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Middle East

Yemen's bloody revolution

Houthi militia continue to seize control of Yemen, and the "Islamic State" also has a foothold in the country. Both groups threaten to undermine the last figment of order in Yemen. Is Yemen on the brink of collapse?

The Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization appears to have arrived in Yemen: IS militia killed more than 140 Shiites last week in a bomb attack during Friday prayers - the worst attack ever in the country's history.

The mainly Shiite Houthi rebels continue their cruel campaign against the state - and reciprocated right after the attack on the mosques by moving on the residence of President Abed Manusr Mansur Hadi, who fled to Aden in January after declaring the port city the country's new capital.

The Houthi are headed further south toward Aden after taking over the city of Taiz over the weekend.

After Syria and Libya, Yemen appears to be the third state to sink into chaos and anarchy in the wake of the 2011 revolution.

Sanaa, destruction in mosque

The suicide bombings targeted mosques in Sanaa

What began as a debate about participation and a new balance of power is hardening into a conflict in which everyone involved has been formulating more and more far-reaching demands while showing less willingness to compromise.

Missed chances

After Yemeni unification in 1990, some Shiite tribes in the north of the country joined forces to fight the Sunni-dominated central government's increasing influence. In 2011, they supported the uprising against President Ali Abdullah Salih.

In the wake of Salih's overthrow, however, they were excluded from a national dialogue on the creation of a new government. When a draft constitution emerged in the summer of 2014, the Houthis protested. Above all, they opposed the planned new federal structure that merely provided them with a landlocked province.

The Houthis have found a supporter in ousted President Salih, who hopes an alliance with the Houthis will help him topple his successor and return to the presidential palace.

The Houthi rebels' key opponents, supporters of the Sunni Hirak movement, were also excluded from the national dialogue. The southern Hirak, like the Houthis, see themselves as losers in the Yemeni unification process; they feel they are not sufficiently represented in the new federal structure, and would like to see their province secede.

Infografik Politische Karte Jemen englisch

UN has no influence

In January, the UN Security Council promised to support President Hade, who had meanwhile fled the Houthi threat to Aden. At the same time, UN envoy Jamal Benomar warned against further violence in the country.

The question remains what role the United Nations can play in the conflict. The international community has very little influence on the parties involved, argues Mareike Transfeld, a political scientist at the German institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin.

"Only Yemenis can effectively thwart the political crisis in Yemen by taking political action," she says. "With regard to the complex network of Yemeni groups involved, military intervention from the outside would only contribute to a deterioration of the situation.

Publicist Azmi Bishara agrees Yemen itself holds the key to peace. The Houthis may not be in a position to rule the country on their own, he says, but unlike their rivals - who constantly form different coalitions - they have established themselves as a strong power that can no longer be disregarded.

"They must be included in the national dialogue, where they can act as a national power," Bishara says. In that case, they would have to accept the country's pluralist nature and stop forcing their will on others, Bishara writes on the Al-Arabi al-Jadid website

Collapse threatens

Perhaps public opposition will help. The protests that began in 2011 have come to a standstill for the time being, but many say it is time to take to the streets again. "It's still a revolution, with the same goals," the Al-Jazeera news network quotes a young man who, like so many, joined a march against the Houthis.

Much depends on how the Houthis assess the threat posed by Sunni jihadists. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been active as a particularly aggressive terrorist cell for quite a while in Yemen. Now it seems the IS also has a foothold in the country - and it just might be tempted to expand its sphere of influence at the AQAP's cost.

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