secessionist movement, Al-Hirak hopes to benefit from the vacuum and government paralysis caused by the Houthi attacks to further its end for independence in the former British Protectorate of Aden, which merged with northern Yemen in 1990. Al-Hirak is also concerned at being overrun by the Houthis in the south.

The situation in Yemen is geopolitically dangerous and reminds us strongly of Syria with both Saudi Arabia and Iran supposedly supporting their proxies.

Yemen, with a 25 million population - 40 per cent of them Shia - borders Saudi Arabia. It is a very poor country bordering a very rich one in Saudi Arabia which has a 28.7 million population. This causes problems and is a huge challenge to the Saudis because Yemen’s Shia population is supposedly supported by Iran.

Yemen's location is geopolitically very important as it controls access to the Red Sea and therefore the Suez Canal. It becomes de facto an abandoned territory, a prey to foreign interests and a refuge for radical movements.

The problem is exacerbated, as just across the narrow Gulf of Aden lies civil-war-torn Somalia, where the al-Shahab terrorists operate.

Yemen has received little attention of late but the situation there has to be taken very seriously because of its strategic position and the potential threat to Saudi Arabia. The humanitarian cost of these internal and international power-plays is enormous.

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