Coping with crisis in Yemen

The war in Yemen is a multifocal one; the Houthis and ex-President Saleh, President Hadi and troops still loyal to him, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, the southern secessionist militias – and into this maelstrom Saudi Arabia started a bombing campaign, which has only aggravated the fighting militias and not stopped any of their advances. Most areas in the west of Yemen (the old North Yemen plus Aden) are witnessing bombs and militia activity on a daily basis, many have lost their homes due to conflict. In the middle of it all, most ordinary Yemeni people do not belong to a militia and do not want to fight at all, but they are finding that ordinary life has become extremely complicated and hazardous, with even basic needs such as eating, drinking, washing, cooking, becoming difficult and challenging tasks.

Most people in the west of Yemen have not been able to work since the conflict escalated with the start of the Saudi bombing campaign at the end of March. Some people are still receiving their salaries, for example, government employees in the North are still being paid, but Aden government salaries have stopped. Even people still getting their government salaries are not sure how long that can continue. Although most businesses in this area have had to cease trading, some are continuing, for example, water tankers are in demand; however, their costs are escalating due to having to buy petrol on the black market at grossly inflated prices in order to transport water to the cities. Some who are working in internationally funded humanitarian agencies in Sana’a such as UNICEF are still employed but finding the demands have increased significantly, whilst resources available are in limited supply. For others who are still able to work getting to their place of employment is a major problem as petrol is in very short supply and public transport is erratic and expensive due to rising petrol costs. In the east of Yemen, Hadramaut, there is less disruption of employment, although this area has a low population because it is mainly desert, and it is under stress because of the large numbers of internally displaced people arriving there. This area is under Al Qaeda control but mostly stable at the moment. In all parts of Yemen prices are rapidly escalating due to the extensive Saudi blockade of Yemeni ports; people who are relying on their savings to buy essentials are finding that their savings are becoming depleted and they face an uncertain future. There is little sign of humanitarian aid arriving due to the blockade. It is hardly surprising that most Yemeni people that I know are now thinking they must move from Yemen in order to survive. This too is not easy as most countries in the Middle East, Asia and Europe are not accepting Yemeni refugees, despite their life threatening circumstances. One way out is by boat across the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden to Somalia and Djibouti; those arriving in Somalia are moving to another war torn country that is more stable than Yemen at the moment. Those Yemenis who have travelled to Djibouti in tens of thousands have not been welcomed and they are living in dire circumstances with little assistance. The other route out is to cross the border into Oman, although Oman is only issuing permits for people who plan to travel across Oman and leave by plane for a third country. So far the only country that has offered asylum to people from Yemen is Malaysia.

So people are trapped inside conflict.The emergency services in Yemen were never well developed, and are now under severe strain. This means that when bombing attacks occur, emergency services rarely turn up.  Local people who are not equipped or trained step in to find people who are injured or dead amongst the rubble, and transport them to hospital.  Often this is done when the rescuers themselves face great danger when they enter buildings that have already been severely damaged, and the survivors who are pulled out might face further injuries because of the makeshift nature of their rescue.

For most Yemenis, the supply of water is their most pressing need.  Even before the conflict water was becoming a serious concern; one city Taiz did not have a regular water supply and it was forecast that Sana’a would be the first capital city in the world to run out of water. In the highlands, water is pumped out of deep wells, needing diesel or electricity. The conflict and blockade has caused erratic electricity and diesel is in very short supply, so water cannot be pumped up. Since April water no longer arrives in people’s homes direct, but instead people leave their homes in search of water, collect it in containers and bring it home. This can only happen when electricity is switched on; in some areas of the capital city residents have reported being without electricity for up to seven days at a time.  When the electricity came on, people rushed out to their nearest water supply; their need was such that sometimes there were fights in the queues waiting for water as people were so desperate. This was helped by some Yemeni benefactors paying for water tankers to bring water to residents in areas that were in short supply.

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Water delivery in Yemen

However many humanitarian agencies point to the problems that might arise from contaminated or unclean water in this crisis, and this can only be a temporary stop-gap.  It is aggravated by the lack of fuel for boiling water to make it safe.  All  of the water that is needed by a family – for drinking, cooking, washing and laundering, all has to be bought into the house via plastic containers.

Whilst food is in limited supply and expensive, more pressing is the issue of cooking it.  There has not been any cooking fuel for nearly three months.  Where people have an old tanour oven they are using it, and sharing this facility with their neighbours. For example, one friend has a tanour oven which they share with five other houses which means it is at full capacity most waking hours. It is a boiler shaped oven that has a fire underneath; with little fuel, the only thing that can be used for cooking is wood – and there are not many trees in Yemen.

bread cooking on the side walls of a tanour oven
bread cooking on the side walls of a tanour oven

Many bakeries are no longer functioning and people have to bake their own bread by sticking it on the walls of the oven. Most Sana’a people also have a large metal casserole dish in which they cook the traditional Yemeni food over the fire; a stew of meat and vegetables called salta.

Where people have been made homeless, it is not overseas agencies that have stepped in; it is the hospitable nature of Yemen.  People have opened their homes to others who have lost theirs. In every home that I know of, my Yemeni friends have said that they have a family staying in each of their rooms; a three bedroomed home with 16,18 or more people living together.  Even people who are displaced who have found a small home are sharing it with new arrivals until the seams are almost bursting.

There is no time to start thinking about mental health issues: whole families traumatised as their circumstances have changed from peace to a bloody, senseless war with no end to their insecurity and a lack of hope. Jobs and education disrupted and with no certainty of ever returning to paid employment, or completing school and university. And no end to the constant bombs and hounding by militias. Many must suffer from post-traumatic stress, but there is no treatment available. I have friends in Yemen; I go to bed thinking of them; wake up in the night thinking of them, and they are my first thought when I get up in the morning.  How much worse it must be if you are caught in this prison of conflict.

A lot was said about wartime Britain surviving the blitz.  This is Yemen’s blitz.  They are struggling, and left to do it on their own, with little awareness or concern from others in the world.  If they manage to escape this hell, they will be called economic migrants.

Divide and rule: Saudi Arabia, Oil, and Yemen.

Divide and Rule: Saudi Arabia, Oil and Yemen

(June 2, 2015)

Saudi Arabia does not want a strong, democratic country on the other side of the more than 1500 kilometer long border that separates both countries. It opposed the unification of former North- and South Yemen in 1990. It supported, together with Kuwait, the Southern separation movement during the Civil War of 1994 with billions of dollars. And it heavily influenced the outcome of the Yemeni transition process after 2011.

At the onset of his reign on January 23, 2015, King Salman bin Abdulaziz appointed his son Mohamed bin Salman (34) as Minister of Defense. Saudi Arabia, supported by others, started the airstrikes on Yemen at the request of its (il)legitimate President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi on March 25 of this year. Five weeks later, the highly experienced and thoughtful Saudi minister of Foreign Affairs (Prince Saud Al Faisal) was replaced by the former Saudi ambassador to the US (Adel bin Ahmed Al Jubeir). At the same time Aramco, the Saudi oil- and gasgiant, was restructured. The Supreme Petroleum Council was abolished and a Supreme Council established, to be chaired by the Minister of Defense. The influential minister already happened to be the Chairperson of the Economic and Development Affairs Council. These developments cannot be seen as separate from the attack on Yemen.

The energy sector is responsible for 90% of the export earnings and 45% of Saudi BNP. Regional security is therefore of crucial importance, In 2013 30% of all oil transported over sea (from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE and Iran) passed the Hormuz Strait, passing the territorial waters of Iran and Oman. 85% of this oil is intended for Asia. Gas too is an important export product, in particular for Qatar.

Fear of an Iranian blockade of the Hormuz Strait, and the possibly disastrous results for the global economy, has existed for years. The US therefore pressured the Gulf States to develop alternatives. In 2007 Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Oman and Yemen jointly launched the Trans-Arabia Oil Pipeline project. New pipelines were to be constructed from the Saudi Ras Tannurah on the Persian Gulf and the UAE to the Gulf of Oman (one to the Emirate of Fujairah and two lines to Oman) and the Gulf of Aden (two lines to Yemen). In addition Kuwait could be connected to this network. So far, only the connection between Abu Dhabi and Fujairah (both UAE) has been completed. It became operational in 2012.

Blueprint Regional Network August 2007

Recent overtures between the US and Iran have led to heightened uncertainty among the Saudi’s about the Hormuz Strait. In 2014 Iran and Oman signed an agreement to construct a pipeline from Iran to Oman in order to export Iranian gas to Oman. Distrust about the intentions of Oman increased the attractiveness of the Hadramaut option in Yemen, a longstanding wish of Saudi Arabia.

However, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (in function from 1978-2012) opposed the construction of a pipeline under Saudi control over Yemeni territory. For many years the Saudi’s invested in tribal leaders in the hope to execute this project under Saleh’s successor. The 2011 popular uprisings by demonstrators calling for democracy upset these plans.

When the situation really became untenable the Gulf States, under the watchful eyes of the US and the EU, convinced Saleh to step down in exchange for immunity. His Vice-President Hadi would take over the presidency until the planned presidential elections. De facto, the existing system was kept intact. The subsequent National Dialogue led to the decision to form a federal state with six countries. The governorates of Hadramaut, Shabwa and al Mahra were to come together in a new state called Hadramaut. When asked last year, the current Yemeni minister of Information Mrs. Nadia Sakkaf (residing in Riyadh) could not explain how that decision was reached: one day it had simply been made. The new state of Hadramaut counts 4 of the 26 million inhabitants of Yemen, 50% of the land area, 80% of the oil exports and – contrary to large other parts of Yemen – a sufficient water supply. In addition, a gold reserve worth 4 billion US dollars has recently been discovered.

After the signing of the Jeddah Agreement concerning the border between both countries in 2000 Saudi Arabia initiated the construction of a three meter high wall along the border from the Red Sea. This wall has not yet reached Hadramaut. The governorate of Hadramaut is one of the few areas where the Saudi-led coalition did not conduct any airstrikes. The port and the international airport of Al Mukalla are in optimal shape and under the control of Al Qa’eda. Moreover, Saudi Arabia has been delivering arms to Al Qa’eda, who is expanding its sphere of influence.

Those pipelines to Mukalla will probably get there eventually.

©2015 Joke Buringa

Yemen, its historical sites, and war; Part 3.

Between 12th Century BCE and 6th Century BC Yemen was one of the leading dynasties in the world, it was known as ‘Arabia Felix’ or Happy Arabia. The dynasties included Ma’in, Qataban, Hadramaut, Aswan, Saba and Himyar.  The Himyarite kingdom was an important one for Yemen, because it located its capital in Sanaa, the same location as today’s capital city.  The remains of the Ghamdan Palace where the rulers lived are in the Old City in Sanaa, and that too was destroyed in an earlier war.  The Himyarite period was known to the Romans, the Greeks, and the Egyptians as the Homerite Kingdom, and it spanned from 110BC to 520h (1126).   There were many cities in Yemen at that time with over 5,000 inhabitants, which was large for that period of history.  Because of its importance to Yemen, a museum collected the artefacts which were used by scholars and researchers; they numbered over 10,000 artefacts. This museum and its contents have now been erased, no longer available for scholars researching ancient world history.

dhamar museum
Dhamar museum, which contained 10,000 artefacts from the Himyarite period.
museum after bombing raid
The remains of the Dhamar museum today

The Regional Museum was the main museum of the Dhamar governorate. It was built at Hirran, north of Dhamar city, in 2002. It had several exhibition halls, a lecture hall, a computer laboratory and storerooms. Its pre-Islamic collection comprised over hundred inscriptions of various provenance and period, whereas the section dedicated to the Islamic archaeology contains some decorated artefacts bearing Arabic inscriptions, in addition to jewels and other handmade products of traditional handicrafts in Dhamar. The most important object is the wooden minbar (pulpit) from the Great Mosque of Dhamar city, which was dated to the fourth century Hegira (11th Century). This was bombed on 18th June 2015.  I have also heard that another museum has been bombed in Zinjibar, Abyan province, but I cannot find confirmation.

Another UNESCO site that has been damaged is the Al Ashrafiyya Mosque in Taiz.

The Al Ashrafiyya after its recent restoration
The Al Ashrafiyya after its recent restoration

One of the beautiful minarets of al-Ashrafiyya Mosque has been hit by tank shelling. It tooks more than 10 years to the Yemeni-Italian restoration team to complete the intervention and restore the original beauty of this holy place and they were ready to begin with the project for the restoration of nearby Al-Muzaffar complex, which now is unlikely to proceed.  It was damaged on 18th June 2015.

The damage to the minaret
The damage to the minaret

The south west corner of Yemen is indeed suffering considerable damage as several militias are fighting and it is also subjected to overhead bombing by the Saudi coalition.  The city of Lahj has been destroyed, mostly by militia activity.

(photos of Lahj from Fatema need downloading from phone and inserting.

Parts of Aden have suffered extensive damage.  The oldest district, Crater, is indeed built in the crater of an extinct volcano. Most of the buildings are relatively recent, but there was a pretty mosque that was used to illustrate stamps during the British occupation of Aden, called the Aidrus mosque.

aidrus mosque
Stamp depicting Aidrus Mosque

This mosque is believed to date from the end of the 15th Century. It was damaged during the 1994 civil war, when old Qu’rans were burned by Yemeni troops from the north, and it has been destroyed in May this year when Houthi militias burned down many of the buildings in Crater, including the Aidrus Mosque. I have no photographs of the mosque post damage  but this is a view of Crater at the time of the arson attack, which does not give me confidence that it has survived.

crater 006
Crater after arson attack by Houthi militias

Another building in Aden has suffered damage from bombs, this is an old Ottoman fort overlooking the harbour known as Seera Castle. This grand citadel was in excellent condition when I visited it in 2011, and commands extensive views of the sea and harbour. I understand it suffered extensive damage on 22nd June, although I have no photographs of the damage.

seera castle7
Seera Castle, Aden, now damaged by bombs.

I also understand that the port area has suffered considerable damage, but have no other details. The port has the remains of grand and imposing buildings erected during the British occupation of Aden, which were badly in need of loving care but not damaged or altered in any way, and after restoration could have been made the area into an attractive area for visitors. Also near the port was the attractive guesthouse of the Sultan of Lahj, or the Sultan of Abdali, who ruled Yemen in the Ottoman period and remained on good terms with the British during their occupation. Indeed, despite the long and bitter campaign to make the British forces leave, Adenis now remember the British occupation in positive terms and feel a strong allegiance with British people. The statue of Queen Victoria remained in place, and a small church damaged once by Al Qaeda and restored, were always treated with respect by Aden people.  I fear for these buildings that reveal a significant part of Aden’s 19th and 20th century history will be lost, and with it, the potential for developing tourism in this part of Yemen.

What makes me feel so sad is that everyone has lost, and no-one has gained.  This is a man made war that cannot be won by military means. In the end, Yemeni and Saudi people will have to sit down with people they hate and make painful compromises. They could have done this without the loss of life, the suffering, and the loss of Yemeni, and world, architectural and historical heritage.

Yemen, its historical sites, and war; part 2.

Even older than the 2,500 Old City of Sanaa is the Marib Dam.  On June 1, the ancient Great Marib Dam, described as “one of the grandest engineering marvels of the ancient world” and one of the most important ancient sites in Yemen dating back to the ancient Queen of Sheba, was damaged by Saudi airstrikes which hit the better-preserved northern sluice. The original dam was first built in the 8th century BC, in the city of Marib which was once the capital of the kingdom of Sheba (Saba).  Saba, or Sheba, was one of the four great early kingdoms of Yemen; the largest and most prosperous.

marib damMarib is close to the area where Yemeni oil and gas reserves are found, and has long been an area of tribal conflict in Yemen. Currently the Houthis are fighting with Al Qaeda for control.  All of the Saudi bombs are falling in areas where the Houthis are active. This was bombed on 22nd June.

A new dam was then built more recently, close to the location of the old one, at the expense of the late ruler of the United Arab Emirates, whose tribe resettled from Marib to the present UAEsome time in the 17th century.The new dam is built of earth across the Wadi Dhana, creating a storage capacity of 398 million cubic meters. The dam site is located 3 km upstream of the ruins of the old Ma’rib dam. The new dam, like the old, was designed to store water for irrigating the Ma’rib plains. However, the wadi bed at the new dam site consists of alluvial sand and gravel material 30–50 m thick. Seepage emanates from this dam that does not threaten its structure,but does lose water. As a way of capturing the seepage, consideration is being given to rebuilding the ancient Ma’rib dam, both as a functioning structure, and also as a historic monument and tourist attraction. The complexity and volume of work involved in this project make it necessary that several organizations work together under the aegis of UNESCO using financial contributions from international organizations. (Wikipedia). However, with the current situation of unrest this is unlikely to happen.

new marib dam
New Marib Dam

A UNESCO site which was bombed to extinction without any world protest was the Al Qahira Citadel in Taiz. Bombing was reported on 12th May 2015.  This had recently been restored and was now a recreational and tourist facility.  The earliest portions were certainly pre-Islamic and it might have been one of the most ancient sites in Yemen, with some claiming it was there since 10C BC.  On top of it was built a beautiful Ottoman fort.  It took 3 days of bombing before it finally was totally demolished.

al qahira castle being bombed
Al Qahira site being bombed

al qahira castle being bombed2al qahira castle being bombed3

Saada, in the north west portion of Yemen and close to the Saudi border, and the home city of the Houthis has come in for particular bombardment.  Parts of the city had already suffered extensive damage in 2004-2009, when the Saleh government with support of Saudi Arabia conducted wars in this region, and Saudi crossed the border in a military incursion themselves in 2009.  However, what is left of the city has now disappeared. This includes stunning the 9th Century Al Hadi mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the world, bombed on 9th May 2015. This was followed by the bombing of the pre-Islamic city of Baraqish again a UNESCO site on the 11th May.

al hadi mosque
9th Century Al Hadi mosque before it was bombed.
al hadi mosque after bombs
The Al Hadi mosque after 9th May bombs.

This loss to the world is compounded by the displacement of a whole population, some of whom were related to the militias but many of whom were just ordinary Yemeni working people.  Some Saada residents were already living in refugee camps ran by Oxfam since 2009, and although Oxfam told the Saudi authorities the exact location of the refugee camp and advised them that it was not a military site, the camp was bombed on one of the first days of the campaign. The bombing continues as Saudis strike nearby villages on an almost daily basis.

Another Citadel that was bombed was close to the Red Sea port of Hodeida, the Sharif Citadel in the city of Bajel.  This was struck on 24th May. I can find no details of damage sustained.

al sharif bajel
Al Sharif Citadel, Bajel.

One ancient site which I knew well which I believe is lightly damaged is the Dar al Hajjar, the House on the Rock. This was a palace of the last Imam of Yemen who was overthrown in the 1960s.  It was built in 1786 and is an icon of Yemen, it is in a valley north of Sanaa called Wadi Dhar.  Prominently located in the centre of the wadi, it is visible from most of the mountains that surround the valley, and I often went running in this wadi, with the view of Dar al Hajjar from many vantage points. Now a museum, it was hit on 4th June.

Dar al Hajjar2
The iconic symbol of Yemen, Dar al Hajjar in Wadi Dhar.

I am hoping that this wonderful museum survives the war. Part 3 describes more architectural gems that have been damaged.

Yemen, its historical sites, and war.

Yemen is an ancient civilisation; its location in the centre of the three continents of Africa, Asia and Europe, and adjacent to seas that link those three continents; plus its relatively moderate climate in the highlands and high rainfall comparative to other parts of the Arabian peninsula meant that it had people who were able to trade and develop sophisticated and wealthy settlements.  It controlled the spice trade and the frankincense trade routes, and for centuries it produced all of the world’s coffee, exported from its port Mocha. The Islamic Empire was centred on the Hijaz and Asir Mountain ranges, which run along the Western side of Arabia, the southern portion of which is Yemen.  The more northerly part of these mountains contains the Islamic cities of Medina and Mecca, which were won in battle by the Saud tribe in 1924 and became part of Saudi Arabia. Hence Yemen’s ancient heritage sites are particularly important not only to Yemeni people, but also they are part of the important heritage of humankind. Although it has been an impoverished nation in recent decades, it has a glorious history, and that is reflected in its ancient sites. It has walled cities, citadels, engineering projects, mosques, and palaces, many that stretch back to long before the birth of Christ.

Many of these sites have recently been renovated with international funding, and many are deservingly an important part of the UNESCO world heritage collection.  Yet these ancient sites that have stood the test of time are now being bombed, sometimes to the point of extinction, by the bombs that are being poured down on Yemen and its people by a war coalition that states it is ‘saving’ Yemen.   Of course, it is difficult to access information in a war situation, but it is obvious that there has been major damage to some of the major sites, some of which have been eradicated altogether.   Many of them are known to me personally, and I feel it as a personal loss.

Many of these sites are not near to people’s homes, but in Yemen people still live in ancient places, making them into living museums.  I always felt it was a privilege to visit them, and see them still operating as they did centuries ago, not as places which are just preserved for visitors to peek at.  The ones that are still lived in have not only sustained the loss of their architecture, but they have also killed the persons living there, and their sustained and sophisticated culture, which will be lost along with the architecture.  Because the structures for emergencies is not well developed, individuals are left to work alone to help survivors and to make the damaged property safe.

YEMEN-searching for survivors, old city
Old City, Sanaa; searching for survivors

The most important of these was only 20 minutes’ walk from my home when I lived in Sanaa’a, the Old City.  It was built of red bricks, with ornate white gypsum patterns and alablaster windows.  Some of these houses were up to five stories high, each story housing one branch of the family.  When I was living in Yemen, the lanes were being paved with grey stones, a massive project paid for by the Dutch embassy.  It was a walled city, and inside its walls it was a self sufficient space, with beautiful green gardens and an ancient souk, still selling traditional crafts that Yemenis used in their homes. Over each window was a fanlight shaped window with coloured glass, and that was why I loved walking through the Old City so much at night, it looked like fairyland. Sometimes when we walked around, we would come across wedding festivals, we would stop and watch the men dancing their intricate wedding dances, waving their jambiyyas, a curved dagger that they wore in their waistband.

There have been two major strikes on the Old City, one on 11th May, and a bigger one on 12th June 2015.

old city pre-bomb
The old city, Sanaa
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The same site, after the bomb blast.

I read an article about a 99 year old woman who had lived in the city for almost all of her life, who has now had to move away from the city for safety.  There are no military establishments in the Old City, and nowhere for Houthis to set up camp and it is hard to understand why this was deemed necessary.

Saudi Arabia at war

By Dr Judith Brown

Saudi Arabia at war. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is the largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. To its west is the Red Sea, to the east is the Gulf of Arabia and a short border with Kuwait and Qatar, to the south-east is the United Arab Emirates and Oman, and Yemen is to the south-west of KSA. To the north, it has land boundaries with Jordan and Iraq. map saudi arabia Source of wealth. KSA has large reserves of oil, believed to be about 40% of the world’s reserves, and is currently the world’s largest producer of crude oil. Whilst oil dropped significantly in price in 2014, Saudi Arabia can use its windfall of reserves saved from when the oil price as higher to finance its current spending (

Weapons procurement. KSA has been purchasing weapons for many decades, many from US and Europe, but the rate of increase in arms purchases has increased significantly in recent years. In 2014 it was the world’s top weapons purchaser.

Table of spending on weapons, 2013/214

Top Defence Importers Top Defence Importers
2013 2014
1. India 1. Saudi Arabia
2. Saudi Arabia 2. India
3. UAE 3. China
4. Taiwan 4. UAE
5. China 5. Taiwan
6. Indonesia 6. Australia
7. South Korea 7. South Korea
8. Egypt 8. Indonesia
9. Australia 9. Turkey
10. Singapore 10. Pakistan


Total defence spending. KSA was 4th country in the table of total defence spending in 2014, after USA, China and Russia, spending 10.4% of its GDP on defence, a rise of 17% since 2013. (Perlo-Freeman, Fleurant, Wezeman P., Wezeman S. 2015. Trends in military expenditure2015; Sipri fact sheet; SIPRI, Sweden.)

Sources of procurement. Most of Saudi Arabia’s military aircraft are supplied by USA and UK (

Recent UK deals include: • September 2007, detailed contract signed for 72 Eurofighter Typhoons. o 24 were delivered in 2009, made in Lancashire. o Others supplied in kit form and assembled in Saudi Arabia. o Cost £4.4 billion. o Called Salam ‘peace’ project. • May 2012 BAE contract o Contract to train Saudi air force o 55 Pilatus aircraft made in Switzerland o 22 BAE Hawk jets. o Cost £1.6 billion (source: CAAT) SAUDI JET SUPPLIED BY BAE SYSTEMS This is surprising not only in terms of its own status as an intolerant dictatorship, but also in view of its funding of groups that are deemed to be ‘terrorists’ that has been heavily criticised in the West (Cockburn, P., 2014, Al Qaeda the second act: is Saudi Arabia regretting its support for terrorism; The Independent, 17.3.2014).

Nuclear ambitions. Many British newspapers have recently reported that Saudi Arabia could purchase battle ready nuclear weapons from Pakistan. The relationship between SaudiArabia and Pakistan is cordial and since 1974 KSA has funded part of the Pakistan integrated atomic weapons project. Western intelligence and diplomats believe that Pakistan would sell nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia. One German magazine produced photographs in 2006 that allegedly shows Gauri rockets in silos south of Riyadh; Pakistan denies that it has provided weapons to the Kingdom. Source: Wikipedia and UK newspapers.

Saudi Arabia’s use of military force outside the Kingdom. Between 1903-1920, the Saud tribe was involved in various wars in Arabia that enlarged its land under its control, and formed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Then, • In 1924-5 the Saudis fought a war with the Hashemite tribes and took part of the Hijaz territory that had previously been part of Yemen, including the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. • In 1990-1991 Saudi Arabia was involved with the coalition that formed the First Gulf War against Iraq. • In 2009-2010 Saudi invaded northern Yemen to attack the Bakil tribe (the Houthis), and was repelled. • In 2012 it entered Bahrain at the request of the rulers of Bahrain, who had already been involved in a brutal crackdown against protesters, and helped the ruling dictatorship to consolidate its power. • It participated with US led air attacks on ISIS/Daesh in Syria in 2014. • It assembled a coalition to attack Yemen in March 2015.

The stated purpose of the attack on Yemen. • Saudi Arabia’s reason for the attacks (Defensive Shield) was articulated by Adel al-Jubeir, its ambassador to the United States, who said, “Having Yemen fail cannot be an option for us or for our coalition partners.” The Saudis believed that Yemen was failing because Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president who was supported by Saudi Arabia but was deposed as a result of months of demonstrations in 2011-12, had sided with the Houthi Shiites. The alliance allowed the Houthis to make rapid progress in their attacks on the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and take control of a significant part of Yemen. Hadi fled Yemen and took refuge in Saudi Arabia; Saudi Arabia claims that one goal of the military operation is to restore “the legitimate leader” of Yemen to power. (Sahimi, M., 2015, Saudi Attack on Yemen Aims to Prevent Thaw Between Iran and the West, The World Post, 30.3.2015.) • Yemen has since become a failed state; it now only has a government in exile in Riyadh that cannot speak or act independently in the interests of Yemen. Saudi has also extensively bombed the arsenal of the Yemen army, thus ensuring that there is no possibility of a Yemeni army to police and protect its population. Moreover, Hadi is not seen as a legitimate president by sections of the Yemeni community, because he was elected in a one candidate election for a limited term that expired in February 2014, and he had already resigned and then re-instated himself without authority from the Yemeni people. In any case, Saudi Arabia is not a country that has followed democratic processes in the past. Moreover, the extensive Saudi attack means that no section of society in Yemen can function because of the extent of damage caused. The Houthi links with Iran exist but they are recent, and there is no evidence that Iran exerted any control over Yemen, and also there is no evidence that the Saudi campaign has hindered the Houthi advance. Thus the initial stated aims of Saudi Arabia seem not to have been supported by facts on the ground, the subsequent actions by Saudi Arabia, and the result of those actions. • The UN appointed special advisor, Jamal Benomar, who was appointed to oversee the transition of Yemen after 2011 resigned after the start of the Saudi bombing. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal he stated that negotiations in Yemen were continuing and a deal was possible, but start of the bombing raids had hardened all positions and complicated matters further. (Lauria, J, Coker, M., 2015; Former UN Envoy says Yemen political deal was close before Saudi airstrikes began. Wall Street Journal, 26.4.2015)

The dark green area to the left is the area in Houthi control before Saudi bombing campaign
Yemen_war_detailed_map 1.6.15
June 2015 Houthi area of control light green now extends to southern coastline

The members of the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen. Saudi Arabia all the GCC counties except Oman signed a statement of agreement before the coalition started the air attacks on Yemen on 25th March 2015. Oman has remained neutral.

• Saudi Arabia leads the coalition. Al-Arabiya reported it had deployed 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and some naval units. These soldiers are not in Yemen but guard the border between the two countries.

• The UAE signed the GCC statement. Al-Arabiya reported it had deployed 30 fighter jets.

• Bahrain signed the GCC statement. Al-Arabiya reported it had deployed 15 fighter jets.

• Kuwait signed the GCC statement. Al-Arabiya reported it had deployed 15 fighter jets.

• Qatar signed the GCC statement. Al-Arabiya reported it had deployed 10 fighter jets.

• Jordan said its fighter jets were involved in the operation. Al-Arabiya said 6 Jordanian jets were involved.

• Sudan said its air and ground forces would take part in the operation. Al-Arabiya said three Sudanese fighter jets were involved.

• Egypt said its naval and air forces were involved in the campaign. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said ground forces could become involved “if necessary”.

• Pakistan had been asked to provide ground troops but declined to take part .

• USA and UK are supporting the coalition, but are not taking part in the combat operations. For example, it has been reported that US has helped to refuel in flight, shared intelligence, and assisted with rescue missions. Operation-Deceive-Storm-Yemen-Conflict Geneva peace talks. Saudi Arabia was not present at the UN sponsored peace talks in Geneva.

The Gulf Returnees.

When I decided to do a PhD to find out what influences Arab imagery in the British media, I hadt two main reasons that made me want to answer to that question.

The first was the occupation of South Lebanon by the Israelis that I witnessed in 1995-6. The second was seeing the Gulf Returnees in Hodeidah.  What I witnessed with my own eyes, anyone could see, yet no-one had bothered to look or report it.  Both were extraordinary. This is the story of the Gulf returnees.

When Yemen united in 1990, it joined together a communist state, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, known as the PDRY or South Yemen, and North Yemen, also called the Yemen Arab Republic, known as North Yemen, forming the Republic of Yemen.  The PDRY was a communist state and following the collapse of the Soviet Union it seemed that unification with North Yemen was the best possible option.  It was welcomed by the people of the North and the South.  The two entities were very different in their philosophies, their education, and their culture.  The only way to unite two very different countries was seen as encouraging an open democracy, and indeed, there were many positive steps forward. The media in newly united Yemen was seen as the most free and open media in the Arab world at that time.

Yemen also had the misfortune of being a rotating member of the UN Security Council that year.  It was unfortunate because Iraq chose to invade Kuwait that year, and Yemen had to vote on whether or not to agree to what became known as the first Gulf War.  At that time, the Yemeni government was caught in a particular way of responding by its own internal consideration – keeping the Yemeni people together. Its vote was also influenced by Yemen’s membership of an alliance of Iraq, Jordan and Egypt. In many senses Yemen tried to sit on the fence and condemn the actions of Iraq whilst stating that this was an Arab issue, despite pressures from Saudi Arabia and US to support the war.

After the vote, Yemen suffered huge financial penalties and it could be argued that it never recovered from them.  The tourist industry in Yemen had started to blossom, but in many countries in the world Yemen was placed on a list of countries not recommended for tourists, which stopped tourism in its tracks. The aid packages that were agreed on unification by the IMF, the World Bank and the United States were immediately stopped. And the Yemeni nationals working in Saudi Arabia were expelled to Yemen. These became known as the Gulf Returnees.

Some men had only worked in Saudi for a relatively short time, sending their wages back to Yemen, the remittances being an important component of Yemen GDP; they and Yemen lost their income but at least they were able to return to their family home. But many returnees had lived in Saudi Arabia for generations and no longer had any family contacts in Yemen, and this population was treated so harshly that it was close to genocide. Many had done office jobs or worked as security guards, earning good wages and living a comfortable lifestyle. They were uprooted from their homes and forced to leave immediately, taking what possessions they could and selling the rest at a fraction of its value. They numbered 750,000 persons. The Yemeni government, suddenly facing a severe financial crisis, could not afford to offer any assistance. Unpublicised, no international aid agencies came to their rescue.  They settled in an area around Hodeidah. When I saw them for the first time 8 years later, they were still living in tent-sized corrugated tin huts with no water or sanitation.  Water was obtained from one single standpipe, surrounded by filthy water-saturated sand which people sank into as they approached it with their water containers. This was an area where summer temperatures often topped 50 degrees. Having worked in war zones in the Middle East and Africa, this was the worst living conditions of any that I had ever seen.  America claimed that this was the most expensive vote in history.

The Yemen government, now deprived of most of its income, was poorer than many of the tribes within Yemen, which now had bigger artilleries than the national army.  Additionally, after the Soviet Union withdrew its last forces from Afghanistan in 1989, many Yemenis who had been fighting on behalf of US as mujahedeen had returned to Yemen.  They believed, and not without cause, that they had won the war there and caused the Soviet empire to fall. They returned to Yemen, battle hardened, confident warriors, and filled with rhetoric of their Saudi paymasters.  The Yemeni government, deprived of conventional warfare due to the sanctions against them, used these mujahedeen to fight on their behalf to keep the tribes in order, and eventually, against the South in their battle for independence in 1994.

The rhetoric amongst these fighters became strongly anti-Western as they witnessed the plight of the returnees, and also the way their country and their countrymen were punished for taking an independent stance.

Saudi Arabia had succeeded in stopping a vibrant democracy in Yemen from developing on its border, and turned Yemen into a failing state.

I could not understand how this suffering had remained silent.  Just as the terrible war inflicted on Yemen by Saudi Arabia is equally as silent today.

Another day in Yemen.

yemen women

I am on the phone to a friend in Sanaa, when a bomb blast rocks her house. It is a bomb in a mosque 100 yards from the house where I used to live in Al Qaa. Today I read it is one of four mosque bombs, for which Islamic State claims responsibility. More victims. And more evidence of the spread of extremist Sunni militias in Yemen.  It is only a few days since I first heard of Islamic State’s activity in Yemen. Now it is a new and frightening phase in the civil war in Yemen.

It is a problem getting through to friends, due to the erratic electricity supply. In parts of Sanaa they have had no electricity for seven days.  When the electricity is turned on, everyone rushes to charge their phones and get to the nearest pump with their containers to get water.  “You can live without electricity,” my friend says “but we are getting worried as it is impossible to manage without water.”  Like many Yemeni families, hers are thinking they might have to travel overseas to seek refuge.  Her parents own their own house, and other properties which they rent out as a source of income. At the moment, they are hosting three other displaced families in their home. Once they leave their house, they know it will be difficult to claim their own property back. Their choice is not an easy one. My friend tells me the water situation has been eased a little as some wealthy Yemenis have paid for water tanks to be delivered to the poorer areas of Sanaa, so they think they might stay a bit longer and see if things improve.  One of the water tankers was delivering water and a bomb was dropped on them, killing the two drivers and injuring men and children who were queuing to fill their containers.

This friend, who has a degree in English and a Master’s degree in education, asks me if it would be possible for her to find work anywhere in UK.  She is worried about the insecurity of travelling without work, and with limited savings, and she doesn’t want to be a refugee – she is a proud and industrious single woman, who worked as a translator and Arabic teacher even as a student to help pay her way through university; that was how I first met her. She has been in full time employment for more than fifteen years. I tell her that there is no chance of her working anywhere in Europe. She understands.

I get an email from a British friend who lives in Dubai with her Yemeni husband. He is worried about his sister and her family who live in Sanaa, and they have been trying to get them to Dubai. Jackie and her husband have their own company, and they have been applying for their relatives to get a visa. I wanted to hear the result of their efforts, because I too have residency in Dubai and I had been thinking I could try to get a work visa for my friend Sameera’s son.  If Jackie has been successful, then I might try too. But no, they cannot get a visa.  They have made many attempts, trying to be inventive to find a route that will unlock the door to Dubai.  The answer is always no.  Another avenue closed.

So I have to ring Sameera, whom I call her my sister – she is now living in a small flat in Tarim with 18 other displaced people – I tell her this news.  She works for UNHCR, the refugee arm of the UN.  The office in Aden is closed down, but she still gets updated on the situation there, and works on the Internet when the electricity allows.  She tells me that the situation in Aden is critical. People are dying of starvation, dehydration, disease and conflict. There are no humanitarian agencies there because it is too dangerous.  We discuss what her family will do next. She says that her son and son-in-law might travel to Malaysia, the only country that has offered three month visas to Yemenis escaping the war.  We discuss whether her daughter, now pregnant because of the lack of available contraception, should go with them. I suggest to Sameera that she should go too – the whole family should travel together. I tell her, as an experienced doctor, she is the one who is most likely to find work, and her family need her.  She is surprised at my suggestion, but after a few moments, I can tell that she is considering it. Once she leaves Yemen, her job with the UN will be terminated, and she will have no income at all; it’s risky. We discuss how her three children whose degree courses have been terminated due to the war can get qualified; they were studying dentistry, medicine and engineering. I promise to continue working on it; with little electricity and poor Wi-Fi, they rely on me to contact universities throughout the world.

In a text when she fled from Aden, Sameera said “My dear, for the first time, I feel so fragile and helpless. I can’t think, act or plan, all I do is cooking and wait for what tomorrow will bring. (War????? Peace????? Victory?????) My mind is completely paralysed. But God has sent me you to do the thinking, the planning, and the support”.  This woman, who has single-handedly brought up a family of four amazing children and ensured that they all went to university, who worked in a senior post with the UN, who scrimped and saved to build her own beautiful house – now destroyed, who has lobbied and fought for the human rights of refugees, of women – to change laws so that they could have contraception without the permission of their husband, to prevent female genital mutilation. This woman; who set an example to other Yemeni women by just living her life; demonstrating that Yemeni women did not have to stay in violent or unsatisfactory marriages; they could be single and independent mothers, useful members of society, who are respected and loved.

I tell her, you will get through this, you will have a very different future, but it will still be happy and worthwhile.  She says, if I travel to Malaysia, can you come to visit me?  Of course.

I ring her daughter; she was due to take her final exams this year as a dentist. She is working as a volunteer, today assisting a surgeon who is working on the face of someone who had sustained severe injuries in the conflict. It was very interesting, she said. We discuss courses that she might be able to take in UK – she has had to accept she will never be a dentist now, as her faculty has been destroyed and she cannot get verification for nearly five years study. I have a positive lead for a Master’s degree in Public Health; she is pleased.  We discuss her pregnancy. She is still feeling very sick; she thinks the nausea is aggravated by stress. If the baby is a girl, she is going to be named after me.

Another day for courageous and generous Yemenis, forced to make such difficult choices and just get on with living.  And another day for one of the many people who have loved ones in Yemen.  We will prevail.