With Friends Like These, Who Needs Yemenis?

Yemen is everywhere in the news these days. All the players in the region have now focused their attention on this broiling and desiccated snake-pit: Iran, the Saudis, al-Qaeda, and of course the USA. Enmities ancient and modern, religious and political, are all in play, and a tangled web of shifting alliances makes it awfully hard for far-off observers to tally the score.

Readers will recall that recently, striving tirelessly as always to foster objective and impartial understanding of the world’s labyrinthine complexities, I introduced you all to the blog Waq al-Waq, which is maintained by Brian O’Neill and Gregory Johnsen, two Western scholars of Yemen’s culture, history and current affairs. I think their site will be an increasingly helpful resource as events unfold. (And with a name like that, it has to be good.)

What brought things to a boil in Yemen this time around was an uprising by the Houthis in the north; as Zaidi Muslims they are neither Twelver Shiites (the primary form of Shiism in Iran and the rest of the region), nor are they quite Sunni. The president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Salih, is a Zaidi as well — but there is no love lost between him and the Houthis. To understand why, you should read this article by Gregory Johnsen, one of a list of his essays that you can find here.

Yemen is an enigmatic and chaotic place, but suddenly an enormously important one, and these two knowledgeable observers are a valuable asset.

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