Yemen’s Timeline – An Overview

The unrest in Yemen is not a single conflict but is instead a mosaic of multifaceted regional, local, and international power struggles that are the legacy of recent and long-past events. The following timeline offers readers a summarised overview of Yemen’s many struggles and ills.

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1918 – Yemen’s modern political history realistically began with its independence from the Ottoman Empire, following which North Yemen came to be ruled by Imam Yahya.

While Imam Yahya safeguarded North Yemen’s territorial integrity, tensions among several of tribes, and various factions’ pursuit of power, prevented the nation from truly developing meaningful state institutions, at least in a manner which would have offered political continuity and stability.

To a great extent old tribal upsets have plagued North Yemen, forever preventing the acceptance of an overarching political entity – that of the state. 

1948 – Ahmad ibn Yahya inherits the reins of power from his father amid growing calls for an end to the feudal rule.

1962 – Following Ahmad’s death, high ranking military officials break ranks to establish the Yemen Arab Republic – largely under the influence of pan-Arabism. This begins North Yemen’s civil war which sees Saudi Arabia (royalist) and Egypt (republican) battle for influence.

1970 – North Yemen’s republican forces win a long war of attrition against the royalists, putting the newly formed Republic on a crash course with its theocratic neighbour: Saudi Arabia. From then on, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will look at Yemen with much unease and concern.

1972 – As North Yemen’s various factions battle for political power, skirmishes at the border with South Yemen – then under control Communist rule, reach new heights.

1978 – Ali Abdullah Saleh becomes President of North Yemen. He will remain in power for three decades.

1986 – Following a mini civil war, Haidar Abu Bakr Al Attas, then Prime Minister of the People Democratic of Yemen (South Yemen), begins negotiating the reunification of Yemen with President Saleh.

1990 – North and South Yemen unite under the presidency of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, marking the end of the communist era in the Arabian Peninsula. Before it fell to the control of the communist party South Yemen was under British rule (1969).

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1994 May-July – Yemen sees a violent but short-lived attempt by southerners to secede, under the leadership of the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) from the newly formed Republic of Yemen. Backed by Saudi Arabia, Ali Abdullah Saleh breaks the southern secessionist movement. This victory will allow the Saleh clan to consolidate its hold over Yemen’s state institutions and economy.

The short civil war left the YSP in political shambles, thus allowing control to fall within the hands of the General People’s Congress (Saleh’s political faction) and Al Islah (a loose coalition of Islamists and tribes loyal to Al Ahmar clan).

Over the next few years, the effort to reorganize politics and to strengthen the voice of the south in Yemen’s political life was hampered in part by the inability of the YSP to resuscitate itself; at the same time, strained relations within the GPC (Saleh’s General People’s Congress) / adn Al Iṣlaḥ coalition led to increasing dominance by the GPC and to an oppositional stance on Al Iṣlaḥ’s part. The political conflict and unrest that accompanied and followed the civil war marked by a thinning of political freedom and subsequent religious radicalisation under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood whose members found protection under Al Islah’s political umbrella.

This tension between Yemen’s political and tribal factions has plagued Yemen’s political discourse and prevented many efforts towards national reconciliation. 

For three decades, Yemen now saw the reelection of Ali Abdullah Saleh at the presidency. Saleh’s rule, like that of many of his contemporaries,  was to be marked by nepotism, corruption and political manipulation.

While President Saleh maintained relatively close ties to Saudi Arabia – often benefiting from Al Saud financial largesse, his decision during the 1st Gulf War to support then-President Saddam Hussain (Iraq) marked a sharp turnaround in Riyadh-Sana’a relations.

Arguably Saudi Arabia will never completely forgive Saleh’s ‘betrayal’ and would learn to look at Yemen with much suspicion indeed. 

Thus began a long game of cat and mouse between Saleh and Al Saud for control over Yemen’s politics and economic future.

2004 – The Houthis emerged out of Yemen’s mountainous far north from ‘Believing Youth,’ a revivalist Zaidi movement fuelled by local fears of encroachment by Sunni ideologies. Under threat of ‘absorption’ by the Muslim Brotherhood, several Zaidi tribal leaders decided to come together and fight. 

While initial fighting was largely limited to the Houthi strongholds of Sa’ada,  it soon spread to the province of Amran and al-Jawf, near the border with Saudi Arabia.

Though kept in check under Saleh’s presidency, the Houthis grew both in strength and ambition, and continued to do so in 2012 as President Hadi (a member of the GPC and successor to Saleh)  looked to consolidate his rule through a series of alliances aimed to counter Al Islah’s political ambitions.

January 27, 2011 – On the back of Egyptians’ call for regime change protesters in Sanaa decide to mobilise against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, asking for his resignation and new elections after three decades in power.

September 12, 2011 – Saleh signs a document giving Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi special power to negotiate a transition of power under the guise of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Joint Meeting Parties – Yemen’s political opposition parties.

December 2011 – Saleh announces that he handed power over to his designated Vice President, Hadi, under the terms of the GCC-brokered transition of power initiative (see here for the full text).

January 2012 – Saleh and several of his close allies and family members are given full immunity by parliament.

February 21, 2012 – Hadi is confirmed president of Yemen in a one-man “election”. His term is set for two years, during which he will oversee Yemen’s institutional and political transition in keeping with the National Dialogue Conference resolutions.

January 2014 – Members of the NDC (National Dialogue Conference) reach a tentative agreement in the capital Sana’a. The terms of a draft constitution are finally ironed out so that Yemen can finalize its transition of power.

September 2014 – The Houthis reach Sana’a following a blazing campaign against Al Islah in the highlands. Abdel Malik al-Houthi, leader of the Houthi movement, calls on Hadi to commit to the implementation of all NDC resolutions, per the January 2014 agreement. A deal is signed in Sana’a and a new coalition government is formed.

January 2015 –  Following months of political wrangling and rising tensions Hadi announces his resignation. His entire cabinet resigns. Hadi and several ministers are immediately put under house arrest by the Houthis as Jamal Benomar, then-UN Special Envoy to Yemen, attempts to return all parties to the negotiating table.

February 2015 – Hadi flees Sana’a for Aden (former capital of South Yemen), where he announces Aden as the new capital of Yemen, essentially splitting Yemen in two. Sana’a becomes a diplomatic ghost town as all foreign embassies withdraw their diplomats from the city.

March 2015 – The United States of America announces the evacuation of its troops from Al Anad airbase near Aden.

March 25, 2015 -Saudi Arabia unilaterally launched an attack on Yemen with the backing of eight Arab countries — Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco, Qatar, Egypt, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan — and the support of the United States and European Union under UN Resolution 2216.

 

 

 

US send additional troops to Saudi Arabia

The Pentagon confirmed on October 11 the deployment of 3,000 additional US troops and military hardware to Saudi Arabia to address the threat the kingdom finds itself under following a direct attack on its oil installations earlier this September.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper authorised the deployment of two more Patriot missile batteries, one THAAD ballistic missile interception system, two fighter squadrons and one air expeditionary wing, the Pentagon said in a statement.

“Secretary Esper informed Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)this morning of the additional troop deployment to assure and enhance the defence of Saudi Arabia … Taken together with other deployments this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorised within the last month.”

Esper later told reporters that the deployments were in response “to continued threats in the region” and came after a conversation with MBS about “efforts to protect from further Iranian aggression”.

The drone and missile strikes that lit up the Kingdom’s eastern province on September 14, knocked out over half of the state-owned oil company’s daily production of nearly 10 million barrels a day.
More importantly, it illustrated just how vulnerable the world’s largest oil exporter is to an attack, despite Saudi Arabia having the highest per capita defense spending of any country in the world.
Saudi Arabia has seen its energy infrastructure, including pumping stations, pipelines, supertankers and oil and gas fields, continuously attacked over the past five months. The strikes culminated this September with a strike on Aramco’s largest processing plant and its second largest oil field.

Game Changer in Yemen – The Houthis enter Saudi Arabia in pivotal move against regional status quo

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”  Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Saudi Arabia has come once more under direct enemy fire … only this time the attack did not come from the air and it did not simply challenge a sector of its industry. In a move which arguably caught the Kingdom off-guard, the Houthis (aka Ansarallah), masterminded a ground incursion into Najran (south-western province of Saudi Arabia), challenging not only Riyadh’s sovereignty but the regional order.

To target Saudi Arabia on its home soil stands to ‘activate’ a series of alliances, with no clear understanding of the repercussions this will have on the immediate region, notwithstanding the long term economics fallouts any direct threat to Saudi Arabia’s energy markets will undoubtedly bring.

Whether anyone agrees or not with Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, or even Riyadh’s standing as far as Yemen’s war is concerned matters little now, it is evident that a ground war would be devastating for that world order we all have grown familiar with.

Yemen’s ragtag army is challenging decades of careful geopolitical planning and economic strategizing. What happens next is anyone’s guess … well maybe not entirely! 

What is evident today however, if anything else, it is that a new vision for the Middle East, and most accurately the Arabian Peninsula is absolutely and unequivocally needed.  To conform to old geopolitical models by virtue of their former merit has proven to be not only dangerous but extremely short-sighted. As everyone will recall Yemen’s war was meant as a strategic strike against an enemy: the Houthis, who were thought of as weak, disorganised, and incapable of sustaining political pressure. 

And yet here we are, a few years into this war, contemplating the possibility of an insurgency movement within the Kingdom under the leadership of a man: Abdel Malek Al Houthi, no one imagined could rally to his cause more than a few tribesmen from North Yemen.

As a statement released by the Houthi leadership proves, the tribesmen of Najran participated, even if by omission, to Yemen’s success in asserting control over large swathes of land within the Kingdom. Such a precedent could prompt others to imagine themselves free to pursue dreams of secession or political independence.

Needless to say that Saudi Arabia never imagined when it launched its first air campaign against Sana’a that its impoverished neighbour would strike so close to its seat of power.

And yet this is exactly what happened. The Houthis are the ‘black swan’ no one imagined but nevertheless came to pass.

I clearly recall a comment by General Yahya Saleh, nephew to late President Ali Abdullah Saleh on the onset of Saudi Arabia’s aggression against Yemen in late March 2015 which, in hindsight, all parties to this war should have listened to.

Speaking to the media he stated that an assault against his homeland would only serve to unite an otherwise abysmal mesh of rival tribal and political factions. His comment was accompanied by a warning; that a frontal attack on Yemen could spell the end of Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity and thus send the region in a tailspin.

As it were, Gen. Yahya Saleh was correct in his assessment. 

In just a few months the Houthis have affirmed themselves as formidable foes capable of wielding high grade weaponry. As of today, North Yemen’s military arsenal will account for several  new upgrades, courtesy of the United States of America … needless to say that if the Houthis posed a threat to the Kingdom before, they now represent a veritable existential threat to the regime, notwithstanding the devastation its drones could rain on its neighbours, namely the UAE.

Did I hear you say Energy markets? 

Yemen’s war is no longer regional, if it ever was that! The attack on Aramco earlier this month sent shockwaves across world markets, materialising fears of global recession. 

If the spike in oil prices the world witnessed in the wake of Aramco’s attack this September and Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s recent comments to CBS of a pending ‘oil crisis’ are anything to go by then it is rather obvious the Houthis’ ability to do harm, if pushed against the wall, exists far beyond Yemen’s borders.

Such a realisation should not be interpreted as an invitation, or justification for more violence; rather an opportunity for peace on the basis of regional cooperation. Yemen we ought to realise needs not be a failed state where all manners of violent ideologues come to play.

As the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths noted in comments to the BBC: what we need to do is waste no more time, but to get to the table to get the political agreement in place to end that conflict.”

Yemen needs not to suffer famine and outbreaks of cholera. Yemen could, given a chance, serve as a powerful  unifier, a bridge many may argue to heal much of the upsets which still plague the region. And yes evidently I’m referring to Iran and its longstanding ‘battle’ for geopolitical relevance with Saudi Arabia.

Among much regional political fluidity, one constant remains: Yemen’s geopolitical importance. From Turkey to Iraq, Iran and the GCC countries, Yemen’s future sits high on nations’ agenda … and indeed, Yemen’s geography alone warrants such interest.

If we now keep in mind those strategic alliances each of those regional players hold then readers will grasp I’m sure the challenge that is Yemen from an international perspective. 

By Catherine Shakdam

NEWS BRIEF YEMEN – SEPTEMBER 25, 2019

Two million children are out of school – UNICEF

As the new school year starts amid continuing violence in Yemen, 2 million children are out of school, including almost half a million who dropped out since the conflict escalated in March 2015. The education of another 3.7 million children now hangs in the balance as teachers’ salaries have not been paid in over two years.

“Conflict, underdevelopment and poverty have deprived millions of children in Yemen of their right to education – and of their hope for a brighter future. Violence, displacement and attacks on schools are preventing many children from accessing school. With teacher salaries going unpaid for over two years, education quality is also at stake,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Representative in Yemen.

“Children out of school face increased risks of all forms of exploitation including being forced to join the fighting, child labour and early marriage. They lose the opportunity to develop and grow in a caring and stimulating environment, ultimately becoming trapped in a life of poverty and hardship,” added Nyanti.


Kuwait contributes US$ 2 million to support FAO’s emergency programme

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The Government of Kuwait has contributed US$ 2 million to boost FAO’s emergency agricultural interventions and improve food security and nutrition in Yemen. The Kuwaiti funding in support of FAO’s Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen will be crucial in providing assistance to some of the 8.6 million severely food insecure Yemenis.

“This new agreement reinforces the relationship between the State of Kuwait and FAO,” said H.E. Jamal M. Al Ghunaim Ambassador Permanent Representative of the State of Kuwait to the U.N. in Geneva. “We aim to work closer together to accelerate humanitarian efforts towards the people of Yemen and other countries in the near East region who are suffering from conflicts.”


Air raid in North Yemen claims 16 civilian – 7 children

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A series of airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition on Tuesday killed 16 people including seven children, an official and a doctor confirmed.

The raid came days after the Houthis offered to halt drone and ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia as part of efforts to end a war.

So who was it?

The word is quietly awash with conspiracy theories.

But what is the truth? Hard to know but this is a series of Hala London Radio broadcasts from NCF Secretary General William Morris on some of the issues. The conclusions reached do not represent the view of the Next Century Foundation or its trustees. If you do not wish to listen to the background the third in the series stands alone adequately and covers the main points:

On Kuwait

https://www.buzzsprout.com/529801/1735933-untitled-episode

 

Background

https://www.buzzsprout.com/529801/1736191-untitled-episode

 

So who did it?

https://www.buzzsprout.com/529801/1736134-untitled-episode

Is the “Deal of the Century” worth further examination?

In an article titled “Deal of the Century means US recognition of apartheid”, Iran’s Press TV reports that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman offered Palestinian supremo Mahmoud Abbas ten billion dollars to accept Trump’s Mideast deal.

Is there an argument that given that Palestinians live as disenfranchised citizens in a virtual state colonised by Israel at present, it might be advantageous if they banked what they could get and then campaigned from that base for a better future?

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates has strongly condemned US President Donald Trump’s controversial proposal for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, dubbed “the deal of the century,” saying it translates into “Washington’s recognition of the Israeli regime’s apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories”.

The deal also appears to be opposed by a majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens. See the Peace Index for April.

What would Trump’s proposal actually mean? According to documents leaked by Haaretz the proposed deal comprises the following:

  • A tripartite agreement will be signed between Israel’s government, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) as well as the Hamas resistance movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, and subsequently a Palestinian state will be established that will be called “New Palestine.”
  • “New Palestine” will be established in the West Bank and Gaza, with the exception of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
  • The settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law and UN Security Council Resolution 2334, will remain under the Israel’s control and will expand to reach out to other isolated settlements.
  • The city of Jerusalem al-Quds will not be divided but is to be shared by Israel and “New Palestine,” with the Israel maintaining general control.
  • The Arab population living in Jerusalem al-Quds will be citizens of New Palestine, but Israel would remain in charge of the municipality and therefore the land.
  • The newly formed Palestinian state would pay taxes and water costs for East Jerusalem to the Jerusalem al-Quds municipality.
Is the proposal at least a basis for negotiation? Or should it be dismissed out of hand?

On the killing of Jamal Khashoggi

Writing the introduction to the Next Century Foundation’s Media Credibility Index shortly after the start of the Arab Spring, Jamal Khashoggi explained that he believed there were three clearly distinct eras in the growth of mass media in the Arab and Islamic Worlds. In the middle of the 20th century Cairo and Beirut were mass media and cultural hubs for the Arab and Islamic Worlds. Their dominance was brought to an end variously by factors such as the nationalization of Al Ahram and the Lebanese civil war. The era of the London based Saudi print media partially filled the vacuum that was thus created. But not until the launch of Aljazeera in Doha in 1996 did the Arab World’s mass media truly come of age.

“Wow” I thought. This man is on the button. Jamal was more of an acquaintance than a friend. Other members of my family knew him well, however, and he was close to us. Yes, I thought, the new Arab Media in all of its incarnations from bloggers to broadcasters has become a many headed hydra, almost uncontrollable because of its multi-faceted nature.

But there are those in the corridors of power in Cairo, Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Istanbul that want to restore the old order and re-establish control, those that dislike this new and subversive mass media. But there were also surprising gems of encouragement. For a brief moment in time Bahrain flirted with allowing an opposition newspaper. Kuwait post liberation from Saddam had an extraordinarily free press. And the mass media in Iraq was beyond belief, with more daily newspapers than there were days in the year.

Still the great powers, the giants of the Arab World, wanted to restore the status quo ante. And they set about doing this through creating a climate of fear. New repressive Media Laws were introduced in Cairo and Abu Dhabi that set a benchmark. Others followed these trend setters with enthusiasm. The incarceration of bloggers and tweeters became commonplace for the most minor of offences. And journalists most certainly had to watch their backs facing, at best, tremendous fines in the courts, and at worst, targeted assassination.

Jamal’s Response

Most of us grumbled about this. We did what we could at the NCF. My late father, Claud Morris, believed in the concept of “Peace Through Media” and in tribute to that we established The International Council for Press and Broadcasting (subsequently merged with the International Communications Forum associated with Initiatives of Change) and launched The International Media Awards. We even changed the ethos of the NCF to one of support for Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms in order to better justify our stand for Media Freedom.

Jamal wanted more. He felt the world should not just talk about it but should do something about it. He decided on a scheme whereby you could get round the new Western controls on alternative media. This needs a little explanation. The big media platforms in the Middle East are forums like Facebook and Twitter. We at the NCF launched an ideological Facebook page in Arabic called Al Khawatir (reflections) and found that with a budget of $20 a week and a few ideologically driven interns to write posts we could develop a following of a million a month in unhappy places in the Middle East like Algiers, Tripoli, Cairo, Riyadh, Sanaa or Baghdad.

Facebook was strong everywhere. Twitter was particularly strong in Saudi Arabia and is currently in the ascendancy everywhere, perhaps because it is a favoured method of imparting the thoughts of the great and the good. The under thirties may have started the trend. But Arab politicians like Sheikh Khalid, the current Foreign Minister of Bahrain and influential diplomats like the former Qatar Ambassador to London, Nasser al Khalifa, were quick to build huge twitter followings with their passionate tweets in both Arabic and English and their relationship with their fans.

The difficulty for would be opposition tweeters is the controls that Twitter currently has. They have become necessary of course, to prevent trolls and to stop forms of abuse like one person – or government – holding multiple accounts. So you may not open a twitter account without providing a phone number for verification. A huge problem if you want to say what you think in the Middle East because a phone number can be traced one way or another and you may be subject to arbitrary arrest if you are not a member of the establishment. Or at least you would be frightened of the possibility of arrest.

And along comes Jamal. He sets up a scheme whereby he and a friend in Canada would buy hundreds of sim cards. Then if you wanted to start a twitter account all you would need to do was to message Jamal or his friend by one of the more confidential platforms available, WhatsApp for example. And Jamal’s friend would set up a one-time simcard for you in Canada that you could use to enter for verification of the twitter account and he would send you back the verification code from Canada and the authorities in Saudi Arabia could never trace you.

The Consequence

Of course social media is powerful. Remember the overthrow of President Mubarak in Egypt was largely Facebook fanned and encouraged. The old adage, the pen is mightier than the sword might be rewritten, the pen encourages the sword of retribution. Or rather the finger on the smartphone in today’s world.

Had that been the all of it maybe it could have been overlooked. But that was not the half of it. Jamal was an activist with numerous projects. There was another project with the working title, “Democracy for the Arab World Now”. That too was dangerous.

However, most dangerous of all were his columns in the Post, the Washington Post. Had he been the usual ranting fanatic oppositionist he might just have been ignorable. But he was not. Jamal was considered and thoughtful. He was fair in his analysis and honest but modest in his criticism. He was the most dangerous kind of critic.

The rumour that Jamal had his fingers cut off before he was killed appears to have been apocryphal. But the fact that such a horrific story circulated underscores the savage symbolism surrounding this one man’s death. There were those in the corridors of power who believed Jamal had to be silenced. It had to be done. He was uniquely dangerous.

And it was done. Brutally, cruelly, with Mafia-like ruthlessness. The killing was effective and, arguably, has done what it was expected to do in regard to the repression of freedom of speech.

There has been a cost of course, a cost to the Saudi Arabian establishment, a storm indeed. But perhaps that remains a cost they can bear. The intention may certainly have been to send a more discreet and equivocal message. But the message is what has mattered. People will think twice in future before they kick against the establishment in such a dangerous way. Try to use matches and you may get burned.

Was this unique?

So, is Jamal’s killing worse than other politically motivated assassinations? We have seen it happen again and again. Sometimes the killings are not high profile. The NCF took a press delegation to visit Arafat days before his death and he was fit as flee demonstrating his push ups. I was always convinced he was assassinated and was always bothered by the refusal to allow an autopsy. So often the killings never make the headlines. The snatching of the NCF’s hostage negotiator, Abu Innas, off the sidewalk in Al Adhamiyah Baghdad by the police, never to be seen again. But assassinations are so commonplace are they not? Was Jamal’s killing worse than others. More brutal and brazen than most perhaps. But not of itself worse than others. All murder is evil. State sanctioned murder is worse than evil and those responsible and those complicit by their silence will no doubt face their God someday and have to give account for their behaviour.

But some would conclude that Jamal’s murder may be worse in its outcome because its ripples will mean that freedom of expression is set back. Will it not?

Well I don’t know. Possibly not. Possibly the calls for freedom of speech will be amplified by Jamal’s death. The killing of Jamal has done much to highlight the issue. Now it is up to us to do something to ensure that his death is neither forgotten nor in vain.

Some thoughts on the tragic killing of Jamal Khashoggi

NCF Secretary General William Morris interviewed during a debate on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a longstanding family friend and a generous and public spirited journalist who lost his life because what he had to say was not tolerated by his government. Latterly Jamal had been writing for the Washington Post. This broadcast was made before today’s suggestion from the Turks that the killing of Jamal may in fact have been deliberate.

UN High Court Rules in Qatar-UAE Case

A year since the blockade against Qatar, the Gulf nation has for the first time taken the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) over what it described as human right violations.

The boycott, which has been in effect since June 2017, is led by Saudi Arabia with the support of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – all previous partners of Qatar in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – and Egypt.

In June, Qatar’s government put forward a case, seeking reparations by arguing that the UAE enacted a series of measures that discriminate against Qataris. The measures include expelling Qataris from the UAE, prohibiting them from entering or passing through the UAE, ordering UAE nationals to leave Qatar, and closing UAE airspace and seaports to Qatar.

Qatar’s government argues that these actions were in violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) – including discrimination on the basis of nationality. A tactical move by Qatar as the UAE and Qatar are the only Gulf signatories to the convention.

In response, the UAE offered a defence to Qatar’s case, citing similar allegations that were leveled against Qatar when the diplomatic row broke out last year. The UAE’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Saeed Al-Nuwais, has dismissed Qatar’s discrimination case as baseless and rejected all allegations.

However, on Monday, the ICJ ruled in favour of Qatar. The vote, albeit a narrow one with eight judges in favour and seven against, ruled that the measures put in place by the UAE amounted to racial discrimination and must immediately reunite Qatari families affected by the blockade and allow Qatari students to continue their education in the UAE. The ICJ’s decision, whilst provisional is nonetheless binding and a further proceeding is expected to be scheduled at a future date.

Despite the difficulties, Qatar overcame the economic impacts of the blockade – maintaining healthy growth. The blockading countries were already under economic hardship as a result of low oil prices, and have themselves suffered from cutting economic trade with Qatar. Energy-rich Qatar tapped into its massive wealth reserves to absorb the initial impact on its economy and secured alternatives means of trade for food supplies and maritime routes and ports.

This is a small victory for Qatar, who still remains isolated and estranged from neighbouring countries. A political solution to the Gulf crisis seems further far afield, as neither Qatar nor the blockading nations have shown any signs of backing down.

The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis

The war in Yemen shows no sign of abating. This past week a Saudi Arabian airstrike hit a wedding in the country, killing over twenty people, including the bride. This is not a new scenario. Saudi air strikes fired into Yemen have struck markets, schools, and hospitals. The dialogue surrounding these attacks has been depressingly familiar. The UN decries these attacks as war crimes whilst Saudi Arabia claims that the attacks are caused by the Houthis’ use of human shields (i.e. hiding military positions and equipment in civilian zones). The West’s response to the crisis has been weak. Cautious not to upset their regional ally, Saudi Arabia,  statements from Western countries have focused the blame on Iran. They claim that Iran has been ‘exacerbating’ the violence by providing the Houthis with missiles. Tehran has denied involvement. However, a UN inspection in January showed Houthi weapons to have been manufactured in Iran, weakening that denial.

Iran is certainly perceived as being an actor in this war, and the Sunni-Shiite divide is a prevalent theme in the Yemeni crisis: the Shiite Houthis backed by Iran against the Sunni-President Hadi supported by Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, the idea that the Yemen war is an aspect of regional geopolitics has left the West with its hands tied. There is concern that, if Yemen was to lose its Sunni government, Iran would be able to expand upon its ‘Shia crescent’ (to use King Abdullah II of Jordan’s phrase). The idea being that Iranian control of Yemen, together with Iran’s existing Shiite allies in Iraq and Syria, creates a Shia bloc in the Middle East. Thus, the Yemen crisis is being described as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with fears that success for the Houthis means success for Tehran. This has prevented the West from condemning the actions of the Saudi military, and those left to suffer are the Yemeni people.

The war has killed nearly 10,000 Yemenis and has been described as the worst humanitarian crisis today by the UN. Three out of four Yemenis require humanitarian aid of some kind. A land, sea and air blockade on Yemen was introduced by Saudi Arabia in November, leading to enormous shortages of medicine and food. This blockade was reduced to allow aid to come through Hodeidah, Yemen’s largest port. However, the entire country is struggling for its basic needs. The European Council for Foreign Relations says food insecurity is a problem throughout Yemen. In Houthi-controlled territories, starvation is rampant.

As people are struggling for basic needs, both sides of the conflict continue to commit human rights abuses. Amnesty have investigated thirty ground attacks executed in Yemen, by both pro and anti-Houthi forces, and found none that distinguished between civilians and combatants. Pro-Houthi forces have committed a wave of arrests of opponents including human rights defenders, journalists, and academics. Similarly, anti-Houthi forces have persecuted and harassed civilians in both pro-Hadi areas and disputed territories.

Something must be done to curb these atrocities. One small ray of hope is the new Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths. He remarked following a trip to Sana’a ‘there is no doubt a desire for peace’ and that ‘it is difficult to spend time in Yemen without appreciating the great suffering this war has caused’. His plan of action is to bring civilian leaders to the same negotiating table as the warlords and generals to highlight the extent of the crisis. He is also championing the divorcing of humanitarian negotiation and political mediation. Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is currently actually aggravated due to Saudi Arabia running a humanitarian program for the people of Yemen concurrently with its attacks. This has meant that negotiations allowing for more aid workers and supplies have been hindered by Saudi Arabia’s political desire for the country. They have found that they can prevent further aid from being administered until certain of their political demands have been achieved. This politicisation of aid further hurts the Yemeni people. Divorcing the two into separate negotiations, one table to discuss humanitarian packages and another for peace negotiations, will allow for greater access to aid and improve the lives of the Yemenis.

Griffiths faces difficulties due to his nationality as a British citizen. As he tries to mediate between the Houthis and the Saudis, Griffiths will struggle to appear fair and unbiased due to Britain’s famous ties with Saudi Arabia. That being said, there may be a positive outcome to Griffiths being British. Britain is currently under pressure from international bodies and NGOs concerning its continued sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. But the arms industry is such an enormous part of the British economy, and the Saudis are vital to its continuation. As long as the British government can continue the partnership without tangible negative consequences, weapons will be sold to Saudi Arabia. So far, the British Government has claimed Saudi Arabia’s use of these weapons does not violate Britain’s arms trade policy. Saudi Arabia’s evident collateral attacks on civilians within this conflict show this statement to be mere political maneuvering in order to continue the billion pound industry that is Britain’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. However, with a new, British envoy, reports from the UN may hold more weight in Griffiths’ home country, creating greater pressure on the British government to be less ready to give carte blanche to further sales.  Regardless of which, Griffiths is himself Yemen born and has worked in the region and for that reason alone, garners respect from the warring factions. He is the best hope we have.

Yemen: Our Future is at Stake

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 5th of March 2018. Panel/ Annual Discussion/ Debate on the rights of the child.

Mr. President, the Next Century Foundation wishes to express its concern about the rights of children in the Republic of Yemen. The situation in Yemen is the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster. Civilians are becoming victims of unrelenting violations of international humanitarian law. Most of Yemen’s children have neither security nor education and are exposed to inhumane challenges on a daily basis. The blockade led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is threatening millions and the international community should step in and stop this horror.

Yemen’s children are malnourished, many actually facing famine.

22.2 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, 60% of the population endures food insecurity, and an outbreak of cholera is putting vulnerable children at great risk.  Saudi Arabia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996, and yet, their use of food and medical aid as a weapon against an already suffering people and their children should be condemned.

Every child has basic rights, including the right to life. Children have a right to be protected from violence especially from the sight of horrendous war.

The Saudi-led blockade in Yemen not only harms children’s right to live but also affects our right to know what is going on. This because of the difficulties faced by journalists who wish to enter the country. The UN could have made better progress by engaging more with the public and bringing more attention to bear on this issue. We hope that Mr. Martin Griffiths, the recently appointed UN Special Envoy to Yemen, will help bring peace to this arena, and if he fails to do so, will expose those responsible for this ongoing tragedy.

If we ignore the crisis in Yemen, we betray the Middle East. Indeed if we turn aside and fail to help Yemen’s children, we betray humanity. Thank you.