The message that the Yemeni conflict has little to do with the kind of sectarian violence that plagues Iraq and Syria has been circulating with increasing intensity in mainstream and social media. In many ways, the message is correct. Instead, it is radicalism that threatens to disintegrate Yemen.
Sectarian violence has been largely absent from the country throughout its history. The roots of the current conflict, essentially a struggle for power, lie in years of misgovernment, corruption and marginalization of various groups.
Although the alliance between former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthi militias’ leadership is one between the Shiite Zaidi sect, it is defined by both sides’ opportunism and not by religious proximity or a determination to fight Sunnis from the Shafi school of thought.
A good example is that the Ahmars, the Zaidi family who headed the powerful Hashid tribal confederation and the Muslim Brotherhood-oriented Yemeni Congregation for Reform (or al-Islah), became one of their common enemies.
The same goes for the Saudi government’s concerns regarding Yemen. Historically, Saudi Arabia has not looked at Yemen through a sectarian prism. Whenever things got more complicated south of the border, the Saudis have sided with those who could offer a working relationship and minimum guarantees of security and stability.
Historically, Saudi Arabia has not looked at Yemen through a sectarian prismManuel Almeida
This is what happened in the 1960s when the Saudis backed the royalist forces after the coup against the last Zaidi Imam Muhammad al-Badr, facing the republicans who received massive military support from the Egyptian forces of Gamal Abdel Nasser.