From the November-December issue of News & Letters
by Eugene Walker
Two recent dates shape the reality of Yemen: Sept. 21, 2014, the Houthi takeover of the capital, Sana’a, and March 26, 2015, when Saudi Arabia, in coalition with other Arab states, launched an air bombardment of Houthi-controlled areas.
SAUDIS’ MURDEROUS AIRSTRIKES
We start with the Saudi Arabian war coalition’s murderous bombings. Its terror war from the air, including cluster bombs, its blockade of the Yemeni port of Aden where food enters the country, and now its occupying ground troops, has been a seven-months-long campaign of death and human suffering. While claiming to be a war against Houthi fighters, the result is a war on Yemen’s civilian population, dying by the thousands, displaced by the millions. Every day brings news of a new atrocity, like the more than 70 members of a wedding party killed in a village by the Red Sea, or the 13 workers killed at the Al-Sham water-bottling plant in Hajja.
How responsible is the U.S. for this carnage? The Obama Administration has provided military intelligence and logistical support for this bloody campaign. It is the main supplier of bombs and fighter jets. To this can be added the U.S. drone program in Yemen—more than a decade of warfare from the skies.
Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab Middle East, is now facing a severe lack of water and food. Its population has nowhere to flee, facing bombing above and repressive threats from below. Here is where the Houthis’ action of Sept. 21, 2014, enters. On that date they seized Sana’a and deposed the unpopular government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi had been Vice-President under long-time authoritarian ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh, in power for more than three decades, first in North Yemen and then all of Yemen after unification, had been challenged by Yemen’s 2011-2012 Revolution, a part of the Arab Spring. The Houthis, a repressed Shia minority that had launched several civil wars against Saleh beginning in 2004, had taken part in that intifada.
HOUTHIS’ REPRESSIVE RULE
In deciding to occupy Yemen’s capital and to force Hadi to flee in September 2014, the Houthis were first greeted in a hopeful manner. But this soon evaporated. The Houthis formed an opportunist alliance with their former oppressor Saleh. Then, while promising open consultation with Sana’a’s masses, instead the Houthis began to impose their own brand of narrow sectarian rule, including further oppression of women. The possibility of a broad coalition, born in the spirit of the Arab Spring revolutions, was never given a chance. The Saudi Arabian Coalition proceeded to launch its war and, as one resident of Sana’a noted: “There is no stability, there is no electricity. There is destruction everywhere, and poverty in every single house.”
Within this cauldron of war and destruction, other forces are active: al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as ISIS. One or another of these Sunni sects has directed suicide bombings of Shia mosques, killing dozens. Iran lends support to the Houthis, not for purposes of social transformation, but in its rivalry with Saudi Arabia.
The Yemeni masses are struggling to find a way out of this multi-sided war of terror, bombs from the air, occupying foreign troops, and U.S.-sponsored drones. The revolutionary promise of Arab Spring for Yemen’s masses is now manacled by counter-revolutionary action and thought and by civilian deaths.