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Yemen Melts Down: Is There a Solution?

Ambassador Stephen Seche, Attorney Haykal Bafana, and Journalist Peter Salisbury discuss whether Yemen is becoming a proxy battleground in the Sunni-Shiite conflict now raging across the Middle East.

Date & Time

Apr. 3, 2015
9:00am – 10:00am

Yemen Melts Down: Is There a Solution?

Ever since Saudi Arabia launched a campaign of airstrikes on Yemen last week, observers of the region have been keen to know how events will play out on the ground in the Arab world’s poorest country. Is Yemen becoming another proxy battleground in the Sunni-Shiite conflict now raging across much of the Middle East? Will Al Qaeda benefit from the chaos of this war?

Join us BY PHONE as three experts on Yemen and the Middle East analyze this rapidly escalating conflict.

The Takeaways

1.    Yemen is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. After a week of fighting, prices for rice and wheat have quadrupled. Diesel, which is used to power Yemen’s water pumps, is becoming increasingly scarce.

2.    It is unclear what Saudi Arabia’s end goals are. The big question is whether the air campaign will pressure the Houthis into peaceful negotiations. If force fails, a regional, diplomatic solution is needed.

3.    Even before the Houthi takeover, the vast majority of Yemenis were upset by Hadi’s inability to implement positive change and reforms. Now that he’s fled the country, not even military power can win back his legitimacy.  

When Houthi rebels took control of Sana’a this past September, it seemed that the Middle East would witness another forceful change of power. Initially, many hoped that the takeover would result in a forceful, yet peaceful, brokering of political power and introduce sweeping reforms. Today, that hope is gone; the scope of the conflict has increased and Yemen is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Speaking from his home in Sana’a, Mr. Bafana described a bleak and chaotic situation. “Right now,” he admitted, “I don’t know who is the government.” Leaders from both the Houthi rebels and the Hadi administration are still broadcasting commands and rhetoric throughout the country, creating divisions and uncertainty within the country’s army and government administrations. Further, in contrast to the constant broadcasting of the competing factions, Saudi Arabia has failed to inform Yemeni citizens about its ongoing air strikes. With warplanes and anti-aircraft batteries now firing throughout the city, there is a growing resentment for local and regional powers. There is “no hope for diplomatic efforts” Mr. Bafana declared, as peace is being pursued solely through arms, not dialogue.

Having started  in Sana’s, the chaos has spread to the country’s south, and Mr. Salisbury described the scene “in and around Aden” as “lots of violence.” Although President Hadi has fled the city, tribal militias and the longstanding Southern Separatist Movement are still fighting the Houthi advance in the south. While these groups now have an abundance of light and heavy weaponry -- left behind in Hadi’s presidential palace -- the lack of humanitarian goods threatens to undermine their efforts. “Food has become basically unavailable” Mr. Salisbury claimed and the city’s “main water system has…run dry.” While Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have been quick to bomb Houthi rebels, Mr. Salisbury lambasted these actors for providing virtually no humanitarian aid.
Ambassador Seche echoed this criticism, stating that Yemeni’s are “being neglected” by the Gulf countries. He went on to criticize Saudi Arabia for the seeming lack of focus in its mission; is their goal to rebuff Iranian influence, demonstrate the strength of King Salman, or demonstrate Gulf independence? Whatever the end-goal may be, the U.S. is, in his opinion, “being dragged along by a poorly conceived” campaign.

“[The U.S.] couldn’t stop this,” Amb. Seche conceded. The “Saudi’s were intent” to act on what is seen as an incursion into their sphere of influence. As the situation appears to be worsening, Amb. Seche assured listeners that, for better or worse, the U.S. would not deepen its engagement in Yemen. It is up to regional powers broker reestablish peace.

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Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more


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