Conclusions of the 2020 Book, “Global, Regional, and Local Dynamics in the Yemen Crisis,” Co-Edited by Stephen Day and Noel Brehony 

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By Dr. Stephen Day* 

March 28, 2022

At the end of February 2020, the major English-language publisher of academic research, Palgrave-Macmillan, released the book I co-edited with Noel Brehony, entitled “Global, Regional, and Local Dynamics in the Yemen Crisis.” Timing of the book’s release could not have been worse.


Initial hindrances due to Coronavirus 

In March 2020, nearly all public gatherings were banned as part of the global health emergency arising from rapid spread of Covid-19 infections. This forced us to cancel plans for book-release events and conferences where we hoped to present the book’s findings. I intended to organize multiple events on the east and west coasts of the United States, plus in London, England, and possible sites in the Middle East, such as Istanbul or Cairo. But this became impossible.

Before international travel restrictions started in March 2020, I attended a conference in Istanbul organized by the Tawakkol Karman Foundation, called “Postwar Yemen: A Forward Looking Vision.” I spoke briefly and shared information about the book. But my flight back to the US was one of the last ones to cross freely over the Atlantic Ocean. Afterward, it became unthinkable to plan a public conference with mass attendance. Noel Brehony and I arranged a Zoom conference in June 2020. Video of the 70-minutes discussion among authors who wrote chapters of the book can be viewed on my YouTube channel,“Books on the Middle East.” 


Contents of the book

Our book on the Yemen crisis was the first comprehensive, in-depth research seeking explanations of causes and consequences of the crisis. Chapters were written by different specialists focusing on the role played by different actors inside and outside Yemen. Outside actors included those from the Middle East, as well as Europe, North America, Asia, and the United Nations. Each chapter was also organized around a single chronology of events, beginning with Yemeni national unity, 1990-2010, followed by the years of street protests in the “Arab Spring” and political transition after Ali Abdullah Saleh’s removal, 2011-2014, events leading to war after the September coup by allied forces of Saleh and al-Houthi, 2014-2015, and finally, prolonged years of suffering, 2016-2019.

The goal of the book was to explain multiple dynamics resulting in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with primary focus on the varied interests of local, regional, and global actors. How did influential Yemenis inside the country interact with influential “regional” actors like leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran? And how did “local” and “regional” actors interact with “global” actors in the US, UK, EU, and UN? Which actors are most responsible for the failure of Yemen’s post-2011 transition and international warfare in late March 2015? 

Purposes of the book

When Noel Brehony and I began working on the book in 2017, we hoped to provide preliminary answers to questions arising from the Yemen crisis based upon well-documented research, in order to enable other researchers to advance the process of finding more complete answers in the future. In other words, our book did not claim to offer final definitive answers on the subject. Instead, we felt it was important to print preliminary answers that served as guideposts for later researchers, indicating areas of research that others can investigate on their own. 

Focusing on the Sana’a coup of 2014-2015

One of the main subjects we wanted to explore involved circumstances behind the Sanaa coup, an extended process between September 2014 and January 2015 that was carried out by forces loyal to former President Saleh and Houthi family members who sought to handcuff or remove the government of President Hadi. The coup was the main trigger of international war and the resulting humanitarian crisis, thus it was a key turning point in Yemen’s recent history. 

Because the book analyses many subjects, it is impossible for me to address all of them in a short article for the Mokha Center for Strategic Studies of Yemen, yet the Sanaa coup is a good starting point for a series of articles I hope to publish on the topic. As an American scholar who studied Yemen over the past three decades, I understand political sensitivities among Yemenis who may blame each other or outsiders for responsibility of the coup in 2014-2015. The subject of political coups, sometimes called “regime change,” was a prominent part of US foreign policy during and after the Cold War. Thus, I am aware of widespread suspicions of my own government due to its habit of sponsoring “coups.” 

Prior to Yemen’s 2014-2015 coup, there was a military coup in Egypt carried out against the elected government of Mohammed al-Morsi who came to power after his country’s 2011 “Arab Spring.” Both Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates were widely suspected of paying Egypt’s army to stage the coup in 2013. Thus, America is not the only suspect of involvement in coup activities. Muslim heads of state engage in the same process.

The latter is important to keep in mind when attempting to answer the question of who was ultimately responsible for Yemen’s coup between September 2014 and January 2015. 

Who was to blame?

Clearly, local actors inside the country, namely allied forces of Saleh and Houthi, were primarily responsible for the Sana’a coup. But Houthi leaders and some of their supporters argued that they were invited into the capital Sanaa by President Hadi himself and the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar. And there are separate suspicions of “regional” actors favoring or assisting the coup. 

The main spotlight falls on the government of Iran, and its fast-developing alliance with the Houthi rebel faction. But some suspect the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates favored the 2014-2015 coup, just as they favored Egypt’s coup the prior year. During the last half of 2013 and early 2014, Yemenis became very suspicious of Saudi and Emirati intentions due to events in Cairo.

Because armed forces loyal to Saleh and Houthi entered the national capital between September 16 and 21, 2014, they clearly carried primary responsibility for what happened in the fall and winter of 2014-2015. But findings in our book pointed to shared responsibility among local, regional, and global actors whose interests conflicted in some ways and coincided in other ways. 

Future articles of mine for the Mokha Center for Strategic Studies of Yemen will explain the local, regional, and global dynamics behind the Sana’a coup and other findings of the book.


* Professor of Middle East Studies at Rollins College, Florida, USA.


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