The Not-So-Yemeni Deadlock

The 2014-2023 civil war in Yemen represents a complex conflict, with several competing interests at play. It has, however, been witness to a pause in the fighting due to a ceasefire brokered by the United Nations (UN) in April of last year. The truce has since expired, however, fighting between the two sides has not returned to the intensity of pre-truce levels. It would be wrong to assume that the truce is likely to end the conflict in Yemen and begin to address the absolute human catastrophe that has occurred in the country and continues to occur. The reason for this is the complex political nature of the conflict and the venomously opposite positions on fundamental issues by parties involved with the conflict.

The seeds of war in Yemen were sown long before the demands for revolution began in 2011 and the fall of the government in 2015. It is argued that the complex workings of religion and politics in northern Yemen led to the rise of strong militant opposition to the central government. The Houthis, a Shiite group, was formed by Widespread Al Houthi, a Zaydi Shiite cleric who represents a principal actor in the conflict and now controls a significant portion of Yemen’s territory and act as the de facto government in those areas.

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia perceived the rise of a militant Shia organization, which they report receives substantial backing from Iran and its proxy groups, as a substantial threat and formed a military coalition to combat the Houthis in Yemen.

The coalition contained several Gulf and North African nations, including, but not limited to, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, and Bahrain. The ensuing conflict was devastating to the lively hood of the civilian population, with the United Nations reporting it had claimed 233,000 lives due to direct and indirect causes by the end of 2020.

The perception of Saudi Arabia and the UAE towards the Houthis has not changed, and it is unlikely they will be willing to allow Yemen to become wholly governed by the group. The Houthis, on the other hand, perceive the Saudis and the UAE as invaders on their land and are unwilling to make a political concession that would legitimize the control of parts of the country by their proxies.

Several Western countries are also indirectly involved in the conflict through the supply of arms. The Jordan times reported in 2019 that 48 Eurofighter typhoon jets were supplied to Saudi Arabia by the United Kingdom in 2018, as well as 5 billion euros in arms licences to Saudi Arabia since the coalition began its campaign in Yemen are indicative of the investment of Western powers in supporting Saudi Arabia in the conflict. Additionally, the New Yorker reported in 2018 that at the onset of the conflict the US made a weapons sale to Saudi Arabis totalling USD 1.29 billion in support of Saudis efforts to combat the Houthis.

Amidst this litany of competing actors, it is extremely difficult for the UN as peacemakers to thread the needle and find a solution that is acceptable to all parties to end the conflict. It is however imperative that the conflict is brought to some kind of quasi-resolution so that the international community can begin to address the havoc that has been wrecked upon Yemen.

There is currently optimism due to the lowest levels of violence seen in the country since the onset of the war, due to the UN-brokered truce. However, the UN has called for greater efforts from all sides to take further steps, such as a commitment to the cessation of hostilities and the lifting of a blockade on Yemen.