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Yemen Revolution and Foreign Involvement Essay

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Updated: May 19th, 2020


The Yemeni revolution started as a continuation of a series of other Middle East revolutions that ousted the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents. However, the Yemeni revolution started soon after the Tunisian revolution, and almost at the same time as the Egyptian revolution. This revolution brought a lot of bloodshed and violence as the government clashed with demonstrators, who demanded that the country’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, step down. During the uprising, the government shot many demonstrators and before long, the conflict became armed. Nonetheless, Saleh’s government collapsed under the uprising and a peaceful handover of power occurred (Arabia 1).

Many factors led to the success of the Yemeni revolution (key among them being the role of international actors in mediating this conflict). Notably, the role of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was profound in brokering a peace deal because it introduced a transition arrangement that saw the president hand over power to his Vice president. Many western powers, including America, Australia, and Britain, backed this agreement. France, Germany, Japan, and Qatar also contributed to solving the conflict (Akhbar 4).

This paper investigates the motives behind the contribution of foreign powers in solving the Yemeni conflict (plus how these countries managed to do so). Since the conflict displaced thousands of people from their homes and into neighbouring countries (or other areas perceived to be safe within the country), this paper also focuses on explaining the scope and implications of the humanitarian crisis that characterised the conflict. Finally, this paper explores the possible ramifications of the Yemeni conflict and other countries that hosted Yemeni refugees.

Why Foreign Countries intervened in Yemen

Violence and Human Right Violations

Following the bloodshed and killing of Yemeni protesters, the International community had to intervene in the Yemeni revolution. This revolution did not initially start as a demonstration against the president and his government, but rather, a demonstration against widespread corruption, unemployment, and the lack of social justice in the country (Akhbar 4). However, when the government started attacking and arresting protesters, the conflict soon transitioned to be a call for regime change. The widespread violence that occurred in several parts of the country saw dozens of protestors shot dead by government forces.

This violence raised many concerns in the international community because foreign governments saw the failure of Saleh’s government to respect human rights. In one incident, government forces shot 52 protestors in Sana’a (Arabia 1). Consequently, there were several calls from the international community, including the United Nations (U.N), U.S, and U.K, to stop the violence against protestors. The U.N secretary general, Banki moon, for instance, called on the Yemeni government to stop all hostilities against the protestors and seek a political solution with the opposition (Akhbar 5).

A planned assassination against Saleh marked the height of the Yemeni violence because armed militias targeted worship areas and the presidential palace as a strategy to kill the president. An attack on the presidential compound saw the former Yemeni president hospitalised in Saudi Arabia. Opposition groups in Yemeni therefore clashed with government forces in a continuous stream of violence that forced the international community to intervene. The role of the U.S and the Gulf Cooperation Council were most instrumental in solving the conflict.


The war on terror is one issue that frequently surfaced as a cause for concern for international powers who followed Yemen’s conflict. Notably, America was more concerned about the increased threat of terrorism if the former Yemeni President, Saleh, transferred power. America’s concern centred on the fact that a former Al-Qaida mentor wanted Saleh to transfer power to make way for the establishment of a Muslim state (Almasmari 9). This concern prompted one US diplomat to claim that Saleh was possibly the best ally the US would have in Yemen. However, because of the conviction of the Yemeni people to oust Saleh, America changed its position towards Saleh and wanted him to transfer power. Despite the wavering interests of international powers in the Yemeni conflict, the threat of terrorism surfaced as an important concern for the international community.

How Foreign Countries Helped Yemen

The main contribution of the international community in solving the Yemeni conflict stems from the power of the international community to prevail on Saleh to step down. Before the attempted open assassination on Saleh, the international community, led by the Gulf Cooperation Council, tried to persuade Saleh to transfer power to his vice president. Saleh changed his mind about transfering power to his deputy, twice (Sharqieh 1). However, on 23 November 2011, Saleh travelled to Saudi Arabia and signed a western-backed legal document, developed by the Gulf Cooperation Council, which required him to transfer power to his deputy. Foreign countries were behind the transfer of power, which ended the Yemeni conflict.

Besides the open contribution of foreign powers to broker a peace deal in Yemen, foreign nations also independently contributed to the prevention of further violence in Yemen. For example, Britain approved an arms export ban on Yemen to prevent further escalation of attacks on Yemeni people (Sharqieh 1). Fears that the arms trade was empowering some groups in Yemen to attack civilians informed Britain’s move. Other foreign powers like Germany and France also contributed to the end of violence in Yemen by condemning the attacks, albeit verbally. Most of these countries closed their embassies in protest to the violence and advised their citizens to leave Yemen, or halt their plans to travel to the country. Through such efforts, the Yemeni government felt the pressure of stopping further attacks on civilians. Sharqieh (1) says that even friendly countries to Yemen, such as, America and Saudi Arabia condemned the Yemeni government for attacking innocent protestors. From the open disapproval of the international community on the crackdown on the Yemeni protestors, Saleh felt pressured to stop all hostilities on his people. These efforts led to the decrease of violence in Yemen.

Refuge Situation

The Yemeni conflict brought a lot of untold human suffering (characterized by death and displacement). Indeed, the conflict displaced thousands of refugees. Some of these refugees fled into neighbouring countries, such as, Saudi Arabia and Oman. The U.N refugee agency estimates that the number of refugees who fled Yemen is more than 2,000 (UN Refugee Agency 1). Complementary statistics from the same agency shows that more than 1,000 asylum seekers fled Yemen, while the number of internally displaced refugees reached 347,000 (UN Refugee Agency 1). Since the conflict ended, only a paltry 6,000 refugees returned to their homes. Thousands more still fear going back to their homes because of internal hostilities by some groups.

Implications of Refugee Situation

Food Insecurity

The implication of having a refugee situation in any country is generally negative. Not only do refugees create a social and economic problem, they may also create a bigger political problem for the countries that host them (Saeed 2). The Yemeni refugee crisis is one such problem because its huge refugee population causes serious social and economic concerns, such as, food insecurity. Concisely, the conflict displaced people from their original homelands where they could earn a living (through agriculture, farming, and other activities). Their displacement therefore destabilized their lives because they were unable to feed themselves any more. Instead, these refugees became dependent on international assistance from international bodies, such as, the world food programme. This situation causes serious social and economic instability (Saeed 1).

Political Instability

There are numerous evidences around the world showing how human displacements have created serious political issues, especially in countries that host refugees. The Turkish-Armenian war is one such example because the conflict involved land issues, stemming from human displacements that occurred thousands of years ago (Dadrian 1). Usually, such conflicts happen when the respective governments do not address human displacement issues (or immigration issues) effectively. When such issues persist, they become more complex and difficult to solve.

Following the thousands of people that fled Yemen into neighbouring countries, a political issue may erupt in their host nations because these refugees will become settlers and start a new life in the host nations (if they are not resettled) (Saeed 1). There is therefore a strong potential of conflict in some of the areas these people settle because the host communities may fail to accept them. They may therefore be isolated. In worse situations, new settlements may create a political imbalance in the host countries, further leading to a worsening political problem. Similar situations have happened in other parts of the world. For example, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Eastern Europe is one such example where two communities have lived in discord, following years of unsolved conflict (stemming from human displacement issues) (Krüger 1).


The ongoing Middle East revolution has shown the importance of the international community in mediating conflict. So far, the roles of foreign relations in mediating the Egyptian, Tunisian, and Yemeni revolutions are profound. This paper shows that foreign powers were instrumental in brokering the Yemeni peace agreement that saw Saleh transfer power to his deputy. Their contribution to the peace process manifested through their open condemnation of human rights violations, propagated by the Saleh government. Spearheaded by GCC, foreign countries were able to convince Saleh to step down from power and have his deputy lead the country.

Besides the violations of human rights, by the former Yemeni government, foreign powers intervened in the Yemeni conflict because they wanted to stop the violence and prevent any spread of terrorism activities. America was most interested about the implications of a change of guard in Yemen (concerning the war on terror).

Nonetheless, as any responsible government should do, it is pertinent for the Yemeni government to solve the humanitarian crisis that plagues the country. Thousands of Yemenis have not gone back to their homes, thereby creating a humanitarian crisis, both within Yemen and in neighbouring countries. Since this issue is unresolved, this paper highlights the possibility of food insecurity and political instability occurring as possible consequences of the conflict. There is therefore a strong need to address some of these issues to prevent any future social or economic problems in Yemen.

Works Cited

Akhbar, English 2012, Mass Yemeni Protest Denounces Violence, Saleh. Web.

Almasmari, Hakim 2012, . Web.

Arabia, Noon 2012, Yemen’s Revolution Far From Accomplished. Web.

Dadrian, Vahakn. The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus, London: Berghahn Books, 2003. Print.

Krüger, Heiko. The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: A Legal Analysis, New York: Springer, 2010. Print.

Saeed, Ali 2012, Political Insecurity Drives Yemenis into Displacement and Hunger. Web.

Sharqieh, Ibrahim 2012, Will Yemen’s Peace Agreement Hold? Web.

UN Refugee Agency 2013, 2013 . Web.

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