Tens of thousands of Yeminis converged in the capital city of Sana’a on September 21 to show support for the Houthi Rebels occupying the city. The rally featured a flurry of Yemeni flags and charged speeches espousing resolve against the UN-backed coalition comprised of the United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UAE.
The raucous gathering marked the three-year anniversary of Sana’a Rebel sovereignty in the capital and undermined the Saudi-backed coalition’s aim to remove Houthis from power.
The rally came a day after Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi appeared on Houthi-controlled Al Masirah TV, slamming the coalition leaders for attempting to divide the Yemeni people in order to reinstate the internationally recognized Yemeni Government, which currently retains sovereignty in the south. Al-Houthi accused the coalition of stealing Yemeni natural gas. Al-Houthi also used his time on screen to threaten the UAE with claims of a missile arsenal can reach Emirate soil. The speech invigorated his political base and fostered a new excitement for the rebel cause that cumulated in the lively rally the next day.
The conflict that led to the current Houthi occupation started in 2011 with the Yemeni Revolution. Protesters and foreign pressures led President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign, leading to the inauguration of Vice President Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi as president. In response, Saleh and his supporters fled to the North, biding time until 2014, when Houthi rebels, backed by Saleh’s loyalists, successfully launched a campaign into inland Yemen. This battle, which included the occupation of the capital, is now remembered in Yemeni lore as the September 21 Revolution.
The country is more divided now than ever. Houthi rebels occupy the north, and as made evident by the recent rally, political support for the provisional government is strong. Hadi and the internationally-recognized Yemeni government control the south, while Al Qaeda still lays claim to large swaths of the country’s sparsely populated east.
An ongoing Saudi bombing campaign that has killed hundreds of Yemeni civilians is not helping the situation, though it is offering the Houthi Rebels much appreciated political capital. The situation in Yemen also reveals a sharp Sunni-Shia divide, with a majority Shia Houthi-Iranian alliance facing off against the Sunni majority Saudi-Hadi coalition.
Yemen’s ongoing fluctuations regarding national sovereignty have led to sectarian violence and mass displacement while exacerbating recent cholera outbreak that UN humanitarian forces are having little success in suppressing. Some estimates predict that the number of infected Yemenis will reach 1,000,000 by the end of the year. The cholera epidemic has been difficult to address as rival Yemeni factions continue to fight for sovereignty.
This political maelstrom in Yemen promises no forthcoming resolution, as the most recent Houthi rally demonstrated a strong common will to continue the fight for the rebel cause.