What In The World Just Happened In Yemen?

Everything you need to know about the Yemen unrest, explained.

Yemen Houthi Rebels

If you haven't been living under a rock lately, you’d know something is terribly, terribly wrong in Yemen.

After about two days of violent clashes with government forces in the capital city of Sana'a, members of a militant group attacked and seized control of the presidential palace.

The development is, of course, huge and important, but it can become a little confusing with the news being updated nearly every hour of the day. Therefore, here are some answers to some of the most basic questions you might have on the issue.

Who are the rebels?

Houthi Rebels Yemen

The rebels who took control of the presidential palace are called the Houthis, who adhere to a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism.

Although the Houthis are predominantly live in the north and northwest regions of Yemen, they have expanded to other parts of the country, especially since 2011, when the Arab Spring triggered a major political unrest.

The group has long complained that they have been marginalized and persecuted by Yemen's Sunni majority and has been battling national military forces for control.

Is ISIS involved?

ISIS Yemen

No – at least not in the presidential palace siege.

The Islamic State is a self-professed Sunni Muslim terrorist organization – one which has sworn to kill not just non-Muslims but also people belonging to other Muslim sects such as Shiites. And Houthis are Shiites so it won’t make any sense for the ISIS to work with the enemy.

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CNN, however, claims to have found a connection – somewhere. According to the oft-sensational media outlet:

“The Syria-based terror group ISIS is active and recruiting inside the Middle Eastern state of Yemen and there is now a "real competition" between ISIS and the Yemen-based terror group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.”

Journalist Jeremy Scahill perhaps had the best reaction to this news story:

Who’s the president? What has he done?

Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi

The Houthi’s leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi protested against President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi last August, demanding the return of fuel subsidies that had hit the country's poor. He also called for the replacement of the "corrupt" government with one that acknowledged and respected Yemen's various ethnic, political and religious factions.

The protests worked, to some extent. On Sept. 2, Hadi dismissed his government and promised reversal of austerity measures. However, the Houthis rejected the measures deeming them as insufficient and refuse to back out.

A week later, the crisis took an uglier turn when security forces opened fire on Houthi supporters in Sanaa, killing several people.

More violent clashes and failed agreements with the government occurred in the following months and ultimately on Jan. 19 a fierce battle broke out between Houthi fighters and soldiers near the presidential palace in Sanaa.

Does U.S. have anything to do with this?


No and yes.

It’s not just the current government that the Houthis oppose. They also deem the United States – which has been actively bombing Yemen for the past decade or so – a major threat.

Although the drone strikes are supposed to target al-Qaeda militants only, in December 2009, Houthi spokesmen reportedly claimed the attacks, including 29 air raids which killed 120 people in northern Yemeni cities, were carried out against their own forces.

While the major blame is on the Yemeni government alone for the latest unrest, the U.S. and its drone strikes cannot be ruled out.

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Okay, so should we be worried?

Again, no and yes.

After almost five days of fighting, Yemen's embattled president has reached a tentative agreement with Houthi rebels to end the standoff in Sanaa.

The militant group agreed to withdraw its forces from the presidential palace after Hadi issued a statement issued on Wednesday, saying the country’s constitution had been a source of disagreement between him and the group and it would be re-written. He also guaranteed more political power to the Houthis.

However, we shouldn’t forget that there have been various failed agreements between the two forces and Hadi hasn’t really specified how much power he intends to keep and give away.

The decision will obviously have affects beyond the country’s borders. Yemen is an active partner in the United States’ war against terror. Therefore, it matters a lot to the White House folks as to who is granted how much power in the Yemeni government.