“Happy Yemen” is not happy
By: Mona Zaid
The Happy Yemen we used to call it. The image of Yemen had to do with its selected green scenery, houses balancing on cliffs and mountains covered with artistic engravings and coloring, people stuffing their faces with Khat, and daggers hanging of their waists, lots of daggers.
There is the Yemeni singers, you can never mistake their voices or rhythms, they sound like history and a long lasting civilization. we have to mention Balqees, the queen of Saba’a, one of the women mentioned in the Qura’an though not by that name. And of course we cannot forget the coffee, they taught us in geography classes, Coffee was the major crop in Yemen in the 1800s, for some reason it was replaced with Khat.
But this is not the Yemen that we’ve been exposed to these years, that was a Yemen which existed in books, and TV shows, maybe few news reports here and there, even when the uprising started in 2012 there was little attention.
Amidst the Middle East headlines of recent months is a quiet but steady drumbeat of trouble out of Yemen. The country, by many accounts the poorest in the Arab world, attracts little attention next to struggles in Syria, Iraq, Libya and beyond. These other conflicts provide more compelling pictures and more gripping stories, and Yemen appears to many to be dusty and remote.
Yemen’s problems cannot be ignored, though, for at least two reasons. First, Yemen’s problems seem unlikely to stay in Yemen. With immediate proximity to Saudi Arabia, the Bab al-Mandab Strait, and the Horn of Africa, a collapse in Yemen will have a profound effect on its neighbors.
Yet, Yemen was not always the basket case of the Arab world. Long known as Arabia Felix, or “Happy Arabia,” the country’s lush terraced hillsides and thriving trading communities were a bright spot in an Arab world that seemed stark and arid.
Yemen had a flirtation with pluralism in the 1990s, but it fell prey to the same problems Yemen has had for much of the last century: poor infrastructure and communications, a weak educational system, spiraling population growth, not enough money, and not enough jobs.
On the evening of March 25, 2015, a statement from National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan was posted on the White House’s website: “President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]-led military operations.
While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support.” Two days later, Obama called Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and “reaffirmed the strong friendship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and emphasized the United States’ support for the action taken by Saudi Arabia, GCC members, and others.”
With those little-noticed declarations, the United States offered its political and military support to a Saudi-led bombing campaign of Yemen, thus becoming a co-combatant in yet another war of choice in the Middle East. That war has now extended into the presidency of Donald Trump. The result has been a disaster by every plausible metric.
More critically, the Saudi-led bombing has been conducted in an immoral and indiscriminate manner from the very beginning, including with U.S.-supplied cluster munitions, the use of which is widely condemned internationally. As the U.N. Panel of Experts documented in its excellent report released in January, the Saudi-led coalition has violated international humanitarian law and human rights law with its use of air power at least 10 times in 2016. The 10 documented strikes resulted in “494 civilian fatalities, including at least 300 women and children.”
Most horrific was the Oct. 8, 2016, “double-tap” bombing of a community hall in the capital of Sanaa that resulted in at least 827 civilian fatalities and injuries. The airstrike targeted a funeral gathering, first with a U.S.-supplied “GBU-12 Paveway II guidance unit fitted to a Mark 82 high explosive aircraft bomb,” dropped at 3:20 p.m., followed by a second one minutes later as mourners were still reeling.
Throughout these airstrikes, the United States continued to provide intelligence, targeting guidance, in-air refueling, weapons, and contractor support. Indeed, under Obama, the United States sold $115.3 billion worth of weapons and services to Saudi Arabia through August 2016. What we know is that the country is experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe, according to the Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien in addressed a statement to the UN Security Council on 31 October 2016. More than 10000 people were killed and 35000 were injured since March 2015. As a result of the ongoing fighting and airstrikes three million people have been displaced.
7million suffer from lack of food and probably do not know where the next meal is coming from. 68% are in need of humanitarian or protection assistance according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in numbers that is around 19 million people. Around 14 million people are considered food insecure and 7 million severely food insecure.
About 3.3 million children and pregnant or breast-feeding women are extremely malnourished, 462,000 of which are children under five who face severe malnutrition. There is an 63% increase since late 2016 and threatens the lives and life-long prospects of those affected, according to the UN.
These numbers can rarely affect how things are on the ground, because simply we do not feel numbers, we do not see in them the people who were counted, we do not get what it means to be hungry for days, and scared for your life all the time. We only know that these are big numbers, and we also know that something should be done. Because if we only act on the things that we can touch or feel, then no one will be there to help when we need it most.
Yemen has been a country consumed by poverty and lack of resources, its strategic location acted as a curse more than a blessing.