What is happening in Yemen?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Last month’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi embassy in Turkey has put a renewed spotlight on the regime of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). The journalist, often critical of the current Saudi regime, is said to have been killed at MBS’s behest. MBS was hailed as a progressive leader as he led economic and social reforms, like allowing women to drive, but his human rights record is less than stellar, domestically and abroad. One of the issues highlighted is the war in Yemen, one of the worst humanitarian crisis of our times, and one which is fueled by the Saudi regime. Here I want to give a short primer on what is happening there, because we hear about it all the time, but I feel that sometimes we don’t fully care until we understand what is going on.

Where is Yemen?

The Republic of Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, is at the southern tip of the Arab Peninsula. It’s bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north and Oman to the east. Its capital is Sana’a.

(From BusinessInsider.com)
What is this war about?

In 2014, Houthis rebels started fighting the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who had to take refuge in Aden. Hadi was elected in 2012 (he was the only candidate on the ballots after being Vice-President since 1994… super democratic process!) and, though his government is internationally recognized, refused to give up power in 2014, after his 2-year transitional mandate expired. In March 2015, the Houthis declared a general offensive, thereby starting a civil war.

Who are the Houthis?

The Houthis originate from the North of the country and take their names from their former leader, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi. They claim to fight for a more economically stable country, a non-sectarian and non-corrupt government, and for an independent Yemen -which to them means free of Saudi and US influence. Though the Houthis are Shia Muslim, many articles I have read report that they do not fight against the Sunni Muslims but against a political government they want to see change.

Who are the main international actors?

Ah, this is where this civil war becomes more than “just” a conflict between an established government and rebels.

Though I just wrote that the civil war may not be related to religion, the Houthis are backed by Iran (whose government and population are also Shia) while the Hadi government is backed by the (Sunni) Saudi Arabia and indirectly, but in a way very directly, those who sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, such as the US and France. Khashoggi’s murder became an indictment on the US-Saudi relation, especially their economic ties. Remember that Donald Trump first said that he wouldn’t jeopardize a 10-million dollar deal with the Saudi over this "incident." A lot of civil society organizations in the US, France, and Germany, among others, have put pressure on their government -even before Khashoggi’s murder- to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia to curtail the war in Yemen and to show their worry over Saudi’s human rights record.

What is the effect on civilians?

According to the UN and other sources, up to 14,000 people have been killed in Yemen, including more than 5,200 civilians, as of the end of December 2017. On top of this, more than 50,000 died because of an ongoing famine, due to the Saudi blockade of Yemen. Children are especially vulnerable to the war itself and to famine.

In Summary

This is a complicated war. The country itself was never a democracy and was never economically independent. Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting a war by proxy and destabilizing Yemen even more. Yemeni children and their families are victims of the blockade and ensuing famine. The situation is a humanitarian catastrophe. I am able to watch Al Jazeera here in the Philippines (I’m here for a week for work) and they show videos of children terribly thin, starving, dying. This is the reality the children of Yemen face.

What can we do?

Some organizations are working in Yemen to help families and children. If you are able and feel compelled to give, I recommend Save the Children, the IRC, and Doctors Without Borders.
Additionally you can call your representative to ask what they're doing to end US' (or your country's) sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia.


Wikipedia's Yemen Civil War