Can Yemen Be Saved?

SANA'A – Yemen is no stranger to crisis. Exposed to a regional proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, plagued by an entrenched Al Qaeda affiliate, and divided by tribal disputes and a secession movement, the country has become a poster child for everything that can go wrong in the Arab world.

Yemen has demonstrated remarkable resiliency in the past. To ensure that the recent overthrow of its government by the Shia Houthi rebel movement does not deal Yemen the lethal blow that it has avoided so far, the international community must not abandon the country in what may be its hour of greatest need.

The origins of the Houthi movement date to 1991, when it was created to protect Zaydism, a moderate form of Shi'ism, from the encroachment of Sunni Islamists. After the attacks on New York and Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001, the group's battle took on a geopolitical dimension, as its fighters objected to Yemen's decision to collaborate with the United States and enhance bilateral intelligence cooperation.

From 2004 to 2010, the group fought six wars against the Yemeni government and even skirmished with Saudi Arabia. Yet it never managed to expand its reach beyond its stronghold in the north of the country. That changed in 2011, when the popular protests and political chaos stemming from the Arab Spring led to widespread institutional paralysis, allowing the Houthis to march past a military that largely refused to fight it.