Editorial: Yemen: A voice that must be heard

August 28, 2020

From the September-October 2020 issue of News & Letters

The intense suffering of Yemen’s people continues. The country is torn by a regional imperialist war between the Saudi Arabia-sponsored government and the Iran-sponsored Houthi rebels, with both relying on various unprincipled alliances; militia allied with the United Arab Emirates; and ISIS and al-Qaeda factions. The result amounts to genocide.

This is a counter-revolution against the 2011 revolution—for the imperialist rulers, it was a conscious decision to choose a path of repression, however extreme, over human freedom.

More than 100,000 people, mostly civilians, have died as a direct result of the fighting. Over 85,000 children have died from war-caused famine. Two million children face acute malnutrition, and at times up to 80% of the population has stood in need of humanitarian assistance. The Saudi blockade and Houthi food confiscations have been brutal. Disease, including cholera, is rampant.

The U.S. is hardly innocent. U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE have helped fuel the conflict, including $8.1 million worth of weapons that Congress attempted to block, but which the Trump administration found loopholes to provide.


Yemen’s Taiz continues to have its share of protests across the globe, this one in October 2019. “All of them means all of them” one banner says, inspired by Lebanon’s Uprising slogan, “All of them means all of them, are corrupt and must leave.” Photo: Afrah Nasser.

Most recently, the UN Human Rights Office—a compromised institution—has documented severe crimes against journalists by all parties to the conflict. These include one assassination, one abduction, three cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, four journalists sentenced to death, six jailed, and three physical assaults. Doubtless the situation is even worse. In June, photojournalist Nabil Hasan al-Quaety was murdered at his home in Aden.

Now an environmental catastrophe threatens. A derelict oil tanker in the port of Hodeidah could dump 1.14 million barrels of oil into the Red Sea. The tanker, captured by the Houthis in 2015, has had no maintenance. A serious oil spill could increase the suffering in Yemen by poisoning the environment (and destroying biodiversity), releasing toxic fumes, and potentially raising the price of food by 90%. It is being held as an apocalyptic bargaining chip.

The genocidal inhumanity of the regional imperialist war was seen in April when the Houthis expelled thousands of Ethiopian immigrants. Claiming that they would spread COVID-19, Houthi militia rounded up the immigrants, shooting at those who tried to escape. One woman said, “I ran with a group of 45 people, and 40 people were killed in my group. Only five of us escaped.”

When the immigrants were forced to the border, Saudi border guards also began firing on them. The Ethiopians were caught in a crossfire between Saudis and Houthis. Shooting is said to have lasted for two days. Survivors were stripped of their belongings and taken to miserable detention camps in Saudi Arabia to be sent back to Ethiopia.


The humanism and recognition of the Other that pervaded the Arab Spring—like the demonstrations in Kafranbel, Syria, with their slogans addressed from the revolutionary grassroots to humanity at large—exists in Yemen, and formed part of the background to the revolution of dignity and the occupation of Change Square.

It is expressed in contemporary novels by Wajdi al-Ahdal, Ali al-Muqri, Yasser Abdulbaqi, Nadia al-Kawkabani, Nabila al-Zubair, and more, whose works explore relationships between people of different religions, regions, classes, races or tribes, as well as the oppression and empowerment of Yemeni women. In the revolution these dialogues moved from the page to the public squares.

The “small” nation of Yemen speaks to humanity. Humanity, for our own sake, has the responsibility to hear and respond. The Other is us. Who now lives in fear of disease? Who suffers the unprincipled maneuvers of power-hungry, sociopathic “leaders”? Who watches their children die and their cities burn?

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