Despite having taken multiple classes dealing with the Middle East, none of them have covered Yemen. I have been to a lecture or two on Yemen before, so I know some general things about the country and its civil war, but nothing in-depth. Professor Bahran, however, provided an easy to follow, concise look into the conflict. I appreciated how he started with Yemen’s history and tied its regionalism into the current war. As an outsider, I assumed the civil war was largely sectarian, since the Houthis have a religious bend. This lecture, though, introduced me to the regional divisions in the country. The North has traditionally held power while the South was relatively subjugated. When the previous Vice President Hadi was elected to the Presidency and the Houthis staged their coup, the country split between the North (relatively tribal groups who back the Houthis) and the South (more urban societies who support Hadi). However, the thing that I really took away from Professor Bahran’s lecture was the hopelessness of the situation. He continuously emphasized that the victims were the Yemeni people in general and, from what I have heard of the subject, it seems like everyone in Yemen has been affected in some way. He did a good job of explaining why the conflict was hopeless, though—both sides have substantial levels of corruption and, in some cases, there is overlap between them; warlords have tried to prolong the conflict to get richer; and the international community has no real stake in the country. Unfortunately, I have to agree with Professor Bahran’s analysis of the situation that the conflict will not end any time soon. From his lecture and the ones I have been to previously, it seems as though the world has forgotten about Yemen and is content to let it suffer on its own.
Monday, October 17, 2016 I attended the talk entitled “War and Peace in Yemen” with Dr. Joshua Landis and Dr. Waleed Mahdi. I am a student of both professors and I was excited to hear Dr. Mahdi’s unique perspective as a Yemen-born American. He began by giving an introduction to the geography of Yemen as well as some information about the humanitarian need in the country. %85 of Yemen is currently experiencing humanitarian need with 3.5 million people internally displaced. Dr. Mahdi explained the Hoothi doctrine as “Death to America, death to the Jews, praise be to God, and the dominance of Islam”. He explained the situation in Yemen as caused by a variety of factors, among them being political, religious, and tribal. The traditional north-south divide that has long characterized Yemen is not reflected in the political geography of Yemen today. Another important factor in understanding the conflict in Yemen is the role played by Saudi Arabia and the role of Iran. Dr. Mahdi explained these roles very simply: Iran and Saudi Arabia are engaged in a proxy war in Iran. The Hoothis are backed by the Iranian regime. Iran has traditionally supported religious minorities (notably those leaning towards Shiism) as well as Shia majorities in countries like Bahrain and Iraq. The Hadi are backed by Saudi Arabia. The influence of foreign intervention has caused friction both within Yemen and on the international stage. Dr. Mahdi expressed his concern regarding foreign intervention in Yemen by both Saudi Arabia and Iran; he also criticized the use of US drone strikes.
A few days ago I was able to attend a talk by Dr. Waleed E. Mahdi and hosted by Dr. Joshua Landis that focused on Yemen and its ongoing civil war. Dr. Mahdi’s discussion began with a general overview of the conflict: its external and internal causes, the main players, and some of the cities that were in the crosshairs. Before this discussion, I personally did not know much about Yemen or its civil war. Most of the American media chooses instead to focus on Syria, and only really mentions Yemen when something really big happens—like Saudi Arabia accidentally bombing a funeral. So my knowledge on the subject was minimal at best, and his general introduction did a great job of filling in all the missing information. Basically, Yemen’s government started going downhill, fast. The Houthis, a fundamentalist group (one of their motto lines is “Death to America”) and the former president, began to consolidate power in the north, and slowly took over important cities, like Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. The important thing to note though, is that the Houthis are Shi’a, which explains why Iran decided to get involved in the conflict and support them. And when Iran is involved, Saudi Arabia invariably join in, too. So now the civil war has turned into another proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with the Yemen people caught in the middle.
After this brief overview, Dr. Mahdi allowed the audience to ask questions. One of the most important, in my opinion, was a question about the humanitarian crisis that the conflict has ultimately caused. The statistics Dr. Mahdi pulled out were horrifying. Over three million people were internally displaced. Approximately 80% of the population is in need of humanitarian aid. People are starving. Most of Yemen’s food security is imported and, in the middle of a civil war, that food is not able to get to the people who need it. A lot of it cannot even get into the country!
Over all, this talk opened my eyes to the conflict in Yemen. I had no idea how horrible things truly were in their civil war. In light of this, I really wish the media would cover it more, so that more aid can be given to the country. At the end of the day, it does not really matter who is fighting who, but that there are real people involved and they are paying the real cost.