Hashem Ahelbarra – Aljazeera

The war in Saada is perhaps the most misunderstood conflict in the world. And the reason is the very complex tribal, religious and political make up of Yemen.

For centuries, Yemen had been shattered into a mosaic of kingdoms or sultanates – a Shia Zaidi Imamate in the north and Sunni Sultanates in the south. That order was upset in 1962, in a coup that put an end to the rule of Hamid Eddine, a Hashemite family that had ruled Northern Yemen since 1918.

In 1967, a radical Marxist movement created a Soviet-inspired state in the south. In 1990, the north and south united under Ali Abdallah Salih, a Shia Zaidi who has been ruling Yemen since 1978.

The Houthi rebellion started in 2004 when a member of a Hashemite family – the Houthis – took up arms against the government seeking more religious and cultural freedoms.

The army launched an offensive in which the rebels’ leader, Hussein al Houthi, was killed and his movement nearly crushed.

But months later, his brother Abdel Malik, managed to repair the damage, and consolidate his base in their stronghold – the province of Saada.

The government accuses the Houthis of plotting to restore the Imamate, with the help of Iran and Shia sympathizers in the Gulf.

Relations between Sana’a and Tehran have deteriorated, especially after Saudi’s involvement in the conflict and Iran’s warning to Riyadh and Sana’a to stop “ shedding the blood of Muslims”.

The Houthis have constantly insisted their movement is a protest against corruption and discrimination and not beholden to Iran.

Being labeled as an Iranian-backed rebellion is something the Houthis fear will taint their reputation in the predominantly Sunni Yemen.

In the capital Sana’a the opposition, while very critical of Iran, doesn’t buy into the government’s view, rejecting claims that the Saada war is a conspiracy against the state. Many politicians have called on the president to reform the political system and share power.

A leading opposition figure Hamid Al Hamar whose family leads Hashid, one the biggest tribes in the country, told Al Jazeera that the conflict in Saada is fanned by a bitter struggle between the president Ali Abdallah Salih and his half brother Ali Mohsin al Ahmar, over succession.

According to Hamid Al Ahmar, Salih is dragging Mohsin to a long war in Saada to weaken him, paving the way for his son General Ahmed Ali Salih, commander of the elite republican guard to become the next unchallenged president of Yemen.

The country is rife with rumours about the old political guard, pulling the strings in the north to preserve its privileges when Ahmed Salih chooses a new generation of leaders to take over.

But for the time being, fears that the country might disintegrate with a secessionist movement are on the rise in the south, while a rebellion which many are will to die for in order to achieve greater autonomy, rages in the north.


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