Why is Yemen not receiving more international aid?

The war in Yemen and its actors

The war in Yemen is usually discussed in a very simplified way in Western media without illuminating the complex background of the conflict. It is mostly portrayed as a war between Sunnis with the Saudi / Emirati-led military coalition on the one hand and Shiites with Iran on the other. In this portrayal, Yemeni actors are often only understood as puppets of their foreign protective power. Another widespread and very simplistic view describes the war as a conflict between the Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized Hadi government that was put out of Sanaa. This image of the war was last confirmed at the UN-brokered peace negotiations in Stockholm in December 2018, as only these two conflicting parties took part in the talks. However, the reality is much more complex and affects a large number of other actors who could significantly influence the war in Yemen and its continuation, or vice versa, work towards an end. The contribution by Anne-Linda Amira Augustin, who works as a consultant in the European diplomatic mission of the Southern Transitional Council, is devoted to the various political and military actors involved in the Yemeni crisis, gives an overview of the most important key points for the emergence of the Yemen war and shows how progressive fragmentation of the country since 2015.

Anne-Linda Amira Augustin is a consultant in the European diplomatic mission of the Southern Transitional Council in Berlin. She did her doctorate at the Philipps University of Marburg on generational relations within the southern movement and everyday resistance in southern Yemen.

Old grievances and the beginning of the war in 2015

In the protests of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, the resentment of large parts of the Yemeni population culminated, the cause of which lies in the decades of dictatorship, mismanagement, corruption and oppression by the regime of Ali Abdallah Salih. The initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council initiated a transition process at the end of 2011, which ended Salih's 33-year presidency in November 2011 and granted him immunity. Salih took action against political opponents during his tenure. In the 2000s in particular, the conflicts in the country increased and with it also its brutal actions, especially against two groups, the Houthis and the southern movement.

In the 2000s Salih led against the Houthis who made themselves followers of God (Ansar Allah) call six wars. The movement originated from the group "Believer Youth", founded in 1992, whose main goal was to promote the Zaidite faith [1] was in the Saada region. For decades, the Houthis were excluded from the political process and their area of ​​origin, the Saada Governorate, from economic development by Salih's central government. Hence, the Houthis denounced the central government for its corrupt practices. In addition, the Houthis, the majority of whom belong to the Zaidite faith, felt strongly oppressed in terms of their tradition and identity. They saw a systematic suppression of their Zaidite beliefs by the central government. This impression was made worse by the establishment of a Wahhabi teaching institute in Dammaj in Saada, which was supported by Saudi funds. Foreign influence in Yemen was also denounced by the Houthis, especially the cooperation between the Yemeni government and the USA in the so-called war on terror.

The second group, which Salih vehemently marginalized and suppressed during his tenure, are South Yemeni actors, especially the southern movement, which made a name for itself with its first demonstrations in 2007. The Republic of Yemen has only existed since Yemeni unity on May 22, 1990. At that time, the Yemeni Arab Republic (JAR, also North Yemen for short), which emerged in 1962 from the Mutawakilite Kingdom of Yemen and of which Salih had been president since 1978, was united for the first time the Marxist-oriented People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (VDRJ, also South Yemen for short), which emerged in 1967 from the Federation and the Protectorate of South Arabia, which were under British colonial rule for 129 years. Only four years after the unification of Yemen, a war broke out between the army units of the VDRJ and JAR, which had not been merged until then, which the VDRJ faction lost. After this war, thousands of South Yemenis lost their jobs in the army and civil service and were forced into retirement. Land in South Yemen as well as the income from the oil business (80 percent of Yemeni oil is in South Yemen) was taken over by people close to the Salih regime. The forced retirees formed the basis of the southern movement in 2007. The grievances in southern Yemen and the resulting demands for renewed statehood as before 1990 are referred to as the southern question.

The southern question, as well as the Saada question, was given special attention in separate working groups at the conference of the national dialogue, which took place in Sanaa from 2013 to the beginning of 2014. The national dialogue was part of the transition process based on the initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which, in addition to the termination of Salih's rule, also provided for the election of a new president to lead the transition process in Yemen. The South Yemeni Abdurabbuh Mansour Hadi, who had been acting Vice-President at Salih's side since 1994, was the only candidate to be admitted to this election. In South Yemen this election was boycotted by large parts of the population.

A major topic during the National Dialogue was the introduction of federal state structures that were intended to give the individual regions more autonomy and to secure the move away from a centrally organized state. Since no agreement could be reached within the National Dialogue on the division of the regions, President Hadi had the decision made by a committee he had set up and which consisted of persons close to him. The decision was made in the shortest possible time in favor of a division into six federal regions, four in the former North Yemen and two in South Yemen. The decision to divide South Yemen into two regions met with great resistance from supporters of the southern movement, as their representatives did not take part in the National Dialogue, despite a participation of 50 percent South Yemenis and a working group on the southern question. The reason for their absence was that even before the talks began, the initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council stipulated that the outcome of the national dialogue must in any case preserve the territorial integrity of the Republic of Yemen. In addition, it was assumed that the division of South Yemen into two regions was an attempt to weaken the South and thus the efforts to regain statehood. The movement responded to this decision with street strikes in the South Yemeni port city of Aden, the former capital of the VDRJ. The Houthis were also dissatisfied with the division of the regions, since the region in which Saada was supposed to be located was not guaranteed access to the Red Sea, which the Houthis, however, campaigned for in the National Dialogue.

When the economic situation worsened in February 2014 to September 2014 after the end of the National Dialogue, which ended without a consensus on the restructuring of the country, murders and attacks continued to shape everyday life and the implementation of the results of the National Dialogue was not started, the resentment in the population increased. The Houthis were able to take advantage of this situation to establish themselves as a revolutionary power against a Hadi government that was viewed as corrupt. With the help of their once toughest adversary, former President Salih, who was able to remain in the country because of his guaranteed immunity, the Houthis quickly advanced into Sanaa from the north and captured the city in September 2014, where they under President Hadi and his government Put pressure on until they finally forced Hadi into house arrest at the end of 2014 and he had to abdicate. However, Hadi was able to flee to Aden in February 2015, where he withdrew his resignation. Troops loyal to the Houthis and Salih followed him south, whereupon he fled to Saudi Arabia. In the South Yemeni governorate of Lahij they captured the largest air force base and the al-Anad military camp and continued to advance into Aden and the surrounding areas, where the fiercest fighting of the Yemen war took place until mid-2015. After President Hadi asked for help in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi / Emirati-led military coalition intervened in the war by bombing Yemeni cities and important military facilities. The protection of the Hadi government and its reinstatement in Sanaa was named as the official aim of the intervention. The intervention should protect the Yemeni state from the Houthis and thereby stabilize it. The results and demands that emerged from the National Dialogue have been deemed to have failed since the beginning of the war in 2015 at the latest.

Resistance to the advance of the Houthi / Salih troops rose very quickly in southern Yemen. Since the South Yemeni army was disbanded in the war of 1994, vigilante groups were formed from the population and from the southern movement, who fought under the name of the southern resistance. Opponents of the Houthis, such as Salafist groups, also joined the resistance. The Houthi / Salih troops committed serious human rights violations in Aden and the surrounding areas until Aden was liberated in July 2015 from the southern resistance and with the support of the military coalition, including the Emirati ground forces. Since then, the front lines in central Yemen, especially in the city of Taizz and later also in the port city of Hodaidah on the Red Sea, have become bogged down.

Fragmentation in the Yemen War: Three Governments and a Variety of Actors

In 2015, the first UN-brokered peace negotiations took place in Geneva, which, like the talks in Kuwait, failed a year later. Based on UN resolution 2201, the peace process is focused on only two actors, the Houthis and the Hadi government, which does not correspond to the local conditions. The prerequisite for this dichotomy is the often created impression that the war is being waged between the Houthis and the Hadi government, with the Hadi government in particular being assigned various groups that pursue completely contrary political goals to it. The war pushed the fragmentation of the country that existed before 2015 even further, and with it the strengthening of local power and government structures, which made a return to centralized state structures, as was common before 2011, impossible.

The Houthi-ruled areas

In the war jargon of the Saudi-Emirati-led military coalition, Yemen is mostly divided into “liberated” and “non-liberated” areas. The so-called "non-liberated" areas are under the rule of the Houthis, who de facto rule the majority of the population in Yemen, as they were able to spread their power over the populous highlands in the north. Since taking power, the Houthis have taken over the existing institutional and political structures and have been able to establish additional government structures at their head. In August 2016, a counter-government called the “Government of National Salvation” with 27 ministers was established. A national council of 551 members is led by a five-member presidential council. The fragile coalition with Salih lasted until the end of 2017, when the Houthis murdered him on December 4, 2017 for terminating the joint alliance. Members of Salih's party of the General People's Congress are integrated into these quasi-state government structures. Other party members, especially those from southern and central Yemen, mostly work on the side of Hadi. It is estimated that around 100,000 supporters fight on the side of the Houthis.

The Southern Transitional Council

The so-called "liberated" areas include all of southern Yemen and the areas of central Yemen that are between the Houthi-ruled areas and southern Yemen, such as parts of the Tihama, Taizz and Marib. In the international press and in diplomatic circles, these so-called liberated areas are often defined as an anti-Houthi bloc, and the very different goals and interests of the many actors are usually completely overlooked.

After the liberation of Aden, President Hadi made particular use of support from South Yemenis, placing them in high government offices or as soldiers at the front. Because of South Yemen's efforts for independence, which many South Yemeni politicians and governors also support, Hadi dismissed some South Yemeni cabinet ministers and governors in April 2017, including Aydarus al-Zubaydi, the former governor of Aden. After mass protests at the beginning of May 2017, he began to set up the Southern Transitional Council from the Southern Movement and the Southern Resistance, which now consists of a presidential council of 24 people, a national assembly of 303 people, and numerous departments that are working, among other things, on drafting a constitution for an independent South Yemen , seven missions abroad as well as numerous local councils at the provincial, district and county level throughout South Yemen. These government-like structures are intended to prepare for and also enable the independence of South Yemen. There are also other groups that belong to the Southern Movement, but are independent of the Southern Transitional Council, but share with it the same political goal of independence for Southern Yemen.

In addition, the majority of South Yemeni soldiers are fighting on the fronts on the side of the military coalition, most of whom are referred to in the European media as "Hadi-loyal troops". In South Yemen, the numerous militias that formed in 2015 under the name of South Resistance against the Houthis were institutionalized and trained with the help of the United Arab Emirates. There are now more than 70,000 South Yemenis in the Security Belt Forcesas well as in the ShabwaniandHadrami Elite Forces active. These partly paramilitary troops, which among other things have police functions, are under the command of the military coalition. Since 2016, they have driven al-Qaeda fighters from South Yemen. The Giant’s Brigadeswho are also under the command of the coalition, are mostly deployed on the fronts, especially in Hodaidah. However, these troops fight under the flag of the former VDRJ, strive for the independence of South Yemen and see the South Transitional Council as their political representative.

The Hadi government

The interests of the Southern Transitional Council are contrary to the interests of the Hadi government, which maintains the unity of the Republic of Yemen. President Hadi had to resign under pressure from the Houthis in late 2014 and was placed under house arrest until he was able to flee to Aden in February 2015, where he withdrew his resignation and proclaimed Aden as the interim capital. When the Houthis and Salih troops advanced to Aden, he fled to Saudi Arabia, where he received support in the fight against the Houthis and was able to rebuild his government in exile, which has since mostly operated from the Saudi capital and has little or no presence in Aden shows.

Hadi's closest national ally is currently the Yemeni Assembly for Reform (Islah), which also includes General Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar. In April 2016, Hadi named the general his vice-president. Al-Ahmar was the leading general in the fight against the Houthis in the 2000s and close confidante of Salih until he sided with the youth movement and against Salih during the 2011 Arab Spring protests. Because of the numerous wars in Saada, he is not well respected by the Houthis. In South Yemen he is held responsible for the brutal conduct of the army during the 1994 war and his role in the seizure of land in South Yemen. The Islah party is particularly strong in central Yemen, in Taizz and Marib, where its supporters fight against the Houthis. Taizz is now completely under the control of the party. The United Arab Emirates-funded Abu Al-Abbas Salafist Brigade, which operates in Taizz, was forced to withdraw from parts of the city in April 2019. On the side of the Hadi government, units of the former Yemeni military, which switched sides after the murder of Salih by the Houthis in December 2017, are also fighting. The so-called Guardian of the Republic, led by Salih's nephew Tariq Salih, are now fighting on Hadi's side. The Marib Governorate, where local tribes, the Islah Party and members of the General People's Congress have strong presences, can be counted as a pro-Hadi area. Furthermore, various local groups are striving for more autonomy. Particular mention should be made of the Tihama movement and its resistance group, which is also fighting against the Houthis on the side of the military coalition in Hodaidah, as well as actors in al-Mahra, which is bordering on Oman.

The last time on 27.The Yemeni parliament elected in April 2003, originally consisting of 301 members, consisted mainly of supporters of the General People's Congress - the Salihs and Hadis parties - and representatives of the Islah party. The Houthis declared parliament dissolved in February 2015 and no more meetings have taken place since the end of March 2015. Hadi tried several times to revive parliament and to convene a meeting of parliamentarians, many of whom now live abroad, or who now belong to the Houthis or the Southern Transitional Council. A meeting of 145 parliamentarians could only take place with protection from Saudi Arabia in the city of Sayun in the east of the country in April 2019, which was accompanied by street protests by the Southern Movement and supporters of the Southern Transitional Council.

The Hadi government is often given the additional designation “legitimate” or “internationally recognized” government in international diplomacy and the media. After Salih's resignation, Hadi was put up as a consensus candidate in 2012, making him the only candidate for the presidential election. He was only supposed to guide the country through the transition phase. His term of office should have ended in 2014 with new elections after the end of the National Dialogue. However, these elections were never implemented.

Regional and international actors and their influence on the war

Behind every major national force there is a regional power that intervenes enormously in local events and thus has a decisive influence on the war in Yemen and its continuation. Three states in particular should be mentioned here that play an essential role in Yemen: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran. Iran supports the Houthis primarily with military-strategic advice and arms deliveries. However, the relationship between the Houthis and Iran should not be equated with Iran's influence in Lebanon, Syria or Iraq. Iran has significantly less influence on the Houthis and thus also on direct events in Yemen. However, in recent years the Houthis have increasingly turned to Iran, which is due on the one hand to the military pressure of the enemy, but also to the increasing politicization of the two largest Muslim denominations, the Shiites and the Sunnis.

Together with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia leads the military coalition, consisting mostly of Arab states. Saudi Arabia's main interest is securing its southern borders, which border Saada. Saudi Arabia has influenced political events in Yemen throughout modern Yemeni history and supported various actors in the country at different times, especially during times of war or conflict. The kingdom is trying to secure its influence in Yemen by fighting the Houthis and thus curb Iran's influence in the region. In addition, Saudi Arabia wants to secure its geostrategic interests in the region. This also includes the attempts to create an alternative access to the Indian Ocean for the oil business and thus to become independent of the Strait of Hormuz. So began to build oil pipelines in al-Mahra. Saudi Arabia has built up a strong military presence here in recent months, although al-Mahra, the easternmost governorate in Yemen, is furthest away from the events of the war.

The United Arab Emirates pursue an independent policy of interests, which is particularly focused on South Yemen, where it financially supports the establishment of political and military structures. The background to the turn to South Yemen is, on the one hand, the bad relationship with the Islah party, with which Hadi forms a coalition, because it combines elements of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood, which is not acceptable for the Emirates for domestic political reasons. Here interests meet with large parts of the South Yemeni population, in which the Islah party does not enjoy a good reputation because, for many, the party has had a negative impact on socio-cultural change since the 1990s. This common interest makes it easier for the Emirates to keep southern Yemen free from the influence of the Houthis and Islah. On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates are also pursuing geostrategic and commercial interests in South Yemen, particularly those relating to the expansion and development of trade and sea routes on the Bab al-Mandab Strait. The strait separates the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden from each other and represents one of the most important areas for international shipping. The port of Aden, one of the largest natural seaports in the world, could play a very important role here in the future.

The military coalition receives strategic advice and logistical support in particular from the USA, Great Britain and France, which are arguably the most influential international actors in the Yemen war. You intervene directly in the war. But Germany, which at the end of March 2019 again extended a ban on the delivery of weapons to Saudi Arabia by a further six months, is involved in arms exports via third countries and, like other arms-exporting countries, is an actor in the crisis. Like other states, Russia is pursuing geostrategic interests in the Bab al-Mandab Strait and has tried in recent years to maintain good relations with all Yemeni actors, most recently a move towards the Southern Transitional Council has been observed. Russia decided in March 2019 to open a consulate in Aden.

Is the end of the war in sight?

The preliminary talks for peace negotiations in Stockholm in December 2018, which brought the two warring parties - the Hadi government and the Houthis - together again for the first time in more than two years, gave a glimmer of hope for an agreement and a revival of the political process. The problem with the Stockholm talks was the narrow framework of the negotiations, which did not bring any other actors to the negotiating table, although a large number of other actors are directly or indirectly involved in the war and are not represented by either Hadi or the Houthis. In particular, the Southern Transitional Council worked towards participation as the third negotiating party, but this was rejected by the Hadi government and the Houthis. The regional powers, which militarily intervene directly in the war and are therefore active warring parties, were also not involved in the talks. Regardless of the parties that took part in the Stockholm talks, six months after Stockholm is hardly any significant progress on the points[2] which one agreed on, or even a solution to these points, so that the Stockholm talks are on the verge of failure. A return to the negotiating table seems to be in the face of new escalations in the fighting and a shift in the front lines[3] to be a long way off.

[1] The Zaidiya is a Shiite religion in Islam.

[2] An agreement was reached on (1) the withdrawal of the troops from the fiercely contested port city of Hodaidah, where a demilitarized zone under UN supervision is to be created, (2) the exchange of prisoners and (3) the creation of a committee to determine the future of the hotly contested city of Taizz is supposed to discuss. From May 11 to 14, 2019, the Houthis initiated a unilateral withdrawal from the ports of Hodaidah, Saleef and Ras Issa and handed over the ports to the local coast guard. The UN welcomed the move, but people close to Hadi claimed that it was a farce and that the coast guards belong to the Houthis.

[3] Since April 2019, there has been increased fighting between the Houthis and South Yemeni troops in the border area with the South Yemeni governorates of al-Dhali, Lahij and Abyan.