The neglected war in Yemen

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Air strike in Sana'a / Credit: ibrahem Qasim
Air strike in Sana'a / Credit: ibrahem Qasim

The war in Yemen has been escalating over the past few months as the Saudi-led coalition has been trying to reinstate the government of former president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The coalition, which is supported by the United States and the United Kingdom, has been fighting Houthi rebels since last year. Saudi Arabia’s strong interest in Yemen’s civil war stems from the fact that the Houthis are allied with Iran; a country considered an enemy by the Saudis. All peace talks have failed up to now and the country is in chaos and in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

The Houthi rebels are supporters of former Shia Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh who governed from 1990 till 2012. The Houthis, also called Ansar Allah (supporters of God), belong to the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam. The Zaydis ruled North Yemen for more than a thousand years and consist of at least 30% of the Yemeni population. Ever since the Houthis overthrew the Yemeni government they have been gathering support among locals across the country. Tens of thousands of Yemenis gathered in the capital Sana’a on August 20 to show their support for the Houthi movement and the governing council they are planning on establishing. Earlier this month, the Houthis announced their plans to form a body to govern the capital and other parts of the country under their control.

Ever since the Houthis took over control of the capital Sana’a, the streets have been infiltrated with Houthi guards and the walls covered with the Houthi slogan that reads: “God is Great. Death to America. Death to Israel. A curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam.” Even though they control large parts of Yemen, they face fierce opposition and not only from the Saudi-led coalition. Al Qaeda, specifically Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has also taken up arms against the Houthis and has bombed several Houthi gatherings over the past year.

However, this doesn’t mean that AQAP is fighting with Saudi Arabia. Last week, Hamza bin Laden, the son of previous Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, released an audio message in which he urges Saudi citizens to train with AQAP in order to overthrow the Saudi kingdom. Al Qaeda has long seen the Saudi kingdom as traitors for working with the West and has repeatedly threatened to punish them for their ‘betrayal.’ Furthermore, the Houthis are also facing pressure from the South of Yemen, which is predominantly Sunni and where calls for parting with the north have become increasingly popular. There have been several rallies in the city of Aden calling for freedom and independence from Northern Yemen.

The United Nations has attempted to hold peace talks with Saudi Arabia three times, but none have produced fruitful results. The UN had blacklisted Saudi Arabia for violating children’s rights in Yemen but was pressured into removing them because they threatened to cut funding that the UN felt they needed to continue helping more children in need around the world. However, the UN is again threatening to put the Saudis on the blacklist after a strike at a school and hospital in Yemen that left at least 10 children dead.

The U.S and U.K have increasingly been facing pressure to speak out against Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen and to take action to prevent the situation from getting worse. Many members of Congress have voiced their disapproval against the arms deals that the US has been making with the Saudis; arms that many believe are being used to kill innocent civilians. Britain and the U.S recently closed an arms deal worth more than $1.1 billion with Saudi Arabia and have so far failed to call out their controversial ally on their reported war crimes. “The U.S. silence has been deafening in the face of aggressive Saudi bullying to prevent the U.N. from condemning a horrendously abusive military campaign that has killed and maimed hundreds of children,” said Philippe Bolopion, deputy director for global advocacy and former U.N. director at Human Rights Watch. “This blatant double standard deeply undermines U.S. efforts to address human rights violations whether in Syria or elsewhere in the world.”

Despite there being a huge humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the Western media has neglected the importance and magnitude of what the people in Yemen are facing. Over 700,000 children are in need of nutritional support but the U.N is only able to help 10% of those people. More than 6000 people have been killed since the conflict began, 1,100 of them being children. It has also been reported that children make up about 30% of the Houthi fighting force. Yemen was already the poorest country in the Arab world before the civil war broke out and now over 21 million people living there need some form of humanitarian assistance.

There are currently several proposals on the table. Each one demands that the Houthis withdraw from Sana’a  and that they return the weapons that they plundered from the Yemeni army. However, the Houthis aren’t planning on giving up so easily. They want to control the Yemeni government and they won’t stop until the coalition forces leave Yemen. Despite resistance, Saudi Arabia is expected to continue their role in Yemen in order to defeat the Houthis and reinstate a government they approve of. However, the war in Yemen has been very expensive for the Saudis and it is unclear how much longer they can afford to keep fighting, especially if the U.K and U.S halt arms deals with them.

It’s a sad situation in Yemen as more people die and become displaced every day while having to see terrible violence plaguing their country; all this is happening while the West looks the other way. Since when did arms deals become more important than human rights? Our political leaders have to get their act together and start paying significant attention to Yemen before it becomes the next Iraq or Syria.

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About Gabriela Bernal 23 Articles
Gabriela Bernal is interested in politics, international relations, and terrorism. She is pursuing a degree in political science and plans on pursuing her postgraduate studies in the U.K. She likes to write, read, play tennis, travel, and learn new languages.

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