Contributed by Joe Montero
The ongoing tragedy in Yemen, threatening its population with death by bombing or starvation, receives far too little attention from the rest of the world. Being a near hidden war, is a factor behind the intensity of the brutality.
The history of the conflict goes a long way back, to the horrific treatment of the population by the British colonial power. A large part of the population was dispossessed and lived in incredible poverty. In the capital Aden, the bulk of the population lived in the slopes around the city centre in lean too’s of corrugated iron and scrap timber. Sometimes sometimes in cardboard boxes. Begging for handouts from Western tourists was one of the main means for survival.
Complaints were met swiftly with the strong arm of British marshal law.
As a child I witnessed this personally. I saw the children at deaths door, with swollen bellies and heads too large for their bodies. I saw the despair. I also saw the military patrols. And this was in the better part of Aden. I saw the anger in the eyes, against the suffering being imposed on these people. It left a mark on me that will never go away.
The experience provided an insight into why a people can continue in the direst of circumstances. They have experiencede the worst that can be thrown against them, toughened them and fired them a determination to free themselves, no matter how long it takes.
If you don’t understand these basics, you can have no idea of what is going on in Yemen.
Rebellion eventually forced the British to withdraw. But true to form, the British had been masters at manipulating tribal differences, using them to divide and rule. This was a central strategy, practiced all over the Empire, favouring one section of the population over another, to maintain control.
But the British colonial period left an ongoing legacy, lewqaving internal divisions and opening opportunities for foreign intervention.
The south gained its independence. Then there was invasion and annexation from the north. This was followed by the rebellion of the Houthis. They are of the Shia Islamic faith, have an affinity with Iran and based in the north of the country. Iran happens to be regarded by Saudi Arabia as its arch enemy. The monarchy ruling Saudi, holds itself to be the real leadership of the Islamic faith and regards the Iranians as pretenders and number one rivals.
The Saudis have become involved in Yemen, under the name of protecting the faith and countering Iran’s influence. There is much more than faith to this of course. Yemen is in a geographically strategic position, covering access to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. It means the power to control the the flow of a large part of the worlds flow of oil.
Strategic interest is the key factor behind the alliance that is behind the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi (who is in exile in Saudi), at least from the viewpoint of the outsiders.
The United Arab Emirates became another member of the alliance, seeking to secure its own stake. Their support is concentrated on one faction, now formed as the Southern Transitional Council, based in the south and its aiming to restore the south’s independence.
The Council joined the alliance, sort of, as a matter of short-term convenience. They have little time for what they see as the Iran backed Houthi movement. Nor do they have much time for the for the Hadi regime.
But the decisive factor has been Western Support, using Yemen as a proxy, in its ongoing conflict with Iran.The United Kingdom has all along continued its foreign intervention and this has been joined by the United states, pulling western political support, and bombs and other armaments that have been raining down on their Yemini victims.
Thousands of strikes later and the Houthis still refuse to surrender, and they have taken control of much of the north. Under the three year ordeal, they have become seasoned fighters and a force to be reckoned with.
Now the tension between the Hadi forces and the Southern Transitional Council has escalated. Aden has been taken over by the separatists, and the two sides are shooting each other.
No doubt the failure to defeat the Houthis and tensions within the Alliance are behind this. The emirates have been playing its own game and using support for the separatists to gain its own sphere of influence in the south. But this brings it into conflict with Saudi ambitions.
For the Western backers of the alliance, the widening cracks are a serious problem. To date they have backed both the Saudis and the Emirates. Will and can this continue? If push comes to shove, it is highly likely that Saudi will get the nod.
The reason is that it is the strategically more important partner, not only in Yemen, but across the Middle East and Persian Gulf. It is the Saudis are the bigger player and has committed to involvement in a range of proxy wars across the region.
But turning away the Emirates in Yemen could have impact further afield, reducing even further, the dwindling number of pro West regimes in the region.
Yemen is proving to be a quagmire for the foreign powers that have intervened in its internal affairs.
The country needs a political settlement based on the will of Yemenis. So long as outsiders with their own agendas remain involved, this is not going to happen. The first thing needed, is an end to foreign intervention and the beginning of political dialogue. The most basic needs of the population can be met. This is turn, can provide the basis for further progress.
Securing the peace needs the world to become involved. Not to continue to sweep it under the carpet. The international community has a responsibility to step up on the side of justice.
Video from Al Jezeera