Soldiers on Strings


Andrew Powers

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Yemen drew the shortest straw on the Arabian Peninsula. The other countries became rich from oil wells or control of the oil trade routes; Yemen got nothing. What was once one of their largest industries, international shipping through its conveniently located ports on the red sea and Indian ocean, has been crippled by Somali based piracy both from the actual damage done by the pirates and by the loss of business as businesses became afraid to operate in the area. Each of the other Arabian nations has one religion with a large majority (75% or more); however, in Yemen the Sunnis and Shias are roughly even 54% Sunni 46% Shia. The Sunni majority has long dominated the nation’s government and is accused of denying the Shia powerful positions in the government or military. For years now there has been fighting between local militias or government forces and Al-Qaeda in Yemen; many feel the government has not done all that it could to end the conflict. There have also been numerous accusations of corruption within the government especially against Sunnis officials in majority Shia regions.

This led to creation of the Houthi movement a Shia militant group concentrated in the North of the country. By 2014 the Houthi controlled vast swaths of Yemen and surrounded the capitol. In 2015 they stormed the capitol, dissolved parliament, and declared the old government to be dead. Sunni forces, some agreeing to a truce or even an alliance with Al-Qaeda continued fighting the Houthi in the majority Sunni regions and now their Sunni brothers have come to their aid. Saudi Arabia and several other Sunni Arab countries have begun bombing Houthi positions. The U.S. has commended their actions. Iran has called the strikes U.S. backed aggression against the territorial integrity of Yemen and said that it would result in nothing more than an increase in bloodshed.

This is an incredibly complex situation where everybody’s actions appear to be justified and yet at the same time morally wrong. The Shia people were being discriminated against and forced to live under corrupt local governments, they saw Al-Qaeda a.k.a. Sunni extremists remain after numerous government promises to remove them. So for them to rebel seems a relatively justified action. On the flip side, they have employed morally questionable tactics during the conflict and seem uninterested in setting up a legitimate democratic government and instead appear to have the intention of oppressing the Sunnis.

The Sunni Arabs, led by Saudi Arabia, saw a bloody civil war in their corner of the world that could destabilize the region.The Houthi were/are overthrowing a government that was a relatively legitimate democracy so intervening in the name of stability and saving innocent lives seems justified. However, the most likely reason of the intervention was twofold. First for Arab monarchs a successful revolution in a foreign country is a dangerous thing as it may embolden their own people to make demands for democratic government; by intervening they are showing their people that they will not hesitate to use deadly force to destroy anyone who threatens the statuesque. Second is the thousand year old hatred between Sunnis and Shia and as a part of that hatred, the rivalry between the Sunni Arab monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia, and Iran for influence in the Middle East. If the Houthi were successful then Saudi Arabia would have a Shia (and most likely Iranian aligned) country on their southern border and it would essentially be Iran/Shias +1 point Saudi Arabia/Sunnis -1 point. Although Iran denies it the Houthi have most likely been receiving funds and arms from Iran. This coupled with the fact that the Houthi are Shia and Iran is the something of the “patriarch” of the Shias the Houthi’s are, in a global political sense, an extension of Iran. Similarly the Sunni government of Yemen relied heavily on the Arab monarchies input, military aid, and economic aid/investments making them an extension of the Arabian monarchies.

So this is yet another case were young men are doing the fighting and dying for what they believe is right are actually dying to serve the purposes of a small number of powerful individuals playing an immense and complex game with human lives the pieces. Soldiers on Strings.