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It took a while but Saudi Arabia this week finally spoke out about the latest situation in Yemen just south of its border, condemning the Houthi takeover of the capital and the government as a coup against legitimacy and a serious threat to the Yemeni nation’s and the region’s security.
Riyadh had been conspicuous by its silence about the fast-moving developments that have seen the Shi’a Houthis overrun large swaths of Yemen.
Yemen has always been Saudi Arabia’s soft underbelly, a nation that has been divided, reunited and is, in the words of the UN envoy on 12 February, again on the verge of civil war. There have been few instances in recent history when Saudi Arabia has not been involved in one way or another in Yemen’s affairs, which makes its recent absence from the scene puzzling. This can partly but not fully be explained by Riyadh’s pre-occupation with more serious threats from Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, the civil war in Syria and the death of King ‘Abd Allah last month. It leaves open the question of why it has become less concerned with the security threat from Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based al-Qa’ida franchise that poses a perennial threat to the oil-rich kingdom’s stability to say nothing of the Houthis, who Saudi Arabia says are backed by its regional foe Iran. True that Saudi Arabia has enhanced its border defenses in the north and the south to ward off the dual threats, but it has remained politically detached as the chaos in Yemen unfolded. It has instead left it to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to do the talking on Yemen.
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