Long the poorest portion of one of the world’s poorest nations, the Shi’ite northwestern tip of Yemen has been an unenviable mess. Its towns were regularly attacked by the US-backed Saleh regime as well as the Saudi military, which regularly crossed over the nebulous border to hit Shi’ite fighters they accused of raids.
Former President Saleh had an obsession with attacking the Houthi area of Yemen, vowing to halt all funding to schools and hospitals in the nation to pay for a war to crush the Shi’ites “without mercy.” What a difference a few years makes.
During the popular uprising against Saleh, the Houthis set up a de facto independent “state within a state” in the north. Some of cities are still in ruins from years of attacks but the shops are full, business is booming and, for the first time in a long time, the area is relatively safe.
Some officials are complaining that the Houthi militias are ruling through the threat of violence and are calling to bring the region back under direct regime control. At this point, however, the Houthi control of the region is not contested, and is simply a fact. Officials say there may eventually be a deal to bring them nominally under central government control but in the meantime, the region is enjoying a well-deserved rest from years of fighting.