The serious, or rather the deplorable, situation in Yemen – something that nobody knows how and when it is possible to change, and bring the country to a normal state of affairs – continues to profoundly disturb the entire world community. In this regard, the question arises: how did this country, located on the outskirts of the Arabian Peninsula, become plunged for many years into an abyss of civil war and occupation by neighboring Saudi Arabia? Where are those devilish forces that brought Yemen to the very edge of the abyss for its statehood, the ruin of infrastructure, and the division of the country into enclaves at war with each other?
It should be remembered that since the Islamic Awakening in 2011, also known as the Arab Spring, Yemen was one of many countries whose people protested against the rule of monarchies, dictatorships, discrimination, and corruption, as well as the many other problems facing the peoples across the Persian Gulf. Faced with massive nationwide unrest and protests calling on everyone in the ruling elite to step down, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had served as president for 33 years, agreed to a peaceful transitional period – and one in which he would step down in exchange for immunity. At the time, that may have been seen as a good move to avoid further turmoil and unrest. However, this was also a major political miscalculation. The last organization to intervene in Yemen during this operation was the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), which is completely and tightly controlled by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The members of the GCC have been interfering in the affairs of Yemen for decades, depriving it of its sovereignty. However, naturally the Council allowed Saleh to cede power to his vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi (who was Saleh’s vice president from 1994-2012).
Despite some claims that Hadi was sworn in during the following elections in February 2012, it was actually anything but an election. It was at the initiative of the Gulf Security Council that anyone else was banned from standing at the polling station. Winning in his capacity as the only candidate means that Hadi was installed by Riyadh as the president, and was not elected. Elected by whom? He allegedly garnered 99.999% of all the votes. Well, that is simply ridiculous, and this is in a country where every Yemeni who has been carrying a machine gun since the age of 10 is a free, independent person, and it is unlikely that they all voted en masse for one single candidate, let alone with such uncanny percentages.
This is yet another example of “independent” elections orchestrated by the Saudis.
The outcome of the elections is still under dispute, and it by no means represented any fair competition, and not at all what the Yemeni people fought for in 2011 to get rid of the “old guard”. Nonetheless, opposition groups – including the Ansarullah popular movement – supported the two-year transition on the grounds that Hadi would work with all segments of society to exchange views on how to accomplish the transition, develop a new national constitution and new government, and share power. But he did not provide the necessary leadership at that time, or launch the necessary reforms. Just one year after the start of Hadi’s rule, the economy was worse than before the 2011 revolution, and unemployment was skyrocketing while most Yemenis faced severe shortages of food, water, and basic necessities. In either event, the straw that broke the camel’s back cropped up between July and September 2014, after Hadi’s decision to cap fuel subsidies. This move was widely condemned among Yemenis who live in the region’s poorest country. Massive street demonstrations rocked the country as anger built up over climbing poverty and the lack of progress made since the 2011 uprising. The second revolution began when Hadi was accused of corruption and widescale non-fulfillment of the conditions that had been agreed upon after taking office. Protesters called on the interim administration to step down, and opposition factions led by Ansarullah echoed the people’s demands.
However, Hadi refused to leave his post, while the military forces he commanded opened fire and killed many protesters in the country’s capital, Sana’a. By the end of September, forces loyal to Ansarullah and the country’s military had seized government offices – and the presidential palace. Hadi’s ministers were replaced by what became known as the National Salvation Government, and the rebels also assumed leadership positions in the new government through a previously UN-brokered agreement, replacing those that represented the Hadi administration.
The reality on the ground is that Ansarullah is the most popular movement, and is supported by many Sunni Muslims who have also become disenchanted with the so-called transition process. Ansarullah would not control most of the country, along with other factions, if people had not lent their support to it, fought for it, and taken to the streets to demonstrate their support for this organization.
By the end of January 2015, Hadi and his ministers had resigned. Hadi was later placed under house arrest on a variety of charges, including corruption. In February, he fled to Saudi Arabia, and the circumstances surrounding his escape are still unclear. This does not change anything about the fact that after Hadi and his administration submitted their resignations, they have no longer been recognized as representing a government inside Yemen, let alone by the international community. However, finding himself in Riyadh on orders given by the Saudis, Hadi rejected his own resignation. Now, under similar circumstances anywhere else on the planet he would have had to stand trial in Yemen facing multiple charges, including those for corruption, rather than represent the country from abroad as its “president” because Saudi Arabia talks about that and wants it.
The most important question here is: why did the former president of Yemen deny that he had resigned in Riyadh, and declare that he is the “legitimate president of Yemen”? The answer is very simple. Saudi Arabia needed for the “legitimate” Yemeni administration to request that it start a war with its southern neighbor. And indeed, the Saudis do affirm that the request came from Hadi, and a month later Riyadh went to war with Yemen. The war that he had predicted was planned for several weeks has now been going on for more than six years. A war in which Western arms manufacturers have profited the most, supplying an increasing number of their aging weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
This war has caused tremendous damage to Yemen in all areas of life. The group Eye of Humanity Center for Rights and Development (EHCRD) has provided heartbreaking statistics on the human toll and economic damage that Yemen has suffered since the start of the US-backed, barbaric Saudi aggression against Yemen. Saudi Arabia has become embroiled in one of its worst wars against Yemen since 2015, when it launched an air strike campaign against the neighboring Arab country. After several years of bombing, Saudi Arabia has not only failed to overthrow the Ansarullah-led government, but has failed to prevent retaliatory attacks by Yemenis on its own territory. Running up against well-organized, popular resistance in Yemen, the Saudis blamed Iran for their failures, accusing it of delivering arms to their Yemeni allies.
Saudi Arabia’s war with Yemen has also led to the worst humanitarian disaster ever witnessed in the region, with millions of Yemenis either unable to make ends meet or dying due to a lack of food and medicines. Saudi Arabia has stubbornly refused to allow humanitarian aid to enter many Ansarullah-controlled territories, and is effectively using humanitarian aid as a lever to exert pressure on the Sana’a government, and to gain more concessions from it.
The Sana’a-based government has repeatedly called on the Saudis to separate political issues from humanitarian ones – just to bump up against Saudi Arabia’s insistence on blocking the flow of much-needed aid to Yemen. In addition, Riyadh, using American weapons, is keeping up its air strikes and widescale bombing of Yemeni targets, without drawing a distinction between civilian and military targets. This approach has led to disaster in terms of the number of casualties and the damage inflicted on the economic infrastructure, according to a recent EHCRD study.
The International Observatory of Human Rights stated that Saudi aggression against Yemen has led to the deaths of 17,176 people, including 3,842 children and 2,400 women. According to the poll taken, the total number of victims of the Saudi war in Yemen is 43,891. This includes 17,176 people killed and 26,715 wounded. In terms of economic damage, the EHCRD highlighted that the war in Yemen has been devastating since it has inflicted enormous damage on the country’s infrastructure, economic, and utility facilities. For example, 575,353 houses owned by civilians have been destroyed during the war. In addition, tens of thousands of other public facilities such as universities, mosques, hospitals, schools, airports, ports, roads, and bridges have suffered damage during the war. According to the EHCRD, 15 airports, 16 seaports, 308 power plants and generators, 553 telecommunication networks, 2,397 warehouses and water supply networks, 1983 government administrative centers, and 5,224 roads and bridges have been damaged. This puts the Yemeni War at the top of the list of destructive wars in terms of civilian casualties and damage.
An anti-Yemeni coalition led by Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen in March 2015 to crush the revolution, and to prevent Ansarullah from coming to power. Great Britain, France, the United States, Germany, and some Arab countries all support the coalition militarily, and by delivering weapons to keep fanning the flames of an unequal war, which officials say has become the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, and the future of the beautiful country of Yemen remains, for now, painted in dark overtones.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.