Skirmishes in Yemen over the weekend of 12th – 13th December 2009 between Saudi forces and Yemeni rebels have left a number of civilians dead. Meanwhile the Saudi Prince, Sultan bin Abdulaziz, took time out to visit soldiers injured in the fighting with between Houthi Shia rebels and the Yemeni & Saudi forces.
The violence is centred on the Sadaa region which borders Saudi Arabia. Houthi fighters there belong to the
Zaydi branch of Shia Islam. The Yemen government believes they wish to restore the Zaydi imamate which ruled Yemen for some thousand years, whereas the Houthis point to economic underdevelopment following the Yemen government’s favour for Wahhabis who helped them fight against separatists in the South during 1994.
The violence is potentially destabilising when placed against a backdrop other sympathetic Shia tribes across the border in Saudi Arabia and a rising number of entirely separate Al-Qaeda attacks in Yemen influenced by Somalia in the East.
Faced with further instability on yet another border, the Saudi, Yemeni and Omani governments have been swift to react with an “iron fist”. The Yemeni government has made allegations against Iran, suggesting that they trained the Shia minority rebels.
The West has been pouring in support to prevent Al-Qaeda from toppling the poor Gulf state of Yemen but little attention has been paid to internal tribal divisions.