Yemen: Saudi backs Sunni revolution against Shiite Houthi Rebels linked to Iran

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Yemen Voice reports that Wahhabi Saudi Arabia has launched an all out political offensive against the Shiite Houthi rebels who have taken over the north of the country. The Houthis took the capital last September but kept the government in place until recently, when they made a full coup and established a governing council. Saudi Arabia sees the Houthis as cat’s paws of Iran, but this point of view is a vast exaggeration.

Zaidi Shiites in Yemen, about a third of the population, do not belong to the same branch of Shiite Islam as most Iranians, and they are a local Yemeni movement reacting against Sunni and secular dominance of politics. (About two-thirds of Yemenis are Sunni Muslims and they predominate in the south of the country.)

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, elected in a referendum in February 2012, was forced to resign and was placed under house arrest. This weekend, Mansour Hadi escaped to the southern city of Aden, which is not in Houthi hands. In fact, several southern provinces have announced that they would not take orders from a Houthi government in the capital of Sanaa. The Houthis have subdued some nearby Sunni provinces by main force, but likely cannot forcibly take over the whole country. In the capital of Sanaa on Saturday, crowds demonstrated in favor of President Mansour Hadi.

Even before that happened, Yemen Voice alleges, Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman was trying to put together an anti-Houthi coalition. It would include the secular, nationalist General National Congress Party, which had ruled the country until last September, and its rival, the Islah (Reform) Party, a party of the religious right. Both have been sidelined by the tribal, rural Zaidi Shiites who flooded into the capital and have also taken other cities, including Ta’izz.

The Saudi-backed coalition also included Sunni tribal leaders in Maarib and Baida, oil-producing regions that are dead set against Shiite rule. One problem: some of the regions the Saudis are said to be encouraging to rise up against the Houthis have al-Qaeda cells, and if Yemen falls into civil war, they will reap the consequences.

Mansour Hadi has the support of provincial governors and their bureaucracies in the south, as well as of many in the public. Yemen has just been partitioned into a Shiite-dominated north and a Sunni-dominated south.

Meanwhile, the Yemeni economy continued its collapse, with oil revenues down in the past year by one billion dollars, to $1.6 billion instead of last year’s $2.6 billion. Political unrest and the destruction of pipelines was the major cause of the fall, though the lower oil prices of recent months have also hurt.

Saudi Arabian interference in the domestic affairs of the Zaidi Shiite north of Yemen is widely held to have produced the militant Zaid movement as a local phenomenon. It began clashing with the nationalist government (which was allied with the Saudis) in 2004. After the 2011 revolution, which removed a president for life, the state institutions were weakened, including the Army, allowing the Houthis to take over last fall.

The struggle in Yemen is now joined, with two fairly clear camps. One side is the nationalists of Mansour Hadi and possibly a new alliance between them and the Sunni fundamentalist Islah. The other is the Shiite Houthis. One has the south, the other the north. The future of Yemen depends on whether they go to open war or negotiate, and who ultimately wins.

Related video:

Reuters: “Anti-Houthi protest in Yemen as former leader escapes house arrest”

8 Responses

  1. How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”

    The fatal moment predicted by Prince Bandar may now have come for many Shia, with Saudi Arabia playing an important role in bringing it about by supporting the anti-Shia jihad in Iraq and Syria. Since the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on 10 June, Shia women and children have been killed in villages south of Kirkuk, and Shia air force cadets machine-gunned and buried in mass graves near Tikrit.

    This article points out direct Saudi involvement with the Sunni in Yemen.

    The commentator Thom Hartmann makes the claim that this is part of the Saudi support of other Sunni groups in the region including ISIS.

    Thom references the July 13, 2014 article in the Independent by Patric Cockburn

    link to independent.co.uk

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country
    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany

    • Not just the ME alone. Many believe half the mess in Pakistan of Sunni fundamentalists and extremists for decades is thanks to KSA, besides the Pak govt/military’s geo-political attacks, religious sect leanings and prejudicial apathy for minorities.

      The Pak Shia minority face a program of sectarian cleansing since the 80’s. It became a proxy war with Iran, like in the 90’s, but Iran has since left the theatre where sectarian violence is dominated by Sunni militants and now self-perpetual. Some attack the state and majority Sunni too, seen as blowback. Still Shiites, and other minorities, take the brunt of it as seen with the recent bombing, gunmen and target killings.

      Wahhabi/Salafi influence spread far and wide like Indonesia, and Canada named it being responsible for most militant’s ideology. Yemen is KSA’s backyard, but meddling may cause more harm than good like how they helped ruin the Syrian revolution. Calling it a Sunni revolution sounds problematic.

  2. How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”

    The fatal moment predicted by Prince Bandar may now have come for many Shia, with Saudi Arabia playing an important role in bringing it about by supporting the anti-Shia jihad in Iraq and Syria. Since the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on 10 June, Shia women and children have been killed in villages south of Kirkuk, and Shia air force cadets machine-gunned and buried in mass graves near Tikrit.

  3. In an oversimplification of the situation I would argue that the House of Saud is the root of most problems in the Middle East, simply because they seek regional Hegemony.

  4. Doesn’t Israel have its hegemony in the Middle East?

    Doesn’t UK & USA want their hegemony not only in the Middle East, but also around the globe?

    So, what is wrong with Saudi Arabia’s hegemony around its neighborhood?

    Oh! Then, “House of Saud is the root of most problems in the Middle East”. As you, see it.

    Why Israel & Other powers, from half way around the world are not root of most problems in the Middle East”?

  5. “Zaidi Shiites (…) are a local Yemeni movement”: not exactly an informed comment.

  6. Not to defend KSA’s paranoia and animosity, but an Iranian official also exaggerated their support for the Houthis and arrogantly declared that Yemen was theirs too. You can bet such statements raised alarm bells for KSA.

    The Houthis overplayed this and could have been more pragmatic, and frankly still can considering that they still negotiate with the UN and the West at least. Can’t say the same for the other groups.

  7. Saudi Arabia’s goal is to continue its monarchy in all ways. But nothing will stop it from losing its power, control and wealth when the oil era ends in 15 or 20 years or not. Saudi had the 4th largest number, 5% of foreign students in the US on S-1 Visas, 2008-2012 following China 25%, India 15% and South Korea 10%.
    link to brookings.edu

    I guess that the ruling class is do some thinking. The educated could end the monarchy?

    Having worked in Saudi Arabia and Iran in the late 70’s I found the Iranians intelligent, with wisdom and religious without proselytizing. In Saudi Arabia the ruling class, upper class are quite arrogant with little knowledge, intelligence. There was basically no middle class, the working class was often friendly.

    My observation is that religions and governments that put men above women will eventually fail. It’s the corrupt male addictions to power, control and wealth that destroy the them. Religions and governments that include women in the hierarchy will nurture more caring individuals provided that the women follow their maternal instincts and not fall into the addictions of men.

    Capitalism and competition are killing Mother Earth. More cooperation, make things last longer and less materialism.

    The freeway traffic continues to grow with exits backing up onto the freeways.

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