The eruption of the Arab spring in Yemen back in 2011 is today a distant memory. Despite eventually pushing Ali Abdullah Saleh from power after 33 years at the helm, he was replaced by his own crony Abd Rabboh Mansur Hadi. The Houthis, who are a tribe from amongst the Zaidis, who follow Shi’ah fiqh comprise 40% of the nations population and were big supporters of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. The Houthis have fought the government on-and-off during the 2000s, due to decades of being marginalised and repressed, but both Saleh and his replacement, Hadi, kept them from real power through dialogues and internationally sponsored talks. Today Yemen is in chaos, the Houthis have entered into a protracted struggle with the government in Sanaa, overthrowing it in September 2014. President Hadi has now fled the country and now Saudi Arabia has launched airstrikes against reported Houthi targets in the countries capital. Despite the demands of political change by the people, this small country at southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula is now the battle ground for regional rivalry and international powers.
The trigger for the current tensions was the removal of fuel subsidies in July 2014, which was a condition by the IMF for the Yemeni government to receive further loans. The IMF imposed the abolishment of the countries subsidy system, even though half of the nation’s population lives in poverty. The Houthis played a key role in the uprising against Saleh, but they have been subsequently sidelined in the development of subsequent transitional and then formal governments. With the price of fuel doubling this led to the Houthis setting up a protest camps in the capital, Sanaa. These protest camps spread through the North of Yemen and around the capital Sanaa. President Hadi attempted to appease the Houthis with promises to review the subsidy cuts, but this was rejected by the Houthis. This led to the security forces shooting dead many Houthi protesters, who were protesting outside the cabinet building in Sanaa. As a result of this the Houthis moved towards the capital, Sanaa in large numbers from the mountains that surround the capital and eventually took over government buildings. President Hadi, sensing the danger, signed the Peace and National Partnership Agreement, which gave more power to the Houthis in forming the government including cabinet positions. By January 2015, with his presidential palace surrounded, a coup effectively took place, with the Houthis setting up a revolutionary government in Sanaa and expanding to the Southern port of Aden.
What strengthened the Houthis has been support from Iran. Iran has a policy of supporting Shi’ah groups in the region in order expand its influence and dominate the region. Iran has supplied weapons, money and training to the Houthis which was critical to their takeover of Yemen’s capital in September 2014. The US Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed Iran ‘contributed’ to the Houthi takeover and the collapse of the Yemeni government. The Houthis have been going to Iran and Lebanon for military training and a senior Iranian official told Reuters that the Quds Force, the external arm of the Revolutionary Guard, had a ‘few hundred’ military personnel in Yemen who train Houthi fighters. He confirmed around 100 Houthis had travelled to Iran this year for training at a Revolutionary Guards base near the city of Qom. The official said there were a dozen Iranian military advisers in Yemen, and the pace of money and arms getting to the Houthis had increased since their seizure of Sanaa. This expansion of Iranian influence and spread of Houthi control right on Saudi Arabia’s borders is what led it to bomb targets in Yemen, especially after Hadi fled the country.
The Houthis have also received international cover from the US. Senior US intelligence official Michael Vickers confirmed in January 2015 that lines of intelligence to the Houthis has been open for some time. Despite the Houthi takeover of Sanaa in September 2014: “the Houthis are anti al-Qaeda, and we’ve been able to continue some of our counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda in the past months.” Charles Schmitz, an expert on Yemen at the Middle East Institute confirmed: “the Houthis’ anti-al-Qaeda agenda, however, in part a reaction to AQAP’s assassination of the current Houthi leader’s father, synchronizes nicely with both US and Iranian interests in the same way that the United States, Iran and Iran-backed groups are on the same side in Iraq against the Islamic State group (IS).” It was the US who pushed for Saleh to hand over power and step down when the uprisings was in full swing in Yemen. But it was Britain and the EU that, for a long time, backed Saleh and his successor Hadi. The EU in a statement on 22 Sep 2014, when the Houthis took over Sanaa said: “Government institutions must return to the control of the legitimate authorities, under the leadership of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the Head of State.” The British ambassador to Yemen Jane Marriot confirmed to Middle East online in September 2014: “I do not have a direct relationship with Ali Abdullah Saleh, but I communicate with the General People’s Congress including parties close to it.” She admitted her communication with the party of Saleh and as he runs the party and has no rival or opponent this would indicate she has been speaking regularly with Saleh. All of this shows there is international struggle to control the political leaders of this strategically important country between Britain and the US, with US Iranian interests aligning and Saudi and UK interests aligning.
Despite international coverage of Yemen constantly being explained through a sectarian lens, the struggle within Yemen is a political one with different factions fighting for political power. It is not a sectarian struggle. The Houthis do appear to have bitten more than they can chew, with the takeover of the capitol and the southern parts of the country. This is because despite the Houthis expanding its area of influence and control the areas it does control and has done so for months, they have not been able to maintain order. Despite controlling most of the country, the Houthi leadership continues to call for new presidential elections and a new parliament, indicating they are merely looking for influence in a new Yemen, but lack the capability to rule the country itself. This lack of capability and ambition is what has opened the Houthis to regional and foreign agendas. But their lack of political understanding can be seen from the fact that Ali Abdullah Saleh has been cooperating with them, and his help, despite rising up against him, has been welcomed by the Houthi leadership. Al Jazeera confirmed it received a leaked tape of a phone conversation between Saleh and a Houthi leader coordinating tactics in October 2014, after the fall of Sana’a. A UN report in February 2015 concluded that Saleh “provided direct support” to the Houthis during their takeover of the capital, ordering his supporters not to impede their fighters and directing his son, former military commander Ahmed Ali Saleh, to assist them in some capacity.
The people of Yemen rose up to remove a brutal dictator. The uprising saw the collapse of government institutions and the army as many defected. However real change did not take place in Yemen; only a transfer of power within the ruling elite occurred. The neglect of most of the country by Saleh led to many rebellions and uprisings in the country. Saleh in the past dealt with many of them militarily. However the uprising in 2011 presented America with the opportunity to interfere in Yemen and remove Saleh once and for all due to his loyalty to Britain. Saleh has worked to maintain the status quo through giving concessions to all the various factions of the country – whilst always maintaining his position. No one regional or international power as well as domestic factions has enough influence to completely change the balance in their favor, so its expected some sort of deal will need to be made between them. Whilst the Houthis are best placed for such a deal, their lack of political understating – the fact they are now working with Ali Abdullah Saleh, who they initially rose up against means both Saleh and Britain may get proportionally more than their influence from any future deal.
 http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/analysis/2014/10/23/Eyeing-return-Yemen-s-ousted-Saleh-helps-Houthis-.html and http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2015/01/audio-leak-ties-yemen-ex-leader-houthis-2015121175226439411.html