Yemen faces its biggest crisis in decades with the overthrow of its government by the Houthis, a Zaydi Shia movement, which prompted a Saudi-led counteroffensive. The fighting has had devastating humanitarian consequences, and while the Saudi-led coalition and pro-government forces have rolled back the Houthis, they are no closer to reinstating the internationally recognized government in the capital of Sana’a.
Amid factional fighting, al-Qaeda’s Arabian Peninsula franchise has captured expanses of coastal territory. Meanwhile, the United Nations has designated the humanitarian emergency in Yemen as severe and complex as those in Iraq, South Sudan, and Syria. The fighting, and a Saudi-imposed blockade meant to enforce an arms embargo, has brought the country to the brink of famine.
The Saudi intervention was spurred by perceived Iranian backing of the Houthis, and analysts worry that escalating foreign involvement could introduce sectarian conflict resembling fighting in Syria and Iraq. Numerous armed factions may be able to spoil any potential settlement, challenging UN-led efforts to broker a halt to the fighting. Even more difficult will be resolving the fundamental disputes over how power should be distributed in the Yemeni state, which had been the region’s poorest country even prior to the fighting.