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Key Words: Yemen, long term strategy, failure, short-termism, reactionary charity approaches, political pressure, Allah.
How has our approach to Yemen been? Do we need to re-evaluate how we help countries like Yemen beyond food parcels? Do we even understand Yemen as a political crisis? Whilst it is a desperate situation and the Yemeni people require food and medical aid, what is the practical and long term approach to change Yemen needs?
Muslims across the world have a special relationship with Saudi Arabia. It is a place, though geographically distant, close in all our hearts. It is the destination we all dream of visiting to complete Hajj or Umrah, and images of the desert full of palm trees fills our minds when we study the Seerah (life of the prophet pbuh). We think of calm and contentment; of prayer and sacred Islamic history. But what do we do when Saudi Arabia also conjures up images of war, destruction, deadly arms deals, and oppression? It is a mental image and reality that many of us will struggle to reconcile. But we must face this reality in order to take strategic action for one of the devastating crises in modern times: Yemen.
Yemen currently faces being wiped off as a country.
That is a difficult and shocking sentence to type. For so many Muslims, we have been fighting for so long to protect the status and existence of Palestine, yet we watch in horror as this very nightmare plays out for Yemen. The country, situated south of Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula and bordering Oman, was once known and valued for its trade routes into India and its status as the sole producer of coffee in the world. Sadly, today headlines including Yemen focus on its status as a failed state, and more devastatingly, its destruction at the hands of Saudi Arabia, spearheaded by British planes and bombs.
What happened in Yemen?
Following the Arab Spring in 2012, Yemen saw the appointment of a new leader, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who came into power in an already politically volatile climate rife with claims of kleptocracy, with civil unrest at record highs. The lack of central government during the period where Hadi came into power allowed the rise of the Houthis. The Houthis, officially known as Ansar Allah, is a religious and political armed movement originating from Northern Yemen in the 1990s.
In 2014 the Houthis took over the capital of Yemen, Sana’a, in what is known as a coup d’etat, eventually forcing President Hadi into exile in 2015. Following his exile, Saudi Arabia backed Hadi and began its violent and brutal military campaign against Yemen. By 2017, what was now dubbed as a ‘New Civil War’ presented itself as a clear-cut sustained military attack by Saudi Arabia on the people of Yemen in order to reinstate Hadi’s presidential rule.
The problem with civil war is that it is never civil. The military campaign by Saudi Arabia was not carried out in a vacuum; it was hell-bent on creating further destruction in an already fragile state, rife with poverty, unemployment and insecure infrastructure. The political conflict further exacerbated famine. Destruction of the country’s water infrastructure resulted in an outbreak of cholera. The destruction was taking its toll on the people of Yemen.
Amongst Yemen’s population of 28.5 million (World Bank), the UN reported in 2019 that 24 million of these 28.5 million were in need of humanitarian need. That is 85% of the entire country’s population in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, whilst Saudi Arabia, the rich neighbour, continued ahead with their bombing and destruction.
Yemen in 2020: Coronavirus, global solidarity and fundraising
As global awareness and solidarity continues to grow and deepen in the wake of movements such as Black Lives Matter, we have seen a rise in global empathy and human connection on one hand. More and more corporate organisations have produced statements of solidarity against oppression, and this is translating across for Yemen, too. Desperate cries from charity organisations claim that if we do not donate and act fast, the Yemeni population will cease to exist. We can see a tangible shift towards crowd fundraising and shows of solidarity for Yemen. Social media influencers are using their platforms to fundraise for humanitarian aid in Yemen. Small businesses are donating profits towards charities working to relieve the suffering of Yemeni people. Humanitarian aid serves the purpose of alleviating some immediate suffering on the ground but for a country like Yemen that has been suffering from the crises of poverty, lack of healthcare and infrastructure for over a decade, it is not enough. Political problems require a political solution*; throwing donation money or humanitarian aid is the equivalent of using a band-aid on the problem. This reactionary charity approach fails to serve a long-term strategy of reconstructing a failed state such as Yemen.
Yemen requires monetary assistance yes, but it also requires real collaboration and political change, especially when the situation is compounded by so many detrimental factors.
The deadly impact of coronavirus on an already fragile healthcare system has taken its toll on Yemen and the nation cannot contain the spread and destruction of the virus. CNN reports that the death toll from COVID-19 in May 2020 in the city of Aden represents nearly half the number of casualties suffered in the city in all of 2015. That is a devastating statistic. Coronavirus has exacerbated the fragility of Yemen as a state and compounded the destruction caused by the Saudi military campaign.
What Yemen needs now is not a fundraising conference hosted by the UN and attended by its oppressor, Saudi Arabia. This is the height of moral hypocrisy. What it needs is for the bombing to stop; for Saudi Arabia to put an end to its destructive military campaign against Yemenis. The Saudi budget for its Yemen campaign is more than enough for Yemen to rebuild itself as a stable country.
Humanitarian aid serves the purpose of alleviating some immediate suffering on the ground but for a country like Yemen that has been suffering from the crises of poverty, starvation, lack of healthcare and infrastructure for over a decade, it is not enough. Political problems require a political solution; throwing donation money or humanitarian aid is the equivalent of using a band-aid on the problem.
Whilst the path to political solutions in failed states is never easy, it is necessary. As British citizens, we have a huge role to play. On one hand the UK Government is providing essential humanitarian aid, but on the other however, they are simultaneously allowing the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Lest we forget, the planes and bombs raining destruction on Yemen are supplied to Saudi Arabia by the UK. A UN report published in 2019 states that the UK, along with the US and France may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen by supplying arms to Saudi Arabia. Leading arms providers like the US and Britain play a specific role in international military campaigns, and Britain has a particular long-standing history of arms trade with Saudi Arabia. This is despite two-thirds of the British population believing this arms trade is ‘unacceptable’. There is huge potential here for political and humanitarian campaigners to work together to disband British arms trade to Saudi Arabia. As citizens who enjoy a greater level of democracy than many others globally, we should actively be holding our politicians and leaders to account on this. With the level of loss of human life in Yemen, more politicians should be pushed by their constituents to discuss Yemen’s crisis in Parliament. Whilst it may seem daunting to become actively involved in political campaigning, it is far more important for sustainable and real work on the ground. As Muslims, we need to quit the romanticism of Saudi Arabia and hold governments to account. Makkah and Madina are Holy lands blessed by Allah, but humans are fallible, and the Saudi ruling class is not mutually exclusive to Holiness. We must begin to see every opportunity to better the world as an opportunity for us to add Ajr (reward) to our scales. We have a duty as Muslims to act as agents of positive change. Now is the time to step up and take real action to help save the future of Yemen.
Contact your MP & Stay up to date
If you are unsure who your MP is and how to write to them, please see the following resources:
Write a letter or use this sample
Oxfam updates on Yemen can be found here
Lobby against UK arms trade
The bombs raining down on Yemen are sold to Saudi Arabi by the UK
Campaign Against Arms Trade* is a UK-based organisation. Get involved.
Familiarise yourself with Parliament’s Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) urging them to continue ensuring the government abides by the law regarding arms trade through *CAAT
Consider getting involved on a grassroots level by working to form a Citizen’s Assembly or with your MP to form a Citizen’s Committee. There was previously one initiated by Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP. Write to your local MP urging them to take on this initiative and spread to your networks.
*Explains in detail how the UN and other political structures should operate to save failed states?
International Relations grad and lover of cultural commentary and a good cup of tea. Instagram: @sajidahfali and @3culturekitchen