Monday, September 26, 2016

Frequently Asked Questions about Yemen War

A graffiti work by Yemeni artists, Murad Subay, commemorating 15 children killed in 
Bani Hawwat area, in Sana’a, by an airstrike. May 18, 2015.

"Time to go back to blogging"

A dear friend and blogger from Syria, Razan Ghazzawi wrote a few days ago on her FB wall. Despite that the heartbreaking brutal war in Syria is on the news all the time, she's noticing that people know little about the situation in Syria. When I read her FB post, I thought: been there, done that. In international conferences I give talks about Yemen, I also often meet an audience who doesn't know much about the situation in Yemen, and doesn't know who to follow or read on Yemen. 

Murad's work was one of the topics I discussed at the "Arab Spring Generation" talk run by
Amnesty at Gothenburg's book fair, yesterday.

Inspired by Ghazzawi's call and by my participation in Gothenburg's Book Fair yesterday, where I took part in three talks about women's rights in patriarchal societies, journalism from exile, and Arab Spring generation, inspired by all that, I list below some of the most frequently asked questions about Yemen and the ongoing war, and my answer to them. 

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Q1. Why don't we hear much about the war in Yemen in the media? is it because Yemen war is overshadowed by Syria war? 

From your question, I understand that you at least know more about the war in Syria but not in Yemen. Which is good. Better than not knowing about the two wars at all. From your question, I understand as well that you care about Syria and want to care as well about Yemen. Which is awesome. At this point, I appreciate your desire in trying to know about Yemen war. 

Now, answering your question, I think you don't hear much about the war in Yemen for three main reasons among many other: 

A. Yemenis are stranded and can't escape the war to Europe. Embassies in Yemen have shut down a long time ago. People can only apply for a visa to travel abroad from Jordan, Egypt or Ethiopia. To get to these countries by itself can be impossible with their extremely arbitrary and constantly changing rules. Even for those who have the patience in following the rules, they might run out of money in the course of traveling to Jordan, then coming back to Yemen and then traveling again to take the passport. And when you could afford the agony of traveling, there is a 99% chance that your visa application is rejected. Mind you that Yemen's main airport in Sana'a has been bombed several times by the Saudi-led coalition and only hidden diligent airport workers work in repairing what's repairable. Only one single airline can operate in Yemen and that is Yemenia, Yemen's airlines. 

Moreover, Yemen's geographical location makes it much harder for people to flee. Most of Yemen's neighbouring countries are taking part in the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen. When Yemenis are desperate enough to take the boats to neighbouring countries, the destination is typically towards Somalia and Djibouti. Despite that these countries are one of the world's poorest countries, they represent Yemenis' tiny window to escape. Once they arrive in Somalia & Djibouti, they have uncertain future. Having said that, you may measure the implications. You won't see Yemenis speaking in international conferences. And you were only able to see and talk to me because I live in Europe. 

B. Unlike the war in Syria, the Saudis are a direct actor in Yemen war and this tremendously impacts the lack of reporting or the non-reporting about Yemen war. Last year, Wikileaks released thousands of diplomatic cables from Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minstry, which includes documents showing how Saudi Arabia is buying media silence. Understandably, the oil-rich country, one of the world's top economic powers, Saudi Arabia has cash that can buy anything and anyone. The problem is, Saudi is at war with not any country but the POOREST Arab country, Yemen - which gives you an idea about the inequality in power in this war. 

C. The misconception that the war in Yemen is based on sectarian lines, as some reporters speak of Iran's role in Yemen war and how the war in Yemen is a proxy war and all that.. then, one reduces the bloodshed in Yemen to a mere Sunnis killing Shi'ites rhetorics. Whoever made you believe that is only doing a lazy journalism. Sectarianism is not the key driver of Yemen war, a super complicated political and economic power struggle is what drove this war to break out from the very beginning. There are many different internal and external actors in Yemen war with many different political agendas - some actors can find a cross-match point where secterian and politica motives meet. 

Q2. How is the press freedom in Yemen today? 

The press in Yemen is in crisis, as everything else is in crisis in the country. The humanitarian crisis could be the worst humanitarian tragedy in the world today, even beyond Syria. Nearly half of Yemen's population, over 14 MILLION people inside Yemen lack food, water, medicine and other basic human needs. No doubt among these millions of people are journalists and writers who are struggling to stay alive. Then, you have that the Houthis have forcibly disappeared and detained many local journalists who tried to expose Houthis-made human rights violations or even simply who want to report about what’s on the ground. Only those journalists who are, or sound like, pro-Houthis and abide by Houthis’ narrative can practice their work safely. It’s important to note that many journalists or commentators try to sound like a pro-Houthis, while not identifying oneself as a pro-Houthis. That’s done because they are scared of Houthis’ oppressive and barbaric rule. So, there is much self-censorship. 

Plus, as the war prolongs, journalists are discarding journalism and turning into armed fighters at frontlines, each motivated by his political affiliation to this or that armed group. 

For international journalists, it's almost impossible to get in Yemen. For more details into this, please check the following tweets: 

And I also co-spoke yesterday at the Book Fair about several aspects of media and Yemen war:

Q3. How is the situation for women's rights in Yemen today? 

Horrible. So far 10 thousand people have been killed in Yemen war, which includes women and children as they are the most vulnerable victims in this war. In light of the horrific humanitarian situation, million of mothers are suffering from malnutrition and therefore can't breastfeed their little babies and therefore both million of mothers and babies are suffering from hunger, which has extremely damaging consequences to their health. Despite that women are directly affected by the war, peace advocate Yemeni women had little, if nothing at all, say in Yemen's previous peace talks. 

Nonetheless, Yemeni women activists are still doing what they can do to end the war. To be a women rights advocate in Yemen today means you are an anti-war activist, an anti-arm-sales activist, among many other forms of activism.

Q4. Has the Arab Spring achieved anything for Yemen?

Both yes and no. As the war rages on in Yemen, it seems foolish to say that Yemen harvested any merits from Yemen's 2011 uprising. It actually did. It started a movement, a process, which calls for civil rights for all Yemenis. This can't be finalized in 2 or 5 years. This will take generations. But on the other hand, Yemenis need the world's solidarity. Yemen can't get back on its feet again, while governments in London and Washington DC are an ally to unjust and oppressive regimes which shape Yemen's politics, and here I can name Saudi Arabia. For a more current example, UK was accused of blocking UN inquiry into claim of war crimes in Yemen. However, there are still ongoing efforts by the Netherlands pushing a UN draft resolution in establishing that independent international committee.