As the west continues to arm Saudi Arabia, Yemen bears the brunt, argues Julie Al-Hinai
Yemen’s long running and devastating war is often portrayed as a result of either a deeply divided society, split along both ‘tribal’ and sectarian lines, or alternatively, as a “proxy war” between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with both states vying for regional hegemony. Whilst there is some truth in both views, there are undoubtedly more sinister interests at play in this unrestrained Middle Eastern conflict that countenances the West looking the other way as millions of Yemenis suffer the turmoil of war.
In considering the cause as being tribal, firstly, the term “tribe” is contentious. ‘Tribes’ are (and very usefully in this case) misconstrued by many Westerners, leading to a useful but misleading causal factor in Yemeni state and society. The concept of tribes can be considered as their independent force in relation to the state, focusing on their “foreign relations” with the rest of society. Another way to think of tribes, or tribalism, is as a set of ethical or political values in a national context. Either way however, only 20% of Yemen’s civil society can be assumed to be tribal in either of these senses. The other 80% comprises urban peoples or peasants. And it is this innocent 80% that are carrying the consequences of being collateral damage in the conflict – death by bombs, famine, cholera and other diseases.
According to a Save The Children report of 2017, seven million people were on the brink of famine in the country, which is in the grips of the largest cholera outbreak in modern history. An estimated 130 Yemeni children died every day and an estimated 400,000 children needed treatment for acute malnutrition last year. Yet the West does little to alleviate the suffering.
As to the cause being sectarian…many neighbouring states, Oman for example and neutral in the conflict but delivering aid over the border and bringing in casualties for treatment, live peacefully with society split between Sunni and Shite beliefs. Yemen was ruled for a millennium by Zaydi Shia imams until 1962, the Houthis being recently founded as a Zaydi Shia revivalist movement. However, the Houthis have not called for restoring the imamate in Yemen, and religious grievances have not been a major factor in the war. Rather, the Houthis’ demands have been primarily economic and political in nature against the Sunni rule of the exiled-in-Saudi, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
So, we come to it being a proxy war between the two dominant state forces in the region. Maybe this as a cause is just a very convenient truth, too? Besides ignoring how the state of Israel features, how convenient is it to the West to propagate these ideas and as such, deflect from the substantial and inevitable, capitalist gains of War. Gains that most likely fuel the fire.
Western powers such as the US, the UK and France continue to supply arms and ammunition to the tune of $billions. The UK alone, according to new estimates released by the children’s charity War Child, reveal that since the Saudi-led coalition began its intervention in Yemen, UK weapons companies, including BAE systems and Raytheon, have earned revenues exceeding $8bn from dealings with Saudi Arabia, generating profits estimated at almost $775m. And yet, the UK government has received just $40m of corporate tax, the report said. Place this against the minimal tax take from arms sales in Saudi Arabia - just $18m in corporation tax in 2016 – against the $187m spent in humanitarian aid to Yemen. According to War Child, “The arms trade directly counteracts much of the benefits Yemeni children and other civilians might expect to receive from the provision of aid, undermining the Department for International Development’s policy of getting value for money from the aid it commits.” Yet even from this economic point, we still close our eyes and ears to the unadulterated military onslaught on innocent human life.
I would suggest it is the global, neo-liberal, corporatism of the arms industry that stokes the death and destruction raging in Yemen and that is why the West turns a blind eye.