This is the 1st part of a short explainer article series on the current crisis in Yemen.
Since 2015, Yemen has been at war on two different fronts, 1) The Civil War between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the UAE-Saudi Arabia backed government headed by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and 2) the war against the local terrorist outfits of Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
However, last year one more complexity was added to the conflict when UAE withdrew from the coalition backing Hadi government and later threw its support behind another secessionist force in southern Yemen, which seeks to re-create the State of South Yemen, as it was before the unification of Yemen in 1990.
As of early this year, it has added another layer to the war: the failing healthcare infrastructure and the rise of COVID-19.
The staggering cost of this war in the past five years has prompted the UN to name it the worst man-made humanitarian crisis in history, with Some 24 million Yemeni people - 80 percent of the country's population - requiring assistance or protection.
This series of articles seeks to build historical context to follow the current events in Yemen, believing much of the recent media coverage to have been ignored, or otherwise made wholly uncontextualized in the process of following the crisis for over a decade.
Much of the current conflict can only be understood as a result of the events of the latter half of the 20th century. Here is a brief look at the history that has shaped today’s wars in Yemen.
At the heart of several issues in the conflict is the fact that modern day Yemen was initially divided into North Yemen and South Yemen until 1990, when it was unified.
The Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), a coalition in North Yemen, overthrew the Mutawakilite Kingdom in 1970, which had been ruling since Yemen’s decolonization, in 1918. The YAR established their capital at Sana’a, a site which will often be the site of conflict in the following years.
This part of Yemen, during the cold war was backed the countries aligned with the anti-communist block like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the US, the UK and West Germany. The influence of Saudi Arabia and their relations with the US will come to play a greater role in the following decades.
This referred to the region that was under the British Raj as the Aden Protectorate, since 1874. It consisted of two-thirds of present-day Yemen. In 1937 it became a Province of the British Raj, and in 1963, it collapsed and an emergency declared. The collapse was the joint effort of the National Liberation Front (NLF) and the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY).
Aden was used by the East India Company as a coal depot, and to stop Arab pirates from harassing British-India trade. Until 1937, Aden was part of British India, officially titled the Aden Protectorate.
Aden, like Sana’a will come to be the capital of southern Yemen, and the site of many conflicts.
This part of Yemen, during the cold war was backed by the Cummunist bloc countries like USSR, Cuba, and East Germany.
North and South Yemen united in 1990, after several years of conflict with one another. The leader of North Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was named President of unified Yemen in 1990. He was to continue ruling over Yemen for over three decades.
The unification of Yemen finally fulfilled almost a century of struggle that started during the British occupation and continued at different paces throughout the monarchy and cold war period. This unification also took away the privileges and power vested with many important tribes and people. Unlike the political forces, the armed forces of North and South Yemen were not unified at the time of political unification of the country.
The disgruntled former elites and the partisan army provided the fertile ground for the first civil war of Yemen which followed shortly after the unification.