"Yemen is the war of all against all"

According to the researcher, the conflict unleashed by Saudi Arabia in 2015 reinforced the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran. Now, the country is caught in regional rivalries between Riyadh and Tehran but also Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Oman.

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Farea Al-Muslimi is the president of the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, and a researcher at the Chatham House think tank. Bringing together Yemeni and international researchers, the Sanaa Center provides sought-after analyzes of the Yemeni conflict and has emerged as a necessary interlocutor for states and international organizations.

Yemen is back on the scene since the strike, claimed by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, at Saudi oil installations on 14 September. How did this country get caught up in the regional rivalry between Riyadh and Tehran?

The Yemeni conflict is, in its current form, the result of the Saudi response to the capture of the capital Sanaa in 2014 by the Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia, supported by the United Arab Emirates, has formed an Arab coalition to allow the government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi [President elected in 2012, in exile] to regain control of the entire territory. This coalition failed, the rebels held.

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For Tehran, the Houthi have been a great opportunity to harm Riyadh's interests: cheap investments from Saudi Arabia's direct neighbors, ideally located to launch drones or missiles. It must be remembered, however, that before the intervention of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the Houthis did not enjoy such support. They had few missiles, no drones. None of these weapons against which Riyadh is today unable to defend itself.

The war delivered to the Houthis by Saudi Arabia would have strengthened the rebels?

Riyadh even gave them a major service. This war is the best thing that has happened to the Houthi, a formerly marginal group in the far north, around the city of Saada, which now controls the most populated areas of Yemen, including the capital. If there is one thing that the Houthi know how to do, it is to fight. On the other hand, to govern, they do not know. The war is therefore for them a comfortable situation.

For five years, the history of the Houthi has been that of a family, tribal and religious organization [Houthists practice Zaïdite Islam, a branch of Shi'ism] who has taken large territories by arms and has continued to strengthen. They consider the other Yemenis who live under their control more as hostages than as administrators for whom they would be responsible. They have set up parallel structures – their own intelligence services, their own central bank – but as they can not copy every existing institution, they have appointed "supervisors", linked to the family of the Houthi leader Abdel Malik Al-Houthi, who exercise total control of decision making in each district, each office, each administration. In doing so, they institutionalize the fragmentation of the country.


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