Contribution by Sean Girard,
3rd-year student in ESSCA’s Bachelor in International Business Development:
“I am very interested in the geopolitics of the Middle East thanks to my international exchange semester in Turkey and I have a project to work in this area. A meeting with a young Yemeni has changed my vision and interest about this region of the world and prompted me to write this post.”

The daily life of the Yemeni is made of fighting, bombing, famine and disease and who talks about it? Nobody!

The first question we should ask ourselves is why this country is in this terrible war. Its governance is one part of the problem. The crisis begins in 2011 with demonstrations related to the Arab spring,  which led the president Ali Abdallah Saleh to leave the government in the hands of his vice-president Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi. But after two years of presidency, the political transition turns out a failure and is blocked by rebel armed forces from the region of Saada, called “the Houthis”.

This new actor is taking possession of the western part of Yemen, including the capital, Sana’a. The president doesn’t know what to do and leaves for exile in Saudi Arabia. This decision will have a bad impact on the government credibility.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia starts to be afraid of the alliance between Iran and the Houthis. Consequently, they begin a military operation supported by some other Arabic countries with the aim of rolling back the Iranian influence in Middle East. The war is not only about the country where it takes place but about the rivalry between two big players on a regional scale. This conflict is ruled by two religious ideologies which are Shiism and Sunnism. Shiism distinguishes religion and politics, in contrary to Sunnism that links it. In this area, Iran is the biggest country practicing Shiism. The other countries around tend to be Sunnis. This created tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia and that stems on the situation of Yemen.

This is perhaps why no one is talking about the Yemenis themselves. All these bombs sent by the heir to the Throne of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saoud (also known as MBS), are affecting life conditions in Yemen and raising the number of dead civilians. According to an estimation of the UNO in January 2016, around 6.660 of civilians were killed by this fight.

(Photo by Ibrahem Qasim, CC BY-SA)

This number does not include Yemenis who have died from malnutrition or illness. For the same period,  Andrea Carboni, a researcher on Yemen for the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) has estimated in his report a human cost of the conflict at 60,223. Things are made worse by an impossible access to food supply because the harbors are controlled by opponents. The United Nations have considered Yemen’s situation as “the worst famine in the world in 100 years” with 13 civilians close to death every single day. Furthermore, water is no longer drinkable and the development of diseases like Cholera is exponential.

The suffering of this population is, however, widely forgotten by international media and foreign nations. It seems that they are afraid to intervene in this conflict because they don’t want to take position. But when a journalist is killed in suspicious conditions for writing about the role of Saudi Arabia in this war each and every information channel is focused on this tragic (and spectacular) event.

A great video from Le Monde (the leading French and international daily) can help you to deepen this topic.

Is one man more important than thousand others in distress? 

The person in question is Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist exiled in the USA for the reason that he held strong positions against the implication of Riyad in the conflict affecting Yemen. He was murdered and dismembered on October 2nd 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The American government insinuate that MBS was behind this massacre and the American senate condemned Donald Trump and asked to put an end to the military intervention in Yemen. The president preferred to continue having good diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, have access to all energy resources from the exploitation of this region and avoid losing a major customer of American weapons.

What will be the outcome of this war?

It is a shame to witness such a situation and see nobody act to stop this infernal loop of human suffering. The international community and the medias are putting forward geopolitics and internal stakes of Yemen. For the European community and the USA, being inside of this confrontation is a gigantic risk in terms of costs, military casualties, and access to energetics resources. America and Europe are selling massive quantities of weapons to Saudi Arabia which represents a huge source of revenues. It is also not ideal to intervene as an occidental power when you have an agreement to access the energetics resources in these countries. In 2017, the production in Saudi Arabia represented around 22 % of the global production and Iran, in third position (behind Saudi Arabia) had produced 12,8% according to OPEC’s analysis. It is less interesting in terms of economy to send humanitarian aid and spend money to save far-away foreign countries.

It seems that Yemen is the perfect battle field for Iran and Saudi Arabia without risking any impact on their own respective territories. Yemen’s government appears to be no longer able to take part in this conflict, neither on a political or economic level, and not even for fighting the growing terrorism. In addition, the lack of international agreement is compromising chances of interventions by NGO to fight poverty, sickness and famine.

We can say the conflict is gaining in notoriety because occidental populations are more paying attention to the global geopolitics situations in order to promote the peace in the world. Web-based fundraisers are being set up to help oppressed populations gain access to care and food. We can find for example this one:

The conflict is not going to stop in the area because USA has ratified agreements on arms sales with Saudi Arabia that are very beneficial to each party in order to have enough firepower to fight the Iranian enemy.

There were some hopes at the end of 2018: the UN had the role to define an agreement between the Houthis and the Saudi Government. It failed after 21 days for the simple reason that the text was too vague to be agreed upon for both parts. By this, we can see that the establishment of such an agreement is rather complicated to prepare. However, both sides of the conflict are slowly beginning to take into account the possibility of creating a positive issue for the country concerned. We can only hope that the discussions continue to evolve in a good way.

One thing is sure, the Yemeni population still hopes to see its country one day recover from this crisis. It will, however, take a lot of time to forget what was done, and a scar will remain that will never heal.

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