Middle Eastern studiesRegional studiesSecurity studies

Saudi-Yemeni Political Relations during the Political Transitions From the Perspective of “Realism” & “Dependency” theories

Prepared by: Abdul Latif Haider – Yemeni journalist and researcher in media and international relations – 

  • Arab Democratic Center


The paper is an analytical critical approach that examines the nature of the quality of Yemeni-Saudi political relations in the conditions of transformations in the Yemeni political scene. The paper seeks to study the factors and variables that contribute to controlling the rhythm of relations between the two countries from the perspective of international relations theories, the two “classic realism” and “dependency” theories. , By tracking the historical movement of the role of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in times of major political transitions in Yemen during the period 1962-2015. The paper aims to present a critical approach to the nature of these relations that contributes to explaining the nature of the ongoing conflict in Yemen since late 2014. The importance of the paper highlights that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the most prominent player in the Yemeni war that has continued for four years, creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, in what appears to be the reality of the war. Without a horizon limiting the collapse of what is left of the state.


This paper examines the Saudi-Yemeni Political Relations during the Political Transitions from the Perspective of “Realism” & “Dependency” theories. The paper studies the factors and the implications that effect the political relations between the tow states. It also traces the historical circle of the role that Saudi kingdom plays in Yemen in such situations, coups, revolutions, civic war, elections through out the period 1962-2015. The paper aims to provide some indicators that contributes understating the ongoing conflict in Yemen for 4 years.


The nature of the conflict in Yemen since 2014 is a natural reflection that embodies the relationship between Yemen and its Gulf surroundings, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which represents the largest country in the Arabian Peninsula region and the largest exporter of oil in the world [1] and has regional and international weight and shares land and sea borders with Yemen. The poor country located in its southern border and suffers from economic and political problems and successive crises, and Yemeni-Saudi political relations are historically characterized by taking many paths ruled by the nature of the political system in Sana’a at every historical stage, which gave it a state of fluctuation, up and down, on these relations, in addition to Other political and historical factors played a role in the unstable situation between them ” 2 .

As a result of the strategic position enjoyed by Yemen through its supervision of the Bab al-Mandab strait, which is one of the most important maritime routes for transporting oil from the Gulf to its markets in Europe and North America, which gives it the ability to possess a source of influence in the external field and enhances the importance of its international position 3 . This makes it of great interest to Saudi Arabia, which views it as an integral part of its national security in particular and the Gulf region in general, and this is reflected in its relations with Yemen and constitutes a strategic dimension of its role in the region and enables it to play an influential international role, especially with the growing Iranian activity in the region. The region, which it considers a threat to its existence.

The tragic humanitarian situation that Yemen is currently witnessing due to the conflict raging for nearly three years, as a result of the Houthi coup in alliance with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh – who was recently killed by the Houthi group – against the legitimacy of President Abd Rabbu Mansour, which led to the intervention of the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia To restore legitimacy, as the conflict left and continues to leave behind the scourge of war, destruction, and the spread of diseases and epidemics that have claimed the lives of thousands of Yemenis, and international reports say that 17 million people are threatened by famine and need urgent assistance.

That is, 62% of the population 4 , and those numbers formed the tragic humanitarian situation the focus of the researcher’s interest in researching the dimensions of the political and military conflict waged by Yemen, and Saudi Arabia represents the most prominent player in the field, and studying it from the perspective of international relations, by tracking the most prominent historical stations that have emerged The role of Saudi Arabia as an influencing factor in the nature of the major transformations in the Yemeni arena, most notably the military intervention “Decisive Storm” to understand the nature of the conflict sequentially throughout the history of the two countries’ relations.

The origins and philosophical analysis of my theory (realism and dependency)

Thucides (about 460 – 390 BC), an Athenian military commander who lived in the fifth century, and Hans Morgenthau (1904-1979), a German lawyer, are the most prominent classical realist writers on international affairs. Engola Machiavelli and Karl Clausewitz are among her main supporters and writers. Their writings are concerned with issues related to order, justice and change at the local, regional and international levels. Classical realists have holistic concepts of politics as they are concerned with similarities without differences between domestic politics and international affairs (5) [2] . Realist theory is based on the assumption of chaos in the global system, This chaos makes countries victim to each other.

Realism explains the state’s condition quite similar to the human condition, for the human instinct tends to be violent, severe and controlling, as well as states seek to control, influence and use force to achieve their interests and enhance their material strength in a way that qualifies them to extend their influence and control and ensure their superiority over the other. Therefore, chaos, power, sovereignty, conflict and the centralization of the state are among the most prominent concepts of realism that cannot be understood outside the framework of these terms. Realists also see that the elements of the state’s material constituents are among the most important factors of state power. The larger the population, the size of the state, the abundance and diversity of its natural resources, the stronger the state’s strength and progress, in addition to the geographical factors and the natural terrain of states.

Realists have a direct answer to the problem of the global order (order), which is the effective central authority. Governments that maintain borders, enforce laws, and protect citizens make internal politics more peaceful and qualitatively different from foreign policy, while the international arena remains in a state of chaos in the global system. Countries seek to exploit each other ” (6) . [3] Therefore, the survival of states depends on their material capabilities, their qualitative and quantitative superiority, and their alliances with other countries. Power in relation to realism is the only means to control an anarchic global space.

Realists believe that the state of chaos in the world cannot be controlled, and there is no sovereign authority that works to enforce the provisions of the law and ensures the punishment of the aggressor, and there is no one who regulates the behavior of states towards one another, as states seek to achieve their interests without regard for laws or ethics. For realists, the state represents supreme sovereignty that is not supreme by authority. Realism also sees that there is no permanent peace in the world, and war and power are the means for states to make their greatness, strength, and even survival. Instead of focusing on disarming states in order to bring peace, states should seek to enhance their military capabilities and prepare for war, and this is the opportunity for states to create a strong entity that stands in the face of any potential aggression against them. Indeed, war is the means of states in striking their opponents and preventing other countries from To become powerful states so as not to pose a threat to them (7) .

Machiavelli believes in his famous theory that the end justifies the means that the state must break all its promises and pledges in the event that it finds its interests in this, it is better to create fear and terror in others than to be loved, and therefore Machiavelli is accused of being an immoral thinker because he calls for backsliding by covenants and covenants and He sees it as having value in the behavior of states, and contrasts it with Thomas Hobbes’s view of the aggressiveness of the human nature and the nature of the state in the human endeavor to oppress, exploit and subjugate the other. Likewise, states do all against all (8) .

The pessimistic view of the realist perspective in its extreme projection of the human instinct on the entire body of the state is a unilateral thought in its perception of the world from the logic of me and what is below it is an enemy and excessive and unconditional force must be used in its confrontation. This trend contributes to fueling the flames of conflicts in the world and reduces the possibility of creating a margin for cooperation and international alliance. Decisive Storm is – according to realism – implemented by the Arab coalition in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia, which was launched on March 26, 2015 at the request of Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to restore legitimacy and end the coup and liberate cities from the control of the coup militias (9) . (4)In an effort to protect itself from any threat that poses a threat to its security, and embodies the realistic logic of Saudi Arabia in using force to impose its power, especially when the risks escalated near its borders represented by the Houthi group, which Saudi Arabia accuses of being backed by Iran to threaten its security, and despite the crimes and humanitarian disasters committed by the coalition in Yemen and the exorbitant cost of the war that innocent Yemenis pay the price for, the miserable humanitarian and living conditions, the spread of famine, the outbreak of disease, and the high toll of conflict victims, but realistic thought does not take into account any moral aspect as long as it represents the interest of the other side.

The theory of dependency in international relations is one of the intellectual trends of the critical school against the modernization theory and the emergence of the concepts of progress and backwardness. In the 1960s, the theory of dependency appeared on a group of Marxist theorists in the theses of the so-called neo-Marxism, including Samir Amin, François Cardsoa, André Frank, Allegri Emmanuel and Albich Arroll And Robert Burner and Garlis-Peterlheim. The theory is based on four main concepts represented in the criticism of the duality between capitalism’s promises of progress and a happy life for the human being and its control over the tools of production and the loss of humanity, and the concept of center-periphery theory, unequal exchange, and dependent bourgeoisie, which Marxists view as deepening class and an internal obstacle to imperialism. (10)    .

The theory represented an attempt to explain the backwardness experienced by the third world countries, as the theory emerged after the phase of liberation from the colonial powers that included the countries of Africa, the Arab world, the countries of Southeast Asia and Latin America after they were exploited and depleted by the colonial powers, which contributed to deepening the state of backwardness In those countries, the modernization theory believes that the solution lies in the efforts of the backward countries to catch up with the developed countries and save themselves from the reality in which they live, by adopting the capitalist system that will help them to get rid of the factors of underdevelopment and corruption that dominate them.

Critical Marxism seeks to resist capitalism and call for a state of continuous and permanent revolution in the struggle against its hegemony over the global and local economy, as Marxists believe that capitalism is behind the perpetuation of backwardness in the countries of the Third World, and theorists attribute the state of backwardness and dependence to several factors, including the control of the countries of the strong center over countries. The ocean, through its great ability to import the resources of those countries and then reprocess them and present them to them at exorbitant prices, and this works to deepen the state of control and supremacy of the central countries and raise the need and dependence on them by the countries of the ocean. The unequal exchange between the countries of the periphery and the center also contributes to the flow of trade volume, which creates a huge economic surplus in favor of the stronger influence of the central countries.(11) [5] .

Dependency theory divides the world into two parts: the center, which is the strong states, and the periphery, which are weak states affected by the forces of the center negatively. As the theory of dependency believes that we can only understand the reality of states through it to return to knowledge of their economic past and social history, and that their backwardness is not because they are weak or do not have resources. Capitalism is in the same historical situation, and that the currently developed countries were not developed before.

The Central Countries seek to protect their sovereign entity on their lands and their national interests inside and outside their borders by all different ways and means, as they work to increase their superiority and progress while the weak states, or the so-called marginal states, are negatively affected by the influence of the stronger countries and the strong state increases in strength and rise, while the weak states retreat. They are getting weak and backward. This makes it vulnerable to the influences of countries with stronger influence and control in order to protect their interests and enhance their political, economic, military and even cultural influence. The more weak states try to catch up with the stronger center states, the more they move away with huge capabilities that the weaker countries cannot catch up with, but rather turn into a consumer market that supports the control and influence of the stronger countries at the expense of their interests.

The earnest pursuit of Saudi Arabia to play a regional role and an international presence in the region, especially in light of the growth of other regional competing powers, in particular the influence of the Iranian project, which has become threatening the Gulf region in general and Saudi Arabia in particular after Iran expanded in four Arab capitals in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and recently Sana’a, and this It raised Saudi Arabia’s fear of a possible Iranian attack and endangering its security and status. Of course, it was reflected in its dealings with the regional and international environment in a way that serves its project that seeks to protect its interests and influence in the region, specifically in its relations with Yemen, as it is a strategic depth for its security and a background garden for settling external accounts that may be exposed to its interests.

Therefore, the Kingdom has endeavored to give the Yemeni issue special attention in its historical agenda, to ensure that it remains subject to its will as it wants it and not as dictated by its national project, and it seeks to influence the political decision by various means and methods available to interfere in its affairs and ensure that it responds to the interests of its influence. Therefore, it played a prominent role in the revolution of September 26, 1962 AD (12) (6) in supporting the monarchy in northern Yemen and proving its foundations against the nascent revolution that seeks to overthrow the monarchy and establish a just republican system based on the constitution, law and the people’s participation in power, which is considered The first source of authorities.

Therefore, it sought to abort the revolution and preserve the monarchy at the time that secured its loyalty, fearing the forces of the republic that might come up with a system inconsistent with its strategy regarding Yemen, and contribute to withdrawing the rug of Saudi influence in influencing the Yemeni political decision, and the war lasted for about five years between the forces of the revolution. Supported by the Egyptian regime to stabilize the foundations of the republic in light of the foreign campaigns it faced from the royalists backed by Saudi Arabia in confronting the forces of the revolution. It ended with the signing of the 1967 Khartoum Agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which stipulated that Egypt withdraw its forces from Yemen in exchange for Saudi Arabia stopping to support the royalists in the face of the revolution. Sums of money to tribal sheikhs in exchange for maintaining the loyalty of the tribal wing to them and influencing the political decision to be adapted in the service of their agenda.

Saudi Arabia’s keenness to abort any project that is likely to reduce its influence over the political decision-making center of Yemen is an extension of the idea that Yemen remains fragile, weak and under the royal grip and suffers more from deteriorating economic and political conditions as long as it serves the interests of the dominant and oil-rich countries, ensuring that it remains dependent upon And subject to what is compatible with its interests.

Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemeni affairs seeks to adapt it to serve its influence and ensure its control over the variables of the political movement, as Saudi Arabia worked to keep Yemen fragile and divided and subject to its own measurements and implement its agenda, which fears any attempt that may cause the emergence of a strong entity that carries an ambitious project beside it, especially after the success of the republican system. Yemen is the only one in the area that is ruled by mostly freehold monarchies. This view goes back to a historical Saudi belief based on a will from the late founding king, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, when he warned his sons on his deathbed that their good and evil came from Yemen (13) . (7)

That is why the suppression of any emerging project may contribute to making Yemen directly or indirectly subject to the test of its influence, and deepen its view of Yemen as a secondary country that has no role to play, ensuring that it remains a margin for political and military maneuver, and making it an open arena for proxy war, as is currently happening between it and Iran as a power center, while Yemen is being exhausted and exploited in order to protect the influence and control of major powers. It uses all means of military and political power to protect its interests and subject the other to its sphere of influence according to realistic thinking.

This strengthens the Saudi keenness to keep pace with the nature of the Yemeni political movement and the changes that occur to it as a result of the continuous transformations in its political map, especially from the forties of the last century since the 1948 constitution revolution and not the end of the February 2011 revolution and its secretions, which naturally contributed to the emergence of changes in the structure of the political system and reset the compass of relations. International regionalism between Yemen and its regional and international surroundings, specifically its relations with Saudi Arabia. And the pursuit of its independence from the centrality of regional influence and the advancement of a national project that contributes to building a state that reshapes its relations from its own perspective and interests.

The dependency theory believes that the center states seek to influence the periphery countries, which forces them to subordinate them for fear of international isolation or sanctions, or through strong states containing the influential classes in weak states. Indeed, weak states seek to pursue similar policies that imitate the advanced model, which makes them dependent Politically and culturally, under the influence of the center’s powers. For example, the Saudi position on Yemeni unity in 1990 (14) [8] was opposed to the unity project and sought to thwart it, as Saudi Arabia viewed unity as a step that would contribute to making Yemen able to qualify itself to play a role other than its agenda, and thus lose any attempt to influence Political decision as soon as political conditions stabilize and Yemen proceeded to move towards overcoming its internal obstacles.

This strengthens its role in the war of secession in the summer of 1994 (15).Between the wing of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the forces loyal to the unity project and the wing of his deputy, Ali Salem al-Baid, who led the separation project from the central authority in accordance with the unity constitution, as Saudi Arabia stood firmly with the separation project and supported the southern forces at all political, military and media levels, with the aim of supporting the division of Yemen until It remains weak and torn, suffers its internal crises, wages wars and conflicts, and remains mired in them, so that it can regain its influence over it as part of the influence of its control in the region. Consequently, the southern and northern powers’ conflicts will make each party need external and regional and international support, which deepens the influence of Saudi Arabia and makes the parties dependent on it to achieve any victory over the other side, or even in two separate weak entities that are easy to contain the two parties, and this is impossible to achieve under a unified central leadership.

The Marxist school believes that the only solution to emancipation from the bondage of dependency is to get rid of the center and face all forms of imperialist exploitation so that developing countries become independent and embark on a competing project to be able to overcome the factors of backwardness. Consequently, the outbreak of the Yemeni revolution on February 11, 2011 represented serious indications of getting rid of the dependency of the center, and this caused great concern to the neighboring countries, especially Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, for fear of the Arab Spring current invading their countries against the monarchies, and on the other hand apprehension that the revolution would bring political forces It may not serve the strategic dimension of the area. And as an extension of that dimension, I opposed the revolution and looked at it anxiously. ”She believes that the revolution is the Muslim Brotherhood’s means to gain power, as Saudi Arabia stands firmly in the face of the expansion of Islamic thought. Therefore, Ali Saleh was in spite of the sensitivities and the meanness of the relationship at times and lack of confidence at other times. The position represents the strong ally in facing the project of the revolution. ” (16)[9] .

Thus, it pushed with all power to preserve Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime to maintain the formula of the first balances in order to ensure that it maintains its influence and its ability to influence the political decision to ensure that its agenda is served, whether through the political system or through tribal sheikhs that worked to contain them within the scope of loyalty and loyalty to them and thus contain the decision The political, in the event of any change that may occur to its relations with the existing regime, which may undermine its influence. Indeed, the deterioration of the political, economic and security conditions contributes to its survival within the framework that guarantees its preoccupation with its internal issues, submitting and relying on foreign aid in return for loyalty and granting it more influence, in addition to The survival of an oppressive regime that works to quell any popular movement that opposes that path, thus expanding the circle of its strategic activity in the region.


The state of chaos in the circle of the world order, which is assumed by realistic theory, has granted states the right to create the same chaos in the international environment, and has contributed to igniting conflicts, spreading violence and perpetuating the state of dissonance between nations and peoples. As a natural result of states ’endeavor to implement the desire to control and expand in the interest of their interests at the expense of others, and to undermine the permanent peace process between states.

This concept is reinforced by the strong states ’endeavor to impose their hegemony and control on the weaker states, and to enhance their material capabilities and various fortifications to ensure that they remain in the circle of dominant over the surrounding countries and exploit them according to the theory of dependency, as this competition for power, control and influence deepens the state of turmoil and the escalation of anxiety in society In light of the absence of international and humanitarian law, which contributes to curbing international arrogance and reducing the states of anarchy through which states seek to exploit each other by using force to achieve their interests without moral or legal considerations, they work to preserve the interests and independence of states.

From a realistic and monetary perspective, the Saudi role appears decisive in controlling the rhythm of its relations with Yemen historically, as it has regional and international weight that gives it the ability to political and military maneuver to expand its influence over the weak environment in a way that serves its policies. Therefore, the paper sought to shed light on part of the nature of the Yemeni-Saudi political relations in the circumstances of important political transformations in accordance with the Marxist and realistic critical orientation, where the Saudi role has clearly emerged to reflect the path of transformation towards an orientation that enables it to retain a large share in controlling the course of events, and this contributes to explaining the continuation of The war in Yemen for nearly three years to ensure its influence and protect its interests, despite the tragic and disastrous effects of the war that has not ended yet.

Sources and references:

  • Ahmed Muhammad Abu Zaid, the dilemma of the Yemeni – Gulf security, a study of causes, implications, and money, the Arab future.
  • Al-Bakiri, Nabil, “Yemeni-Saudi relations, past paths and future stakes,” Turkish Journal of Vision – STA Center for Political, Economic and Social Studies – Turkey, vol. 3, Volume 4, 2015 AD.
  • Al-Khadra, Dima, Translator, Theories of International Relations, Specialization and Diversity, Arab Center for Research and Studies, 1st Edition, Doha, 2016.
  • Merisi, Mustafa, Al-Asifah and its regional and international implications, Arab Affairs magazine, a periodical issued by the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States, Issue 171. Electronic version, seen 20_12_2017 AD, http://www.arabaffairsonline.org/article.php?p=73
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  • According to the United Nations Development Program around the world, seen on: 8-1-2018 http://www.sa.undp.org/content/saudi_arabia/ar/home/countryinfo.html
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  • Ahmad Muhammad Abu Zayd, The Yemeni – Gulf Security Dilemma , A Study of the Causes, Implications , and Money , The Arab Future, p.75 .
  • See the New York times, according to the united nations reports. Watched at 6-1- 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/world/middleeast/yemen-crimes-against-humanity.html
  • Dima Al-Khadra, Translator, Theories of International Relations, Specialization and Diversity , (Arab Center for Research and Studies, Doha, 2016) p.
  • Previous source,
  • Steans, Jill, Lloyd Pettiford, Thomas Diez, and Imad El-Anis. “An introduction to international relations theory.” Perspectives and (2010),p. 53 – 54
  • Ibid, p55.
  • Mustafa Mrisi, Al-Asifah and its regional and international repercussions , Shu`un Arabia magazine (a periodical magazine issued by the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States). Online version, viewed 20_12_2017, http://www.arabaffairsonline.org/article.php?p=73
  • Thomas Angotti. “The political implications of dependency theory.” Latin American Perspectives 8, no. 3-4 (1981): 124-137. p127.
  • Thomas, Ibid. p127.
  • Nabil Al-Bukairi, previous source, p. 98.
  • Michael H. Van D usen, CLOSER U.S. ATTENTION TO YEMEN,) the New York times, published: February 12, 1982,( watched at 20 -12-2017. http://www.nytimes.com/1982/02/12/opinion/closer-us-attention-to-yemen.html
  • Abdel Nasser Al-Mawadda, “ The External Role in the 1994 War”, (a study published in the book Yemen and the World, Madbouly Library, Egypt, 2001), accessed from the author’s blog on December 23, 2017: http://almuwadea.blogspot.qa / 2014/10/1994-2001.html
  • The depositor, the same source.
  • Fouad Al-Salahi and others “ The Yemeni Revolution: Background and Prospects, ” Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, 1st Edition, Beirut, 2011 AD.

SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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