Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Calling for the ‘rescue’ of Yemen

Yemeni women activists are struggling to find a future for a united country against a background of ongoing civil conflict, writes Gamal Nkrumah

world
world
Al-Ahram Weekly

An optimist might interject at this point in Yemen’s history that it is worth hanging in there. “I am against war and conflict of any kind. Our people are suffering,” Maha Basha, an Egypt-based Yemeni humanitarian and human rights activist told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Yemenis are known for their resilience, but the civil war and the Saudi-led coalition air strikes are wreaking havoc. I consider all the warring parties guilty of gross human rights violations. I pray for peace in Yemen.”

She continued, “The world has ducked its obligation to rescue the people of Yemen from a humanitarian catastrophe. After the 2014-2015 coup d’état in the country by the Houthi Movement, Yemen descended into chaos.

“I am particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation in my country. Women and children, as well as the elderly and infirm, are the most vulnerable. All the cities are in mayhem.

“I come from Taiz, the country’s most populous city in the heart of the central highlands region. However, I was resident in Sanaa until I fled the country. My family home in Taiz was destroyed in an air raid, and the Houthis still dominate the city, once the centre of culture and learning in Yemen. There is an ongoing proxy war in Yemen, and I am saddened by the wanton destruction.”

Peace in Yemen has been stalled by political intrigue and by military intervention by the regional powers, she said. To complicate matters further, both Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebel movement are militarily opposed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and forces loyal to the Islamic State (IS) group are also active in Yemen.

Moreover, Yemen’s security forces have split loyalties, with some backing Hadi and others ex-president Ali Abdallah Saleh and the Houthi Movement. “Unsurprisingly, the worst affected are women,” Basha said.

As if to exemplify Basha’s concerns, a recent air strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen devastated a hospital in the Houthi stronghold of Sadah, north of the Yemeni capital Sanaa. The facility was supported by the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Most Yemeni provinces have only one or two health facilities and some provinces do not have any. “At least 200,000 people now have no access to lifesaving medical care,” an MSF press release said in the wake of the attack.

Meanwhile, coalition and Yemeni forces have driven the pro-Houthi militias out of the country’s second city Aden. The southern port city has been declared the temporary capital of the country until Sanaa is liberated from the Houthi militiamen. President Hadi, now based in Aden after a period in exile in Riyadh, is consolidating his control of Aden and its environs. However, there are pockets of Houthi resistance in the vicinity and AQAP and other militant groups have encroached on the city.

The position of Al-Hirak Al-Janoubi, or the Southern Movement and also known as the Peaceful Southern Movement or the Southern Separatist Movement, formed in 2007, is unknown.

The movement, presumably aligned to Hadi, is politically and militarily active in Aden and the provinces of what was once South Yemen, before the merger with North Yemen in May 1990, with the exception of the oil-rich Hadramout province that borders Saudi Arabia. Hadramout was the ancestral home of the Bin Laden family before they settled in Saudi Arabia.

Southern Movement leader Ali Mohamed Al-Assadi recently claimed that in 2011 there were some 1,300 “martyrs” from the Southern Movement. There is much sympathy from the local population for the movement, and in the aftermath of the Houthi coup d’état it deployed troops to Aden.

Hadi is himself a southerner, but he is not affiliated to the Southern Movement. He flew back to Yemen in September. His return appears to have been timed to coincide with the Eid Al-Adha. But the southerners themselves are not politically or ideologically united.

Some, led by former South Yemen president Ali Selim Al-Beid, have adopted a radical approach of complete secession from the united Yemen, while those loyal to another former president, Ali Nasser Mohamed, prefer a two-state federal solution.

Meanwhile, the tussle over who should be in power is tearing the nation apart. The civil war entered its eighth month on 26 October, as the Saudi-led Arab Coalition air strikes and ground combat intensified.

The infrastructure of the impoverished nation was already in a shambles before the air strikes began, and since then the Houthis have responded by attacking Aden’s airport with rockets.

The fighting has also spilled over into the neighbouring Saudi provinces of Najran, Jayzan and Asir. It is against this grim backdrop that a new round of UN-sponsored peace talks aimed at ending the conflict has been scheduled for 15 November in Geneva.

 

FURTHER DISASTERS: The pessimism should not be overdone, but misery likes company, and this saying was born out when tropical cyclone Chapala slammed into Yemen’s central coastal regions this week in the equivalent of a category-one hurricane.

The storm made landfall not far from Al-Mukalla, a port that AQAP seized earlier this year. It damaged scores of homes and uprooted trees in Hadibo, the capital of the Yemeni Indian Ocean island of Socotra.

A freak second storm named Megh hit Yemen on Sunday, bringing winds of up to 100 km/h (62 mph). Megh had already brushed past Socotra and swerved towards the southern and southwestern coastal areas of Yemen. Both Chapala and Megh precipitated mudslides claiming the lives of hundreds of victims.

The UN World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said that Chapala had caused winds of around 140 km per hour, adding that the cyclones were caused by the “Indian Ocean dipole” phenomenon, similar to the Pacific Ocean’s El Nino, which occurs when surface sea temperatures are higher than normal.

In response to this latest crisis, Sahar Ghanim, a Yemeni activist based in Saudi Arabia, told the Weekly, “Yemen is already dealing with one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world.”

According to the United Nations, widespread fighting has killed thousands of people, many of them civilians, left hundreds of thousands homeless and left millions more desperately short of food, water and medical supplies.

“Women have been among the most oppressed segments of society in this war against the people of Yemen,” Ghanim added.

The country has been in a chaotic state since 2011, but this rugged mountainous country, called Arabia Felix, or Happy Arabia, by the Romans because it was the only fertile part of the Arabian Peninsula, has long been embroiled in civil conflict.

When the Ottoman governor of Egypt, Hadim Suleiman Pasha, was ordered to conquer Yemen and storm Aden in 1538, he found two rival rulers: the Shia Zaidi imam Al-Mutawakkil Yahya Sharf Al-Din in the north, and the Sunni sultan Amir ibn Daoud in the south.

“Yemen is a land with no lord,” he concluded. Out of the 80,000 soldiers sent to Yemen from Egypt between 1539 and 1547, only 7,000 survived. “We have seen no foundry like Yemen for our soldiers. Each time we have sent an expeditionary force there, it has melted away like salt dissolved in water,” said Suleiman Pasha.

Today, Yemen is more likely to be known for its chaotic government and endemic corruption. According to the international NGO Transparency International, the country ranked 164 out of 182 countries surveyed.

“We must not forget that the Arab intervention would not have occurred without the approval and at the official request of the internationally recognised government of Hadi,” Tawwakol Karman, the Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize winner, told the Weekly.

But not all the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations are against the Houthi Movement, with Oman, for one, playing a vital role as a bridge between Tehran, the supporter of the Houthi rebels, and the West. Oman is currently mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia concerning Yemen, the poorest nation in the Arabian Peninsula.

Commenting on these developments, Kamran said that at a protest in 2010 a woman had tried to stab her, and yet she continues to speak on behalf of Yemeni women.

According to her brother, Tariq Karman, the residences of the family have been stormed by Houthi militiamen. “We were virtually under house arrest, and they tried to intimidate us,” Karman said.

In September 2014, the Houthis took over Sanaa, causing the GCC nations to fear that Yemen would fall further into Iran’s political orbit.

“While I am against war of any kind, I believe that the support of the Arabs, and in particular of the Gulf Arab countries, is imperative for achieving lasting peace in Yemen,” Karman said, adding that the Houthi strongholds are mainly in the Zaidi Shia Muslim-majority areas of the country.

“We want every Yemeni to have full citizenship rights. We want the rule of law. Tyranny and lawlessness have devastated our country. I am against any militia or power that wants to stop us from constructing a democratic state. The state, and not the militiamen, must control the land of Yemen. All their weapons must be confiscated,” Karman insisted.

“It is true that my vision for the future of Yemen clashes with the ideology of the militiamen. But I do not think their tyranny will last for long. They cannot evade justice. The majority of Yemenis support the Saudi-led military intervention,” she added.

 

FUTURE FOR YEMEN: When Saleh stepped down in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising in Yemen, the transition quickly proceeded in the form of the GCC Initiative. Saudi King Salman, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman have all been heavily involved in defending the internationally recognised Hadi government in Yemen.

However, the turmoil in the country has had serious repercussions for Saudi Arabia itself, given the ways in which Yemen and Saudi Arabia are culturally, socially and politically intertwined.

The jambia, the traditional curved dagger worn by Yemeni men, reflects the machismo mindset of this ancient culture and hints at the structural violence inherent in its society. Houthi leader Abdel-Malik Al-Houthi sports the jambia, a dagger with the blade turned to the side (jambin in Arabic, leading to the name jambia).

Hadi, in sharp contrast, wears pin-striped suits and matching ties. In March he said that Aden was Yemen’s “economic and temporary capital” while Sanaa remains under Houthi control. In February, he rescinded his resignation and declared he was still the legitimate president of the country.

History suggests that Hadi may find it hard to govern this country in the future, even with the Saudi-led intervention. His adversaries have been deft at dealing his government serious blows, and the Zaidi imams of yesteryear have metamorphosed into the Houthi rebels.

Yemen today is embroiled in a host of political, ideological, confessional and military conflicts. Concealed behind the long struggle between the various militias in Yemen lies the Shia Muslim and Sunni Muslim divide.

While this was never a serious issue in days gone by, today it has come to the fore in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and other countries in the Arabian Peninsula and Middle East. Disillusioned with devils they never knew, the Yemenis are today succumbing to confessional conflict.

“There was never any confessional or sectarian strife in Yemen before the current war. Yemenis lived together and intermarried, and miscegenation between the Sunni Shafies and the Shia Zaidis was common. We all lived together happily. All may yet end well in Yemen,” said Basha.

An optimist might interject at this point in Yemen’s history that it is worth hanging in there. “I am against war and conflict of any kind. Our people are suffering,” Maha Basha, an Egypt-based Yemeni humanitarian and human rights activist told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Yemenis are known for their resilience, but the civil war and the Saudi-led coalition air strikes are wreaking havoc. I consider all the warring parties guilty of gross human rights violations. I pray for peace in Yemen.”

She continued, “The world has ducked its obligation to rescue the people of Yemen from a humanitarian catastrophe. After the 2014-2015 coup d’état in the country by the Houthi Movement, Yemen descended into chaos.

“I am particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation in my country. Women and children, as well as the elderly and infirm, are the most vulnerable. All the cities are in mayhem.

“I come from Taiz, the country’s most populous city in the heart of the central highlands region. However, I was resident in Sanaa until I fled the country. My family home in Taiz was destroyed in an air raid, and the Houthis still dominate the city, once the centre of culture and learning in Yemen. There is an ongoing proxy war in Yemen, and I am saddened by the wanton destruction.”

Peace in Yemen has been stalled by political intrigue and by military intervention by the regional powers, she said. To complicate matters further, both Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebel movement are militarily opposed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and forces loyal to the Islamic State (IS) group are also active in Yemen.

Moreover, Yemen’s security forces have split loyalties, with some backing Hadi and others ex-president Ali Abdallah Saleh and the Houthi Movement. “Unsurprisingly, the worst affected are women,” Basha said.

As if to exemplify Basha’s concerns, a recent air strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen devastated a hospital in the Houthi stronghold of Sadah, north of the Yemeni capital Sanaa. The facility was supported by the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Most Yemeni provinces have only one or two health facilities and some provinces do not have any. “At least 200,000 people now have no access to lifesaving medical care,” an MSF press release said in the wake of the attack.

Meanwhile, coalition and Yemeni forces have driven the pro-Houthi militias out of the country’s second city Aden. The southern port city has been declared the temporary capital of the country until Sanaa is liberated from the Houthi militiamen. President Hadi, now based in Aden after a period in exile in Riyadh, is consolidating his control of Aden and its environs. However, there are pockets of Houthi resistance in the vicinity and AQAP and other militant groups have encroached on the city.

The position of Al-Hirak Al-Janoubi, or the Southern Movement and also known as the Peaceful Southern Movement or the Southern Separatist Movement, formed in 2007, is unknown.

The movement, presumably aligned to Hadi, is politically and militarily active in Aden and the provinces of what was once South Yemen, before the merger with North Yemen in May 1990, with the exception of the oil-rich Hadramout province that borders Saudi Arabia. Hadramout was the ancestral home of the Bin Laden family before they settled in Saudi Arabia.

Southern Movement leader Ali Mohamed Al-Assadi recently claimed that in 2011 there were some 1,300 “martyrs” from the Southern Movement. There is much sympathy from the local population for the movement, and in the aftermath of the Houthi coup d’état it deployed troops to Aden.

Hadi is himself a southerner, but he is not affiliated to the Southern Movement. He flew back to Yemen in September. His return appears to have been timed to coincide with the Eid Al-Adha. But the southerners themselves are not politically or ideologically united.

Some, led by former South Yemen president Ali Selim Al-Beid, have adopted a radical approach of complete secession from the united Yemen, while those loyal to another former president, Ali Nasser Mohamed, prefer a two-state federal solution.

Meanwhile, the tussle over who should be in power is tearing the nation apart. The civil war entered its eighth month on 26 October, as the Saudi-led Arab Coalition air strikes and ground combat intensified.

The infrastructure of the impoverished nation was already in a shambles before the air strikes began, and since then the Houthis have responded by attacking Aden’s airport with rockets.

The fighting has also spilled over into the neighbouring Saudi provinces of Najran, Jayzan and Asir. It is against this grim backdrop that a new round of UN-sponsored peace talks aimed at ending the conflict has been scheduled for 15 November in Geneva.

 

FURTHER DISASTERS: The pessimism should not be overdone, but misery likes company, and this saying was born out when tropical cyclone Chapala slammed into Yemen’s central coastal regions this week in the equivalent of a category-one hurricane.

The storm made landfall not far from Al-Mukalla, a port that AQAP seized earlier this year. It damaged scores of homes and uprooted trees in Hadibo, the capital of the Yemeni Indian Ocean island of Socotra.

A freak second storm named Megh hit Yemen on Sunday, bringing winds of up to 100 km/h (62 mph). Megh had already brushed past Socotra and swerved towards the southern and southwestern coastal areas of Yemen. Both Chapala and Megh precipitated mudslides claiming the lives of hundreds of victims.

The UN World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said that Chapala had caused winds of around 140 km per hour, adding that the cyclones were caused by the “Indian Ocean dipole” phenomenon, similar to the Pacific Ocean’s El Nino, which occurs when surface sea temperatures are higher than normal.

In response to this latest crisis, Sahar Ghanim, a Yemeni activist based in Saudi Arabia, told the Weekly, “Yemen is already dealing with one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world.”

According to the United Nations, widespread fighting has killed thousands of people, many of them civilians, left hundreds of thousands homeless and left millions more desperately short of food, water and medical supplies.

“Women have been among the most oppressed segments of society in this war against the people of Yemen,” Ghanim added.

The country has been in a chaotic state since 2011, but this rugged mountainous country, called Arabia Felix, or Happy Arabia, by the Romans because it was the only fertile part of the Arabian Peninsula, has long been embroiled in civil conflict.

When the Ottoman governor of Egypt, Hadim Suleiman Pasha, was ordered to conquer Yemen and storm Aden in 1538, he found two rival rulers: the Shia Zaidi imam Al-Mutawakkil Yahya Sharf Al-Din in the north, and the Sunni sultan Amir ibn Daoud in the south.

“Yemen is a land with no lord,” he concluded. Out of the 80,000 soldiers sent to Yemen from Egypt between 1539 and 1547, only 7,000 survived. “We have seen no foundry like Yemen for our soldiers. Each time we have sent an expeditionary force there, it has melted away like salt dissolved in water,” said Suleiman Pasha.

Today, Yemen is more likely to be known for its chaotic government and endemic corruption. According to the international NGO Transparency International, the country ranked 164 out of 182 countries surveyed.

“We must not forget that the Arab intervention would not have occurred without the approval and at the official request of the internationally recognised government of Hadi,” Tawwakol Karman, the Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize winner, told the Weekly.

But not all the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations are against the Houthi Movement, with Oman, for one, playing a vital role as a bridge between Tehran, the supporter of the Houthi rebels, and the West. Oman is currently mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia concerning Yemen, the poorest nation in the Arabian Peninsula.

Commenting on these developments, Kamran said that at a protest in 2010 a woman had tried to stab her, and yet she continues to speak on behalf of Yemeni women.

According to her brother, Tariq Karman, the residences of the family have been stormed by Houthi militiamen. “We were virtually under house arrest, and they tried to intimidate us,” Karman said.

In September 2014, the Houthis took over Sanaa, causing the GCC nations to fear that Yemen would fall further into Iran’s political orbit.

“While I am against war of any kind, I believe that the support of the Arabs, and in particular of the Gulf Arab countries, is imperative for achieving lasting peace in Yemen,” Karman said, adding that the Houthi strongholds are mainly in the Zaidi Shia Muslim-majority areas of the country.

“We want every Yemeni to have full citizenship rights. We want the rule of law. Tyranny and lawlessness have devastated our country. I am against any militia or power that wants to stop us from constructing a democratic state. The state, and not the militiamen, must control the land of Yemen. All their weapons must be confiscated,” Karman insisted.

“It is true that my vision for the future of Yemen clashes with the ideology of the militiamen. But I do not think their tyranny will last for long. They cannot evade justice. The majority of Yemenis support the Saudi-led military intervention,” she added.

 

FUTURE FOR YEMEN: When Saleh stepped down in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising in Yemen, the transition quickly proceeded in the form of the GCC Initiative. Saudi King Salman, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman have all been heavily involved in defending the internationally recognised Hadi government in Yemen.

However, the turmoil in the country has had serious repercussions for Saudi Arabia itself, given the ways in which Yemen and Saudi Arabia are culturally, socially and politically intertwined.

The jambia, the traditional curved dagger worn by Yemeni men, reflects the machismo mindset of this ancient culture and hints at the structural violence inherent in its society. Houthi leader Abdel-Malik Al-Houthi sports the jambia, a dagger with the blade turned to the side (jambin in Arabic, leading to the name jambia).

Hadi, in sharp contrast, wears pin-striped suits and matching ties. In March he said that Aden was Yemen’s “economic and temporary capital” while Sanaa remains under Houthi control. In February, he rescinded his resignation and declared he was still the legitimate president of the country.

History suggests that Hadi may find it hard to govern this country in the future, even with the Saudi-led intervention. His adversaries have been deft at dealing his government serious blows, and the Zaidi imams of yesteryear have metamorphosed into the Houthi rebels.

Yemen today is embroiled in a host of political, ideological, confessional and military conflicts. Concealed behind the long struggle between the various militias in Yemen lies the Shia Muslim and Sunni Muslim divide.

While this was never a serious issue in days gone by, today it has come to the fore in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and other countries in the Arabian Peninsula and Middle East. Disillusioned with devils they never knew, the Yemenis are today succumbing to confessional conflict.

“There was never any confessional or sectarian strife in Yemen before the current war. Yemenis lived together and intermarried, and miscegenation between the Sunni Shafies and the Shia Zaidis was common. We all lived together happily. All may yet end well in Yemen,” said Basha.

An optimist might interject at this point in Yemen’s history that it is worth hanging in there. “I am against war and conflict of any kind. Our people are suffering,” Maha Basha, an Egypt-based Yemeni humanitarian and human rights activist told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Yemenis are known for their resilience, but the civil war and the Saudi-led coalition air strikes are wreaking havoc. I consider all the warring parties guilty of gross human rights violations. I pray for peace in Yemen.”

She continued, “The world has ducked its obligation to rescue the people of Yemen from a humanitarian catastrophe. After the 2014-2015 coup d’état in the country by the Houthi Movement, Yemen descended into chaos.

“I am particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation in my country. Women and children, as well as the elderly and infirm, are the most vulnerable. All the cities are in mayhem.

“I come from Taiz, the country’s most populous city in the heart of the central highlands region. However, I was resident in Sanaa until I fled the country. My family home in Taiz was destroyed in an air raid, and the Houthis still dominate the city, once the centre of culture and learning in Yemen. There is an ongoing proxy war in Yemen, and I am saddened by the wanton destruction.”

Peace in Yemen has been stalled by political intrigue and by military intervention by the regional powers, she said. To complicate matters further, both Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebel movement are militarily opposed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and forces loyal to the Islamic State (IS) group are also active in Yemen.

Moreover, Yemen’s security forces have split loyalties, with some backing Hadi and others ex-president Ali Abdallah Saleh and the Houthi Movement. “Unsurprisingly, the worst affected are women,” Basha said.

As if to exemplify Basha’s concerns, a recent air strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen devastated a hospital in the Houthi stronghold of Sadah, north of the Yemeni capital Sanaa. The facility was supported by the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Most Yemeni provinces have only one or two health facilities and some provinces do not have any. “At least 200,000 people now have no access to lifesaving medical care,” an MSF press release said in the wake of the attack.

Meanwhile, coalition and Yemeni forces have driven the pro-Houthi militias out of the country’s second city Aden. The southern port city has been declared the temporary capital of the country until Sanaa is liberated from the Houthi militiamen. President Hadi, now based in Aden after a period in exile in Riyadh, is consolidating his control of Aden and its environs. However, there are pockets of Houthi resistance in the vicinity and AQAP and other militant groups have encroached on the city.

The position of Al-Hirak Al-Janoubi, or the Southern Movement and also known as the Peaceful Southern Movement or the Southern Separatist Movement, formed in 2007, is unknown.

The movement, presumably aligned to Hadi, is politically and militarily active in Aden and the provinces of what was once South Yemen, before the merger with North Yemen in May 1990, with the exception of the oil-rich Hadramout province that borders Saudi Arabia. Hadramout was the ancestral home of the Bin Laden family before they settled in Saudi Arabia.

Southern Movement leader Ali Mohamed Al-Assadi recently claimed that in 2011 there were some 1,300 “martyrs” from the Southern Movement. There is much sympathy from the local population for the movement, and in the aftermath of the Houthi coup d’état it deployed troops to Aden.

Hadi is himself a southerner, but he is not affiliated to the Southern Movement. He flew back to Yemen in September. His return appears to have been timed to coincide with the Eid Al-Adha. But the southerners themselves are not politically or ideologically united.

Some, led by former South Yemen president Ali Selim Al-Beid, have adopted a radical approach of complete secession from the united Yemen, while those loyal to another former president, Ali Nasser Mohamed, prefer a two-state federal solution.

Meanwhile, the tussle over who should be in power is tearing the nation apart. The civil war entered its eighth month on 26 October, as the Saudi-led Arab Coalition air strikes and ground combat intensified.

The infrastructure of the impoverished nation was already in a shambles before the air strikes began, and since then the Houthis have responded by attacking Aden’s airport with rockets.

The fighting has also spilled over into the neighbouring Saudi provinces of Najran, Jayzan and Asir. It is against this grim backdrop that a new round of UN-sponsored peace talks aimed at ending the conflict has been scheduled for 15 November in Geneva.

 

FURTHER DISASTERS: The pessimism should not be overdone, but misery likes company, and this saying was born out when tropical cyclone Chapala slammed into Yemen’s central coastal regions this week in the equivalent of a category-one hurricane.

The storm made landfall not far from Al-Mukalla, a port that AQAP seized earlier this year. It damaged scores of homes and uprooted trees in Hadibo, the capital of the Yemeni Indian Ocean island of Socotra.

A freak second storm named Megh hit Yemen on Sunday, bringing winds of up to 100 km/h (62 mph). Megh had already brushed past Socotra and swerved towards the southern and southwestern coastal areas of Yemen. Both Chapala and Megh precipitated mudslides claiming the lives of hundreds of victims.

The UN World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said that Chapala had caused winds of around 140 km per hour, adding that the cyclones were caused by the “Indian Ocean dipole” phenomenon, similar to the Pacific Ocean’s El Nino, which occurs when surface sea temperatures are higher than normal.

In response to this latest crisis, Sahar Ghanim, a Yemeni activist based in Saudi Arabia, told the Weekly, “Yemen is already dealing with one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world.”

According to the United Nations, widespread fighting has killed thousands of people, many of them civilians, left hundreds of thousands homeless and left millions more desperately short of food, water and medical supplies.

“Women have been among the most oppressed segments of society in this war against the people of Yemen,” Ghanim added.

The country has been in a chaotic state since 2011, but this rugged mountainous country, called Arabia Felix, or Happy Arabia, by the Romans because it was the only fertile part of the Arabian Peninsula, has long been embroiled in civil conflict.

When the Ottoman governor of Egypt, Hadim Suleiman Pasha, was ordered to conquer Yemen and storm Aden in 1538, he found two rival rulers: the Shia Zaidi imam Al-Mutawakkil Yahya Sharf Al-Din in the north, and the Sunni sultan Amir ibn Daoud in the south.

“Yemen is a land with no lord,” he concluded. Out of the 80,000 soldiers sent to Yemen from Egypt between 1539 and 1547, only 7,000 survived. “We have seen no foundry like Yemen for our soldiers. Each time we have sent an expeditionary force there, it has melted away like salt dissolved in water,” said Suleiman Pasha.

Today, Yemen is more likely to be known for its chaotic government and endemic corruption. According to the international NGO Transparency International, the country ranked 164 out of 182 countries surveyed.

“We must not forget that the Arab intervention would not have occurred without the approval and at the official request of the internationally recognised government of Hadi,” Tawwakol Karman, the Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize winner, told the Weekly.

But not all the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations are against the Houthi Movement, with Oman, for one, playing a vital role as a bridge between Tehran, the supporter of the Houthi rebels, and the West. Oman is currently mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia concerning Yemen, the poorest nation in the Arabian Peninsula.

Commenting on these developments, Kamran said that at a protest in 2010 a woman had tried to stab her, and yet she continues to speak on behalf of Yemeni women.

According to her brother, Tariq Karman, the residences of the family have been stormed by Houthi militiamen. “We were virtually under house arrest, and they tried to intimidate us,” Karman said.

In September 2014, the Houthis took over Sanaa, causing the GCC nations to fear that Yemen would fall further into Iran’s political orbit.

“While I am against war of any kind, I believe that the support of the Arabs, and in particular of the Gulf Arab countries, is imperative for achieving lasting peace in Yemen,” Karman said, adding that the Houthi strongholds are mainly in the Zaidi Shia Muslim-majority areas of the country.

“We want every Yemeni to have full citizenship rights. We want the rule of law. Tyranny and lawlessness have devastated our country. I am against any militia or power that wants to stop us from constructing a democratic state. The state, and not the militiamen, must control the land of Yemen. All their weapons must be confiscated,” Karman insisted.

“It is true that my vision for the future of Yemen clashes with the ideology of the militiamen. But I do not think their tyranny will last for long. They cannot evade justice. The majority of Yemenis support the Saudi-led military intervention,” she added.

 

FUTURE FOR YEMEN: When Saleh stepped down in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising in Yemen, the transition quickly proceeded in the form of the GCC Initiative. Saudi King Salman, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman have all been heavily involved in defending the internationally recognised Hadi government in Yemen.

However, the turmoil in the country has had serious repercussions for Saudi Arabia itself, given the ways in which Yemen and Saudi Arabia are culturally, socially and politically intertwined.

The jambia, the traditional curved dagger worn by Yemeni men, reflects the machismo mindset of this ancient culture and hints at the structural violence inherent in its society. Houthi leader Abdel-Malik Al-Houthi sports the jambia, a dagger with the blade turned to the side (jambin in Arabic, leading to the name jambia).

Hadi, in sharp contrast, wears pin-striped suits and matching ties. In March he said that Aden was Yemen’s “economic and temporary capital” while Sanaa remains under Houthi control. In February, he rescinded his resignation and declared he was still the legitimate president of the country.

History suggests that Hadi may find it hard to govern this country in the future, even with the Saudi-led intervention. His adversaries have been deft at dealing his government serious blows, and the Zaidi imams of yesteryear have metamorphosed into the Houthi rebels.

Yemen today is embroiled in a host of political, ideological, confessional and military conflicts. Concealed behind the long struggle between the various militias in Yemen lies the Shia Muslim and Sunni Muslim divide.

While this was never a serious issue in days gone by, today it has come to the fore in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and other countries in the Arabian Peninsula and Middle East. Disillusioned with devils they never knew, the Yemenis are today succumbing to confessional conflict.

“There was never any confessional or sectarian strife in Yemen before the current war. Yemenis lived together and intermarried, and miscegenation between the Sunni Shafies and the Shia Zaidis was common. We all lived together happily. All may yet end well in Yemen,” said Basha.

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