The Other Failed State In The Middle East

Ishaan Tharoor calls attention to Yemen, which remains embroiled in a civil conflict with a dangerous sectarian dimension after Houthi rebels took over the capital Sanaa last month:

The Houthis are alleged to be Iranian-backed; their traditional slogan (“Death to America! Death to Israel!”) echoes that of Hezbollah, Iran’s Shiite proxy in Lebanon. Al-Qaeda and its Sunni allies have energetically taken the fight to the Houthis, giving the conflict a worrisome sectarian edge — one that is similar to the awful bloodshed wracking Syria and Iraq.

But like in Syria and Iraq, the situation is not that simple. The Houthis are from the Zaydi branch, a distinct sect of Shiite Islam that is closer to Sunni Islam than most. … There are also suggestions that Sunni regimes in the Gulf have tacitly backed the Houthi surge, seeing it as the best bet for stability in perennially fractious Yemen. Whatever the case, a narrative of sectarian violence plays into al-Qaeda’s hands. Some elements of the Yemeni branch also declared support for the Islamic State, extremists who butcher all those they consider heretics or apostates. Things could very well get worse before they get any better.

Indeed, the crisis has re-invigorated southern Yemeni separatists, and fighting is ongoing in several parts of the country:

Fighting continues in Yemen between the Houthi rebels and al-Qaeda-backed Sunni tribesmen, leaving at least 68 Houthi fighters dead in the province of Bayda. The news came as protesters in Yemen’s capital Sanaa called on the Houthi fighters to leave after a deadline to form a new government passed on Tuesday without an agreement.

Sporadic clashes erupted between the Houthis and tribesmen in Radaa after the Houthis killed an army officer belonging to the Qaifa tribe, Al Jazeera has learned. In retaliation, tribesmen reportedly attacked Houthi armed rebels in the northeast of Radaa. Al-Qaeda fighters are also reportedly in control of the four main areas of Odain district, with the goal of preventing Houthi fighters from advancing in Ibb province in central Yemen.

Looking back at the history of the Houthi movement earlier this month, Peter Salisbury examined the conditions that enabled their sudden rise to power:

Conditions were ripe for the group to enter the capital. Sanaa is home to a number of traditionally Zaydi families, plenty of intellectuals and liberals fed up with the remnants of the Saleh regime, and many of others who do not approve of the way the country is being run. Living standards have scarcely improved in Yemen in the three years since the uprising and elite infighting of 2011. Half the population is out of work and a similar proportion under the poverty line. A roster of names familiar from the Saleh era occupied the top jobs in government as part of a power-sharing agreement. Corruption is endemic — worse, even, than it was under Saleh. Yemenis who supported the 2011 uprising have become dejected, realizing that they are unlikely to see tangible improvements in the way the country is run.