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President Ali Abdallah Saleh had been in power since 1978, an experience that he famously likened to “dancing on the heads of snakes.”

As the position of Saleh became increasingly precarious, Saudi Arabia was one of the leaders in brokering a deal for a transition. The deal, backed by the UN, involved a transfer of power to Saleh’s deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which finally took place in November 2011 after months of deadly clashes between protesters and the security forces.

The transfer of power to Hadi appeared to be having some success in establishing stability, but the Yemeni armed forces remained sharply divided after the defection in March 2011 of General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar from the government to the uprising. The manoeuvrings of tribal forces were behind many clashes between different parts of the official armed forces. Throughout 2012 and 2013 Hadi continued to struggle with the various challenges to central authority including the Houthis and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

More broadly, the 2011 ‘revolution’ did not lead to a thorough change in the leadership of the country. Huge economic and social problems continued to afflict the population and Hadi was seen by many Yemenis as ineffective.

In September 2014, Houthi armed forces took control of the capital Sana’a, culminating a simmering and often violent dispute over the drafting of a new constitution, which was plagued by disagreements, particularly over its crucial decentralisation clauses.

Sunni governments in the region saw Iranian interference in the success of the Houthis (although it probably had at least as much to do with support from elements loyal to the old president, Ali Abdallah Saleh).

 In March 2015, Saudi Arabia lead a coalition of nine Arab states in imposing a naval blockade on Yemen and bombing Houthi positions. The air operation has caused a lot of destruction and killed many civilians but has not decisively reversed gains made by the Houthis. In January 2016 the UN said that nearly 2,800 civilians had been killed.

The blockade has sharply worsened Yemen’s already very fragile humanitarian situation. The UN warned in December 2015 that Yemen is on the edge of famine, with the worst affected being the 1.3 million internally displaced. As many as 14 million Yemenis are thought to be food insecure and nearly 8 million are in desperate need. The WFP blames both sides for impeding the distribution of vital food aid.

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