For nearly three months, Saudi Arabia, backed by a coalition of Arab countries, and with logistical and arms support from the US and UK, has been bombing Yemen on an almost daily basis in a campaign against the Houthis – a rebel group that has taken over large parts of the country, including the capital, Sana’a. On the day Operation Decisive Storm began, Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, courageously declared that the air-strikes and operations on Yemen, were to “protect” the Yemeni people and “the legitimate government of Yemen.” How ironic then that it is the Saudi-led alliance – without a UN mandate – that is responsible for compounding a looming humanitarian crisis.
Yemen was already in a desperately fragile state before the March air attacks began. According to UN figures, almost 16 million people – 61 percent of the total population – required humanitarian assistance. More than half of the country could not access safe drinking water, and Yemen’s child malnutrition rates ranked among the world’s worst. A year ago, the International Rescue Committee warned that half of the Yemeni population did not know where their next meal was coming from.
Enter the US-backed, Saudi-led cavalry. In order to “help” the Yemeni people, Saudi fighter jets, along with those from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain have killed over 2 600 people, and injured almost 10 000 more. According to UNICEF, 135 children had been killed and 260 wounded. Strikes have hit hospitals, schools, a refugee camp and neighbourhoods. Human Rights Watch has just published new evidence alleging that internationally-outlawed cluster bombs have been used in Yemen. As if that wasn’t enough, the alliance has also maintained a blockade on imports of fuel, food and medicine. Saudi tactics in Yemen are eerily reminiscent of Israel’s in Gaza: siege; relentless airstrikes; bombing of schools, homes and hospitals; and collective punishment.
And what of Saudi Arabia’s defence of the “legitimate government” of Yemen? Saudi Arabia – that bastion of democracy – says it wants to restore rule to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who came to power during the heady Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.
But, let’s be clear. Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen has nothing to do with its love for democracy, and everything to do with its hatred of the Houthi rebels – allegedly backed by Saudi arch-rivals, Iran. If the US and Saudi Arabia were so concerned with restoring legitimate governments, why weren’t they and their motley crew in Cairo two years ago to ensure that a democratically-elected Mohammed Mursi was still president of Egypt – rather than languishing in the prisons of military dictator Abdel-Fatah Sisi who usurped Mursi through an illegitimate military coup?
Let’s be honest. Regular hangings and lashings make Saudi Arabia as heinous as the Islamic State (ISIS) group. While ISIS condemnation flows freely from the US administration and its closest allies, as well as non-governmental groups around the world, there has never been any serious American, Western or Middle-Eastern governmental outrage directed at everyone’s key political and energy ally in the Arab world.
And while many Islamic leaders rushed to condemn ISIS as an “aberration”, those same voices are now silent as Saudi Arabia – which claims to be the ‘custodian’ of Islam – showers Yemen with bombs and missiles without any regard for the holy month of Ramadan. These leaders would do well to take heed of Al-Jazeera journalist, Mehdi Hassan’s, recent warning that those who don’t criticise or condemn the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen, would really struggle to condemn the next Israeli air war against Gaza.
If America’s sponsorship of ISIS is anything to go by, American policy is guided by the logic that helping Islamic fundamentalist groups is OK as long as they are opposing regimes that you don’t like. The Houthi rebels are fighting the wrong regime in the eyes of Saudi Arabia and the United States.
“Having Yemen fail cannot be an option for us or for our coalition partners,” said al-Jubeir. Well, it’s not an option for the Yemeni people either, who, like those in Gaza last year, are caught up in a devastating strategic war not of their own making.
Suraya Dadoo is a researcher for Media Review Network, a Johannesburg-based advocacy group. Find her on Twitter: @Suraya_Dadoo
This piece first appeared in the Sunday Tribune (28 June 2015)