Yemen’s War: more than meets the eye

Yemen is currently experiencing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, resulting from their civil war. The country is on the brink of famine and is being bombed by Saudi Arabia, whilst the population remains divided.

Former President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was assassinated on December 2nd by the Shia Muslim rebel Houthis.” This was due to Saleh having broken a few days earlier his ties with his previous Houthi allies, who had supported him for years and stood by him during this civil war.

Saleh’s son has now called for revenge on the Houthi group, and experts predict that the situation will escalate and more civilians will die. Yemen’s people are at war with one another and are split into two groups. The Houthis and other Saleh loyalists are on one side, while the other is made up of those who support the new government run by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The opposing forces have been causing conflict since Hadi assumed the presidency from Saleh in 2012, as part of the Arab Spring settlement.

President Hadi has since fled Yemen to Saudi Arabia, which sparked the war and airstrikes on Yemen. The beginning of the war started in the first two years of Hadi’s new government. During Hadi’s presidency, the country experienced massive unemployment, food insecurity, suicide bombings, and a growing separatist movement in the South. Hadi was only meant to be president for two years, but his presidency dragged on far longer.

In 2014, the Houthis managed to take over Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, and by 2015 they tried to take control of the whole country. The president took refuge in Saudi Arabia, and  the Saudis saw the conflict as an immediate threat to them and decided to attack. Saudi was also fearing Iran’s involvement, because there was the belief that the Saudi rival Iran was supplying the Houthis with training and weapons.

Both Yemen and Iran are Shia Muslim countries, but Saudi is primarily Sunni Muslim. These two denominations of Islam r regularly clash, and Saudi Arabia was concerned that further conflict (and challenge to their own control and influence in the region) would result from Iran and Yemen allying and the Houthis taking over Yemen. After the United States sold weapons to Saudi, the Saudis began bombing Yemen—and continue to this day.

The Obama Administration sold weapons to Saudi until the widely-publicized bombing of a funeral procession, after which the U.S. government stopped its involvement in the airstrikes. After the November 2016 U.S. elections, however, Donald Trump, has strengthened the U.S./Saudi partnership. The result has been that more bombs were dropped in Yemen in the first week of March this year, than the whole of 2016. Aljazeera reported that, so far, there have been over 10,000 civilian deaths in the war, and 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes.

The Houthis have also lost control of the garbage and sewage in certain areas, and rubbish is filling the streets. In addition to the pollution, Yemenis have not been able to receive proper humanitarian aid. Most people don’t have access to fresh water and many children are dying of malnutrition. The port that brought in 80 percent of Yemen’s food was blocked and bombed 9 times by the Saudis, and it can no longer be used.

There had also been a bridge that brought in much of Yemen’s food aid, but Saudi Arabia destroyed that as well. The United Nations has stated that 17 million people are at emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity. 101 hospitals and schools were bombed in 2015 alone, which forced Doctors Without Borders to leave the country.

The military coalition assembled by Saudi Arabia has included many countries from the Middle East and North Africa, many of whom depend upon Saudi Arabia for financial aid. In addition to U.S. weapon sales, the U.S. and UK have provided intelligence and logistical support. But in April 2015, the coalition announced that it was moving from active military action to a more enhanced political process toward resolution. It seems it was easier said than done. Yemen will be in an increased state of insecurity due to the recent assassination of former President Saleh and the strength of the Houthi forces. The Saudi coalition continues its attempt to restore the Hadi government, and the airstrikes have intensified since Saleh’s death.

Yemen will most likely remain in extreme crisis for a long time to come. Because of the corruption in their government, as well as widespread international proxy involvement, it will not recover easily.  

Martyna Zuchowska   (Melbourne, Australia)

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