SInce almost the beginning of Islam, there has been a deep schism between the Sunnis and the Shiites. These two sects of Islam have been in wars, battles, and rebellions with each other throughout history. This conflict can even be seen in modern times with the militant group, Hezbollah, in Lebanon, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and very recently with ISIS, a Sunni terrorist group in Iraq and the Levant region with the goal of taking over the middle east and implementing religious law, beheading anyone who stands in their way. These specific extremists groups and various nations’ efforts to combat these extremest groups, are a few of many examples of the conflict between Shia and Sunni Islam. Another example, which has had a prominent presence in the news this week, which also shows this conflict is what is now turning into a civil war in Yemen. The Yemeni government is currently combatting, what is called the Houthi Rebellion, a movement started by Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, a cleric with the goal of fighting the Yemeni government and implementing his own brand of Shia religious law. What is different about the Yemen conflict, that separates it from the others in the middle east, is that this has obviously become a proxi war between larger, more influential nations. Yes, it started out has just a conflict between two factions in Yemen, but other countries have decided to give their support to either side and promote their own religious ideals as well. Iran, a major power in the middle east, is a predominantly Shia state and is backing the Houthis in their endeavor against the Yemeni government. On the other side, Saudi Arabia, a major Oil producer and economic power, along with other smaller nations such as Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain, as of recently, are providing air support and air strikes against the rebels. Egypt and Pakistan, it appears, will also be giving support. What all these nations have in common is that they are mostly of Sunni Islam. So what started as a small conflict in a small country, has become a major proxi war between a major Shia power and a major Sunni power, who are fighting a religious battle.
This proxi war bears a striking resemblance to the proxi fights during the cold war. For example the Korean War, was really a conflict between China and the US, who were giving aid to two much smaller countries. The cold war was about the conflict between to major ideals: communism and capitalism. The only difference here is the two conflicting ideals are Shia and Sunni Islam.
The Houthi rebellion, does not just have to about religion though. It could also be about regional influence and long term strategy. After all, Iran and Saudi Arabia are two of the most important powers in the middle east and Yemen holds a strategic location on the Arabian peninsula.
Another point worth looking at is the relationship between Iran and the US. Iran and the US are currently in the process of diplomatic talks, with the goal of coming to an agreement about Iran’s nuclear program and coming to a peaceful solution. Iran is also helping combat ISIS, and though this may not directly with the US, both nations have the same goal of exterminating ISIS and establishing peace in Iraq. It should appear that Iran and the US might have the goal of having a diplomatic relationship, like the US has with Saudi Arabia. However, the US has picked an opposing side in the conflict in Yemen. Though not directly providing troops, the US is providing Saudi Arabia with logistical support in their effort to fight the rebels and has given vocal support of the Saudi efforts. So on one front, the US and Iran are on the same side, but on another, they are not. It seems that while the US has the goal of fighting all rebels and helping established governments in the middle east, Iran’s goal is to promote Shia Islam and neither of them seem to want long term agreements with each other. In the ISIS example, the US might be fighting for regional stability, but Iran might only be doing it because ISIS is a Sunni group.
What can be taken away from this all is that it appears in the middle east, though political borders have changed, the everlasting religious fights have remained the same, at least in modern history, specifically.