When learning about the Holocaust during World War II, I’m sure you remember questioning how the world allowed such atrocities to take place. The narrative seemed so evident, so black and white as you read about it in your history textbook. That genocide transpired ages ago, yet we continue to educate our youth about it. Progress. Germany learned from this mistake, and now we will, too. We will never forget.
Fast forward a few years and nothing has changed. Nothing ever changes. Out of sight, out of mind. Several genocides have occurred following the Holocaust, and at times it feels as though the world has taken several steps backwards.
If you search “Yemen” on YouTube, you will find dozens of videos from years ago and yet, this may be the first time you are hearing of this. Before you overwhelm yourself with dismay, remember that all we can control are our own reactions. Let’s talk about one of the worst humanitarian crises of all time. Let’s talk about Yemen.
Yemen was formerly named Arabia Felix, which is Latin for “fortunate” and “happy”; a stark contrast between how the world views it now. It holds ground as one of the Earth’s oldest civilizations. They say that the biblical Queen of Sheba was Yemeni! The capital is Sana’a, and it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. From the 18th to mid-20th century, Yemeni silversmiths were globally renowned for their craftsmanship The official language is Arabic.
The key players involved with the crisis in Yemen are:
- Ali Abdullah Saleh
- The Houthis
- Saudi Arabia
- Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi
How did the crisis start?
Once upon a time, Yemen was actually separated into two countries: North and South Yemen. Tensions remained despite its eventual unification. Yemen had a tyrannical authoritarian president named Ali Abdullah Saleh. He spurred out some controversial nonsense, and Yemenis protested against him in the Arab Spring of 2011. Saudi Arabia, one of the richest and most influential countries in the world, is a part of this elite society called the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). They helped oversee the negotiations to remove Saleh from power and replace him with Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Yemenis waited, hoping change would come. The transition of power was far from seamless as Hadi struggled to unify the country, clamp down on jihad attacks and improve food security and employment for its people. Some communities eventually began to lose patience.
Who are the Houthis? They are a Shia (Muslim) rebel movement supported by Iran, who argue that they have been marginalized by the government. This would explain why they were so influential with the protests in 2011 against former president Saleh, and eventually against the government in general. Why are the Houthis so pissed? Initially, they penalized Saleh for his corrupt leadership in the 1990s, stealing the country’s wealth for his own greed. Arab relations with the United States intensified after the Iraq invasion in 2003, which is when the Houthis became more radicalized. I mean, it wasn’t uncommon for Arab dictators to formulate relations with wealthier first-world nations and forget about the poverty of the homeland they are intended to serve. We can all understand the frustration of those citizens desperate for some support. Saleh ordered a mission to destroy the Houthis, and in 2004, he killed the founder of the group, Hussein al-Houthi. This obviously didn’t sit well.
Here are where things get a little twisted. The Houthis and Saleh both recognized that they were neglected by the GCC, and the Houthis needed to strengthen their military power to gain control, so they ended up joining forces. For a split second, they attempted to restore Saleh back to power.The Houthis eventually made a power move by controlling the capital, Sanaa, to expose the weakness of Hadi’s rule in 2014. Due to continuing loyalty to Saleh and threats of massive invasion of the entire country by the Houthis, Hadi eventually fled to Saudi Arabia. Afterwards, Houthi rebels began invading Aden, the homebase for the Hadi administration in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has now entered the chat.
There is an old saying I was told as a child that, “Not all Arabs get along with other Arabs.” I don’t support stereotypes but in this instance, it kind of reigns true. The Houthis remained dominant and powerful in the war, but the Saudis were beginning to believe they, the Houthis, had been receiving military aid from Iran. Iran has publicly supported the Houthis, but denounces all claims about military support. Surprise, surprise: Arab nations have issues. What is the reason for the tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia? Iran and Saudi Arabia have economic conflict as superpowers in the region but more so, there are bitter religious disputes. Saudi Arabia is the leading Sunni Muslim power, while Iran stands as a Shia Muslim power. (LINK MUSLIM BLOG) Religious differences intensify everything, don’t they?
Saudi Arabia was determined to combat all Iranian influence from Yemen, and defeat the Houthis. They formed an alliance with neighboring Arab nations, and responded to Hadi’s pleas, and created an air, land and sea barrier, making it virtually impossible to transport essential supplies to Yemen. The aid that is supplied is allegedly stolen or tampered with by the Houthis. The Saudis then led an intervention of boundless air strikes aimed at hospitals, schools, wedding ceremonies, funerals, markets, and other non-military targets killing and injuring thousands of innocent Yemeni civilians, not the enemy. The intention was to run the Houthis out of Yemen, but that’s not exactly what has been happening.
The country is landlocked in this spiraling catastrophe that appears to have no end in sight. According to a 2019 report, about 29 million citizens live in Yemen, and about 26 million depend on humanitarian aid. About 2 million children are mal-nourished, and about 10 million people overall are “one step away from famine”. Welcome to the beginning of the civil war, and the worst humanitarian crisis in history.
Fast forward to 2017, and Yemen is still experiencing Hell on Earth but we have a plot twist. Former president Saleh, who was teamed up with the Houthis and the Saudis, “traded sides” on national television. He publicly proclaimed that he had wanted to negotiate with the coalition to end the blockade and put an end to the madness. Two days later, he was assassinated by the Houthis. Great.
Now some of the Saleh-supporters who had joined forces with the Houthis were angry, along with all the other forces lined against the Houthis. The Houthis did maintain control of their territories, however. In September 2019, two Saudi Arabian oil fields were attacked. The Houthis claimed responsibility but Saudi Arabia blamed Iran, worsening the tension. Members of al-Qaeda have attacked some Yemeni territories because why not? The country is in shambles anyway.
This crisis is the perfect example of a proxy war because Saudi Arabia and Iran are supporting conflicting groups in a “third-party”, Yemen, instigating greater animosity and war to settle their own discord. This gets messier when you consider the allies who provide political and economic support to Iran and Saudi Arabia. You will soon realize that many of the world’s wealthiest nations (including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom and yes, the United States) and some notorious terrorist groups, have all played a part in the atrocities occurring in Yemen. Some nations involved in the Saudi-led coalition are even pursuing their own agendas discreetly in Yemen. Plus, I’m sure we have all heard similar sentiments opposing the acceptance of refugees. Yemeni civilians are stuck.
A Pandemic in a War-Torn Nation
Yemen is dealing with a lot. Until politicians realign their moral compass and discuss some principled diplomacy, Yemen remains without proper leadership amidst a war. This makes the country essentially lawless as citizens attempt to navigate each day as it comes. Without federally regulated standards, the quality of life can diminish. While cholera is relatively rare, there is a horrific epidemic in Yemen. Cholera is a bacterial disease spread through contaminated water. It causes severe diarrhea and vomiting which then causes dehydration, and the side effects related to that. Treatment involves immense and immediate rehydration, IVs and antibiotics, but in a third world country dealing with a blockade in a proxy war, aid isn’t all too accessible.
The Western world has truly suffered through this pandemic, yes, but count your blessings. A pandemic hits differently in a war-torn nation. Yemenis still have to watch their back for incoming raids and air strikes. They still have to earn a living maintaining their businesses or clocking into work, should their employer still exist. The healthcare system remains broken, and it is impossible to implement the CDC’s recommendations and protocol. There are roughly 40 quarantine centers in the entire country, but healthcare workers operate off of very limited supplies. Yemenis are finding it difficult to receive updates on the virus, nevermind locate or use masks.
Houthi leaders have even dismissed the severity of the virus, just like one American leader we are familiar with. Even though the most concentrated number of Yemenis live in the Houthi territory, they have reported the lowest number of cases. Some suggest this may be intentional, as Houthi leaders may be purposefully underreporting. Houthi controls some of the busiest and most prosperous areas in the country which generates greater economic activity which will ultimately suffer during a pandemic lockdown, as we have experienced.
Be the Change
I’ve summarized the ordeal as simply as possible. Now what? Time to take action.
This ordeal has been going on for 7 years. It is time for us to take action ourselves instead of concerning ourselves only when provided enough media coverage. We cannot bypass these horrors simply because these poor civilians have darker skin, dress differently, speak another language, practice a different faith. We cannot normalize corruption and destruction in the Middle East.
Politically unaffiliated organizations need to access Yemeni civilians urgently. If possible, donate to the organizations providing optimal relief then, spread the word.