What’s Going on in Yemen?


Yemen is in the midst of an unfathomable humanitarian crisis. What factors are contributing to the conflict? (BBC and Lawfare)

Where is Yemen? Use our map to customize a map of Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula.

Map by National Geographic
This fantastic map of the ongoing conflict in Yemen displays areas controlled by competing factions. Green areas are controlled by the Revolutionary Committee, a coalition of Houthis and Saleh loyalists. Red areas are controlled by the Hadi government. White areas are controlled by forces from Al Qaida Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Grey areas are controlled by forces from the Islamic State. Blue areas are controlled by local tribal forces.

Discussion Ideas

  • Read through the truly great Lawfare article on the Yemeni crisis, and try to unpack some of the issues with the questions below. Here’s its perfect introduction:
    • “Yemen is, in many ways, a perfect storm of several issues seen across the Middle East: a failed Arab Spring revolution, a proxy war with some sectarian overtones, U.S. support for a Saudi bombing campaign, al-Qaida and Islamic State group attacks, and the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. And its demographics aren’t helping. Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, has a rapidly growing, very young population that is increasingly concentrated in urban centers in the western part of the country. It has much less oil than its neighbors, and what little oil production it had has declined in recent years due to the war. Yemen is also running out of water, which is one of the reasons Yemenis are facing a massive cholera outbreak.
    • On top of these issues, many countries have important strategic stakes in Yemen. It’s located on the Bab el-Mandeb strait, an important shipping lane through which millions of barrels of oil pass daily. Added to this economic consideration is the terrorism issue: several terrorist groups, most notably al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, have traditionally made their home in Yemen’s remote eastern regions.”


  • According to the BBC, more than 8,600 people have been killed and 49,000 injured in the catastrophic conflict between Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government, led by President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Who is President Hadi?
    • Hadi was a longtime military leader, and served as vice-president of Yemen between 1994 and 2011. At that time, his boss, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, was forced to resign. (The authoritarian Saleh was forced out by a popular uprising inspired by the Arab Spring. Until his recent death, he was still a powerful leader in the region, and a major figure in the current conflict.) Hadi was not a reform candidate: he was the only candidate on the ballot, had the support of Yemen’s single ruling party, and won 99.8% of the vote in 2012.
    • President Hadi inherited serious issues when he took office, “including attacks by al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the south, the continuing loyalty of many military officers to Mr Saleh, as well as corruption, unemployment and food insecurity.”
    • Like most Yemenis, President Hadi is a Sunni Muslim. His support is mostly located in south and east of the country, a region dominated by Sunni tribal leadership.
    • President Hadi’s base of operations is his hometown of Aden. Aden is a strategic port city near the Bab el Mandeb strait, which links the Arabian and Red Seas.


  • Who are the Houthis?
    • The Houthi movement, whose political wing is called Ansar Allah, is an Islamist rebel group with strongholds in northern and western Yemen. Houthis consider themselves “a national movement that strongly subscribes to the principles of Arab nationalism and pan-Islamism.”
    • Ansar Allah and the Houthi movement are not considered terrorist groups by the United Nations or the United States.
    • The Houthis are a largely Shia-led group. Although they were violently opposed to former President Saleh in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Houthis have since made a powerful coalition with him and his supporters (mostly Sunnis). The coalition is called the Revolutionary Committee.
    • The Houthis’ base of operations is the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, which they captured in 2014.


  • What organizations and states are providing support for the Hadi government?
    • Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the most important supporter of the Hadi government. When President Hadi fled Yemen in 2015 (he returned this year) he formed his government-in-exile in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia has organized air strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen ever since.
    • Saudi-led coalition.
      • Many Sunni-led Arab states have joined Saudi Arabia in air strikes, economic sanctions, and blockades against Houthi-controlled Yemen.
        • Bahrain
        • Egypt
        • Jordan
        • Kuwait
        • Morocco
        • United Arab Emirates
      • Other state supporters of the coalition include:
        • Australia
        • Canada
        • China
        • Djibouti
        • Eritrea
        • France
        • Germany
        • Israel
        • Senegal
        • Somalia
        • Sudan
        • Turkey
        • United Kingdom
        • United States
        • NATO


  • What organizations and states are allegedly providing support for the Houthis?
    • Iran. Yemen is sometimes interpreted as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Both Ansar Allah and the Iranian government deny accusations that Iran, the leading Shia power in the Middle East, is supporting the Houthis with military and financial aid. However, most Western (and pro-Hadi) governments claim Iran is covertly supporting the Houthi movement, and a major arms shipment intercepted by the U.S. in 2016 was thought—though not proven—to be headed to Yemen.
    • Hezbollah. This powerful Shia Islamist group, based in Lebanon, supports the Houthi movement. Hezbollah is listed as a terrorist organization by most Western governments.
    • North Korea. North Korea has provided military support to the Houthis.
    • Qatar. Qatar withdrew from the Saudi-led coalition earlier this year as a part of the “Second Arab Cold War,” which pits Saudi Arabia against more reform-minded Qatar as the leading voice in the powerful Gulf Cooperation Council.
    • Syria. The Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, has provided military training for Houthi rebels.
    • Yemen Army. This is not the official Yemeni military; the group is composed of Saleh loyalists.




  • How are terrorist organizations like al Qaida and Islamic State taking advantage of the conflict?
    • According to the BBC, “Jihadist militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and rival affiliates of so-called Islamic State (IS) have meanwhile taken advantage of the chaos by seizing territory in the south and continuing to carry out deadly attacks, notably in government-controlled Aden.”
      • Al Qaida Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is considered the most dangerous branch of the organization due to its expertise in technical and intelligence operations.




Lawfare: The Conflict in Yemen: A Primer

BBC: Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?

Nat Geo: Yemen 1-page map

CIA World Factbook: Yemen

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