The seat of power in Yemen has always been Sanaa, and this remains true even today. However as soon as one leaves the capital, the government presence weakens, and one finds themselves under the authority of other tribal-affiliated states, who have their own rules, laws, and militias The Huthi rebels whose exploits have filled the newspapers are nothing more than a natural consequence of this continued political and security vacuum. I know that the Yemeni authorities will deny any accusation of weakness in their authority, but unfortunately this lack of authority has existed since the time of the Ottomans.
Yemen’s geo-political importance is due to its location. Yemen is located to the south of the world’s largest oil producing country, and also overlooks the Red Sea’s Bab al-Mandeb strait, not to mention its corresponding position to the troubled Horn of Africa. Yemen has therefore become a target to hostile parties who wish to exploit the country’s unique geographical location to access these important regions.
Unfortunately, some in Yemen have misread this situation, and believe that the country’s unique strategic position is a source of influence, money, and political bargaining. Yemen is out of its depth, and the price of this strategic position is too high, both to the Yemeni regime and public.
This can be seen in the impact of the Huthi rebels. The Huthists are being used by others, including Iran, to attack the Yemeni regime, who they consider to belong to the other side. They hope to use Yemen as a platform to threaten Saudi Arabia and access East Africa, where a war that is comparable to what is taking place in Iraq is currently raging. In my opinion, the problem is not the Iran funded Huthi rebels; the problem is far greater than this, and one of a power vacuum. Unless the central government strengthens its authority, and extends its influence throughout Yemen, merely defeating the Huthi rebels will not be sufficient. So long as there is this power vacuum other countries or local militant movements will continue to arise from time to time [to challenge the governmental authority]. This is the problem that Yemen is facing, also the problem that it represents to the region.
A country with a collapsed regime, such as Somalia, becomes a disaster for everybody. This is what happened in Afghanistan after the country was abandoned by the US following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Afghanistan experienced a dangerous power vacuum which allowed the Al Qaeda organization to flourish, and the rest is history. This is currently what is happening in Somalia. However when a regime is weak, and only politically and militarily controls some areas of the country, as is the case in Yemen today, the emergence of armed or mercenary movements is to be expected.
The destruction of the Huthi movement which is backed by both Iran and Al Qaeda is a necessity, not just for the region, but for the world in general. However this is only a short-term solution. In the long-term, the Yemeni regime must be subsidized so that it is able to gain complete control of the country, and extend its influence which is centered around Sanaa, Hodeida, and other cities and villages close to the capital.
Ruling Yemen is a difficult proposition, since Yemen is a country that measures 500,000 km square, half of which is inaccessible mountainous terrain where three quarters of the population reside. Ruling Yemen is not easy, especially since Yemen is governed by participation with, and occasionally in competition between, the State and the tribes.
The central government is Sanaa has long been unable to extend its authority over the mountainous tribal regions. However this is because the government did not develop ay modern projects to ensure not just the country’s stability, but this region’s stability also. There have been complaints from Yemen’s Western backers that Sanaa is not willing, or does not know how to, develop these tribal areas, and that the aid that is coming from a number of Western and Arab countries, is not being used for this purpose.
The Yemeni government’s first priority should be to extend its influence, so that what is decided in Sanaa is implemented in the Al Jawf province. As for the formula that is currently being enacted in Yemen, this hurts Yemen far more than it does its neighbors.