Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 07/2010

War in Saada: From Local Insurrection to National Challenge

Christopher Boucek

April 2010

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Yemen’s leaders consider their sporadic war against the Houthi rebels a confl ict they can win and, in so doing, discourage southern secessionists—a more immediate threat to their hold on power and the nation’s territorial integrity. Instead, this war in the North has exposed greater vulnerabilities for the regime, weakened the central government, and emboldened other threats to Yemeni and global stability such as al-Qaeda. The confl ict in Saada has occurred in six distinct rounds and come at a high price, affecting noncombatants disproportionately. Since hostilities began in 2004, more than 250,000 people have been displaced; the number of casualties is unknown. But fi ghting the Houthis—Shi’i Zaidi revivalists who, when the crisis began, were protesting the dilution of Zaidi infl uence and identity—has failed to improve security or stability. Yemen faces a very serious fi nancial crisis, and fi ghting the Houthis has rapidly accelerated that crisis. In the six years of fi ghting in Saada, the war has evolved from a local insurrection into a national challenge. The cease-fi re that began in February 2010 likely will fail, because the central government has shown little interest in addressing the Houthis’ core grievances and as a result of growing intransigence within the rebel movement. Without a serious international effort at mediation, further fi ghting is inevitable—and poses a serious threat to Yemeni stability.