While the al-Houthi movement struggles to manage multiple regional challenges to its north, its rise to power in Yemen is a setback for Saudi Arabia on its southern flank. After the fall of the Yemeni government, Riyadh will have to capitalize on the al-Houthis’ need for political and financial support to re-establish its influence in the country. But because Iran is trying to fill that support gap, too, Yemen has become another battleground where the two sectarian rivals will struggle against one another.
After being driven from the capital of Sanaa in September, Yemen’s government is at war with itself. President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi issued a statement March 19 denouncing the airstrikes on his compound in the southern port city of Aden as an attempted military coup by forces loyal to his predecessor and one-time ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Earlier that day, soldiers and militiamen loyal to Hadi battled their way into Aden’s airport and stormed a nearby military base, both of which were under the control of Gen. Abdel-Hafez al-Saqqaf, a Saleh loyalist.
The infighting in Aden comes after Ansar Allah, the pro-Iranian Zaidi group led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, emerged as the single largest force in the country after taking over large swathes of territory in north and central Yemen. The al-Houthis represent a change in the balance of power in Yemen and even the Arabian Peninsula that has opened the door for Iran to become a major player in what was the exclusive domain of Saudi Arabia not too long ago.
The Rise of the al-Houthis
A number of factors facilitated the al-Houthis’ power grab in Yemen. First, Saudi Arabia’s attempts to manage the Yemeni government in the wake of Arab Spring protests did not go as planned. Saleh stepped down in favor of his one-time vice president, Hadi, but the move exacerbated intra-government fissures along tribal, ideological, political and military lines. By the time Hadi took over, Riyadh’s method of playing the various Yemeni factions against each other had undermined the old system to the point where the al-Houthis could take advantage of and align enough tribes to push beyond its northern stronghold of Saada and make their way down into areas south of the capital.
This post was published at FinancialSense on 03/26/2015.