Yemen’s Agony: Conflict, Deadlock, and Despair

Yemen occupies the south-western corner of the Arabian Peninsula in West Asia. The coastal line borders the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and, most significantly, lays on the Southern entrance of the Red Sea. This exceptional strategic position left Yemen prone to major historical conflicts and internal unrest. The crisis in Yemen dates back to history but the recent series of troubles started with the inception of the Republic of Yemen in May 1990. The Northern and Southern parts joined to form a unified Yemen following the discovery of oil fields in the shared areas. The unification of the historically, socially and religiously fragmented society proved consequential, albeit with aligned economic and strategic goals. Further exacerbated by the arrival of the Arab Spring in 2011, Yemen endured internal dysfunction which later influenced external intervention.

The vociferous threat to autocratic regimes in the whole of Arabia led to the regulation of the patronage system in Yemen. The system was adopted by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to ensure the consolidation of a society fragmented into tribes and sects. The demise of Saleh’s rule; the questioned legitimacy of Mansour Hadi; and the threat of increasing Wahhabism in Northern Shiite areas pushed the country into a deadlocked civil war. The minority Shiite group, Houthis, picked up arms against Hadi’s government. This led to his forced flee to Saudi Arabia and the takeover of Sana’a by the Houthis in 2014. It opened up new dynamics in internal chaos. The strategic and economic vitality of Taiz, viewed by Houthis as a gateway to North; Hodiehah, an important seaport in the Red Sea; and the oil-rich governorate of Marib led to further intensification of internal strife. Conflict over the resources and the uncertainty of the future sustains the conflict locally and nourishes hatred among the tribes. As articulated by a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council: “Beyond the active frontline lies a concern over economic and strategic lifeline that each side to the conflict is trying to secure.”

Ostensibly, the unstable Southern border is a major threat to Saudi Arabia’s internal security and economic outlook. The presence of an influential Shiite group is a concern to its ideological standing as a leader of the Muslim world. The security dilemma from Iran directed the Saudis, led by a multilateral coalition, to start military intervention in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis. Meanwhile, Iran started providing the Houthis with military tutelage and sophisticated weapons. It provided Iran with a bargaining chip against its regional rival, the KSA, and the opportunity to spread its religious ideology. On the Southern side, the UAE fueled the separatist Southern Transitional Council and, after the country loosened its ties with the organization over an internal brawl, the Council became the locus of militancy. The ensuing events led to the provision of safe havens to global terrorist organizations including Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State-Yemen Province (IS-YP).

Internal conflict among the different factions and a tug of war among external regional players have blackened the future of Yemen. The country was declared the poorest nation with the largest humanitarian crisis in the world by the United Nations (UN). Approximately 24 million people, 80% of Yemen’s total population, are in need of humanitarian aid and protection. The past struggles of reconciliation among the parties involved failed or succumbed to ulterior interests.

Nevertheless, the recent Saudi-Iran rapprochement opens up a door of opportunity for war-torn Yemen. Saudis are desperately looking for regional peace to materialize its Vision 2030 of “a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation” which is impractical without securing southern borders. Similarly, Iran cannot counter the Arab-Israel alliance supported by the USA without diversifying its options in the region. Both countries are looking forward to cooperating in various sectors, putting their past grudges to rest. The collaboration between international institutions, regional powers and internal factions can pave the way towards the sustainable development of Yemeni society.

A huge responsibility lies on international institutions like the UN to enforce a ceasefire under its auspices and initiate peace talks among the parties involved in the war. Regional powers should ensure the complete cooperation of their allies in the region and influence them to uphold peaceful dialogue. A sub-national peace agreement among the fighting factions will refine the peace process, but a holistic approach should be adopted.

 The already bleak situation of women is exacerbated by the ensuing conflict. Their access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services clings in doldrums. Violence and acute malnutrition prevail over society; discriminating the female especially. Young people, in particular, are left out of schools and exploited in domestic labor. Frequently out breaking hazardous diseases adversely affect the fragile situation. A plethora of suffering demands immediate attention. To end, a quotation from Plato:

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

Muhammad Shoaib is a scholar of International Relations and working as a research intern. His area of expertise includes geopolitics, regional rivalry, soft power and climate change. He be reached at and tweets at @shoaibibrahimm.


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SAKHRI Mohamed
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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