Yemen is embroiled in its most severe crisis since its inception as a state. As competing forces fight for control of the country the future of Yemen looks tenuous at best.
Yemen is situated at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula between Oman and Saudi Arabia. The official religion of the country is Islam and the ethnicity is split up into 65 per cent Sunni Muslims and 35 per cent Shia Muslims.
Yemen is said to have extremely fertile land as it receives more rain due to high mountainous terrain. However, due to declining natural resources, Yemen and its population of about 26 million are now very poor. Yemen itself is a young nation, with its current borders having taken shape in 1990, after North and South Yemen united.
The country is currently embroiled in a sectarian conflict between the Shia Houthi rebels allegedly supported by Iran, and forces loyal to President Abdrahbu Mansour Hadi.
Who are the Houthis?
The Houthis are followers of the Zaidi Shia sect of Islam which is the faith of one third of Yemen’s population. The group is said to have begun as a movement preaching tolerance and peace in the 1990s, in the Zaidi majority area of Northern Yemen.
The situation grew tense in 2004, when the Houthis led by Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi, began their first uprising against the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh, for greater autonomy for their region. The Uprising also aimed to protect the Zaidi community and its culture from perceived encroachment by the Sunnis. The insurgency lasted till 2010.
What factors that led up to the current crisis in Yemen?
Houthis participated in the 2011 Arab Spring inspired revolution in Yemen that eventually led to the ouster of Saleh in November 2011. The ouster of Saleh was followed by a transitional government led by Abdrahbu Mansour Hadi.
Houthis subsequently participated in a National Dialogue Conference (NDC), which led to President Hadi announcing plans in February 2014 for Yemen to become a federation of six regions. This plan was opposed by the Houthis who felt that the decision would weaken them. The failure of the transitional government to accommodate these views has fueled the current uprising.
Who are the key players involved in the current crisis?
The Houthis have a large degree of control over many areas of northwestern Yemen, including over the capital, Sana’a.
There is also a sporadic concentration of the South Yemen Movement, colloquially known as al-Hirak, a popular movement active in the former South Yemen since 2007, demanding secession from the Republic of Yemen.
Since 2009, the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) along with the Ansar al-Sharia has led an insurgency in the southeast Yemen. The two groups are at the forefront of a Sunni terrorist insurgency.
The Yemeni military is now split into units that support Mr. Hadi, units that support the Houthis, and units that support a still-influential Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is in the Houthi camp for now.
As on March 30, Shi’ite militia fighting in Iraq have voiced solidarity with the Houthis in Yemen and have stated their intention to travel to Yemen to join the fight against the Yemeni government forces.
Which countries are currently engaged in fighting the Houthis?
The Houthis are alleged to have the active support of Iran in their uprising.
The coalition against the Houthis is led primarily by Saudi Arabia and is supported by the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan and Sudan. Saudi Arabia has 100 fighter jets and 150,000 troops involved while the rest of the coalition has approximately 80-100 fighter jets and an undisclosed number of naval vessels involved in the fighting.
The coalition is also receiving intelligence and logistical support from the United States.
What is being done to help the Indian citizens stranded in Yemen?
The Ministry of External Affairs issued three warnings to all Indian citizens to leave Yemen in light of the growing sectarian violence in the region. These warnings were issued on January 21 this year, the second on March 19 and the third was on March 22.
Approximately 4,000 Indians were working in Yemen according to MEA statistics. As of March 30, 400 Indians are being evacuated via sea to Djibouti. The Indian Air Force is being requested to deploy two Globemaster aircrafts to air lift the evacuees from Djibouti.
An Indian ship INS Sumitra is in the region. The Indian Navy is pressing into service two additional ships, INS Mumbai and INS Tarkashin along with two passenger liners with a total capacity of 1100 to evacuate stranded Indian citizens from Yemen.
The MEA has stated that the Indian Embassy in Sana’a will be functioning as long as Indian nationals require assistance in Yemen. The funding for this entire effort will be through the Indian Community Welfare Fund and funding has already been authorized by the External Affairs Minister.
As on March 31, the Indian ship INS Sumitra has begun evacuating approximately 350 more Indian citizens from the region. The operation commenced after Indian vessels got approval for docking at Aden. The evacuees are being taken to Djibouti from where they will be flown to India. This brings the total to 700 Indians having been evacuated from the region so far. The rescue operation has been officially named “Operation Raahat”.
Timeline of rescue-effort
March 30: 400 Indians evacuated via sea to Djibouti. The Indian Air Force is being requested to deploy two Globemaster aircrafts to air lift the evacuees from Djibouti.
March 31: The Indian ship INS Sumitra has begun evacuating approximately 350 more Indian citizens from the region. The operation commenced after Indian vessels got approval for docking at Aden. The evacuees are being taken to Djibouti from where they will be flown to India. This brings the total to 700 Indians having been evacuated from the region so far. The rescue operation has been officially named “Operation Raahat”.
April 3: The first successful air evacuation saw 351 citizens safely transported from Sana’a to Djibouti.
April 4: India assisted 179 citizens from 17 countries through the INS Mumbai. Almost 800 citizens were evacuated.
April 5: 806 Indians were evacuated by air. 2 C17s evacuated 225 and 229 passengers each to Mumbai, while an Air India plane evacuated 352 passengers to Kochi. INS Sumitra evacuated 203 passengers from Ash Shihr (182 Indians, rest from abroad)
April 6: 547 Indian citizens were evacuated to Djibouti from Yemen, by Air India.
The Indian navy has also evacuated citizens from 11 countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uganda. Pakistan also evacuated 11 Indian citizens from the Yemeni city of Al Mukalla, which is under the control of militants tied to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Requests for Indian assistance in evacuation from Yemen keeps growing. On last count 26 requests received. pic.twitter.com/hn3TScsvFh
— Syed Akbaruddin (@MEAIndia) April 6, 2015
So far, about 2,300 Indians have been transported out of Yemen. Most of the remaining 1700 Indians are around Sana, which is under control of the Houthi fighters. Sources have also indicated that a large percentage of the Indian citizens in Yemen, are Indian women married to Yemeni nationals. The number of Indians in Sana’a is said to be around 3,000 while around 554 were in Aden and 298 were in offshore oil fields.
(Last updated on April 7, 2015.)
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