The effort to portray the Yemeni government as a vital ally against rising religious extremism in the nation is being seriously harmed, experts say, by the Saleh government’s increasingly close ties to jihadists.
Saleh’s government has been allied with Salafists and thousands of former Afghan jihadists for years, and has often turned to them to quell internal dissent. The most recent case has been in the fight against the Shi’ite Houthi rebels.
And while the government says the Houthi clash may soon be over, the practice of the government-backed militants of destroying Shi’ite mosques in the region and replacing them with Sunni ones is sewing an enormous amount of resentment, which may keep the conflict alive going forward.
The attacks have gotten so extreme that the Houthis have even alleged that the Yemeni government is using al-Qaeda cells in the civil war. While this appears not to be the case, experts say the difference between al-Qaeda and Yemen’s allies are relatively minor, and the confusion among Shi’ites watching as the militant groups pour into their homeland is probably understandable.