EXPLAINED: Yemen’s descent into civil war

The timeline below depicts Yemen‘s descent into civil war. On Friday, the warring parties reached an agreement for a two-month cease-fire, the first major breakthrough in years.

* President Ali Abdullah Saleh unifies north and south Yemen to form a unified state in 1990.

* Civil war in 1994, in which Saleh prevents the south from breaking from the north, incensed by what it perceives to be its lowly status.

* From 2003 to 2009, the Houthi movement in the north protests the marginalisation of the indigenous Zaydi Shi’ite Muslim sect, fighting six conflicts with Saleh’s army and one with Saudi Arabia.

* 2011: Protests destabilise Saleh’s leadership, split the army, and allow al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to gain territory in the country’s east.

* In 2012, Saleh stands down as part of a Gulf-backed political transition plan. Interim President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is in charge of a national conversation to develop a more inclusive, federal constitution.

* For the years 2013-2014. AQAP organises assaults all around Yemen. The political transition is being sabotaged by Saleh and his friends. With Saleh’s backing, the Houthis seized Sanaa in September 2014 and demanded a share of authority.

* Hadi seeks to introduce a new federal constitution in 2015, but is arrested by the Iran-aligned Houthis and Saleh. He flees, chased by the Houthis, prompting a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia to intervene in March.

The alliance forces the Houthis and Saleh loyalists from Aden in south Yemen and Marib, northeast of Sanaa. Frontlines harden, laying the stage for years of stalemate.

AQAP creates a mini-state around Mukalla in 2016. The UAE is backing local forces in a struggle that will put an end to the group’s authority in the country.

As the coalition imposes a partial blockade on Yemen, the alliance accuses Iran of shipping missiles to the Houthis, which Iran denies.

Human rights organisations have issued warnings about coalition air attacks that murder people, yet Western support for the military effort persists.

The Houthis are firing an increasing number of missiles deep into Saudi Arabia in 2017. Saleh crosses sides in order to reclaim power for his family, but he is assassinated while attempting to flee the Houthis.

* 2018: Coalition-backed forces push along the Red Sea coast against the Houthis, with the goal of capturing Hodeidah port, which handles the majority of Yemen’s commercial and humanitarian imports.

There is a military standoff. The first peace discussions in two years are held in Sweden, and the warring parties agree to a cease-fire and troop withdrawal from Hodeidah. Work on a prisoner swap gets under way.

*2019. The cease-fire in Hodeidah is mostly holding, but the pullout isn’t happening. Violence is still occurring in other parts of the world.

The UAE leaves but continues to help local friends, particularly southern separatists who seized Aden in August. Riyadh facilitates a power-sharing agreement between separatists and Hadi’s administration, but implementation will not start until 2020.

*2020. The Coalition declares a ceasefire in response to COVID-19, but no progress is made toward establishing a lasting ceasefire, and violence continues, despite a prisoner swap between the warring parties.

At least 22 people are killed in an attack on Aden airport shortly after a plane carrying the newly constituted power-sharing government arrived. The Houthis are blamed by Riyadh and Hadi’s government.

* In 2021, US President Joe Biden lifts the Houthis’ terrorist designation and withdraws US support for offensive coalition operations.

The Houthis are stepping up their effort to take Marib, the government’s last stronghold in North Yemen, which is rich in natural gas.

Envoys from the United Nations and the United States try to broker a durable cease-fire and the reopening of air and sea routes to Houthi-controlled areas, but the warring parties refuse to budge.

Direct discussions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have begun, with the main focus on Yemen.

*2022, after Emirati-backed local militias combat the Houthis in energy-producing Shabwa and Marib, the Houthis launch missile and drone attacks on the UAE. Yemen is being bombed by coalition aeroplanes.

Despite deteriorating ties and as the Houthis continue attacks on Saudi oil installations, the US strives to strengthen the defence capabilities of Gulf partners.

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