Azad Essa: Where’s the outrage over slaughter in Yemen?
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The lack of mobilisation over the travesty in Yemen is hypocritical. The US is still gatekeeper of this conflict and winners-losers remain the same, writes Azad Essa.
Late last Wednesday, ballistic missiles crashed into homes in a residential area of Hodeidah in western Yemen. When the dust settled, residents described the scene as carnage. Body parts were mangled with the debris of human life, furniture, brick walls and rubble. Medics said 26 civilians were killed in the strikes. Sixty others were injured.
But this is not an unfamiliar story for Yemen.
Since the aerial bombardment began in March last year, led by Saudi Arabia, in conjunction with the UAE, Qatar, Sudan, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait - some 10 000 people, including 4 000 civilians have been mercilessly killed.
While the story of the intervention is masked by purported support for Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who was deposed by Shia Houthi rebels in January last year, Yemen has just been turned into a playground for a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran in a claim for regional dominance.
The fighting between the Saudi-led alliance and Houthi rebels has devastated the country, leaving millions maimed, starving and desperate. Yemen’s economy has collapsed and left a people reeling under rubble.
Both sides are charged with rampant disregard for civilian lives.
Last week the UN expressed alarm at the sharp rise in civilian casualties. Since August 6, when talks between the two factions collapsed, at least 329 civilians have been killed and 429 injured. The UN’s comment follows the release of a report early this month by the Yemen Data Project that found that at least one third of all airstrikes have hit civilian sites including schools, hospitals and mosques. One school in Taiz was hit nine times. It is reported that out of the 8 600 airstrikes launched, at least 3 000 hit the wrong targets.
A few days earlier, it had been revealed that some 7 million people, including 1.5 million children, were battling malnutrition and that the country was on the verge of famine.
According to the latest estimates, 370 000 children are suffering acute malnutrition. Images of grotesquely sparse bodies have begun to circulate among human rights groups and aid agencies, with little effect.
Oxfam says the war has left 21 million people in need of humanitarian aid, more than any other country.
But international outrage to the events in Yemen remained subdued. When it is spoken about, it is described in circles as among the most forgotten on the globe. But this is a misnomer. Yemen is not forgotten, it has been wilfully ignored. And given that some of the main players in the UN Security Council are trying their best to deflect from the issue, the lack of global regard for the matter is unsurprising.
From the onset, Saudi Arabia has been on a campaign to divert any attention from its crimes in the country at the UN Security Council - despite not having a seat there. Foreign Policy magazine described Saudi Arabia as having “succeeded in blocking actions to restrain its military conduct and highlight the humanitarian costs of the conflict”.
Meanwhile, the US and UK - the primary benefactors in the war in Yemen - consider the alliance with Saudi Arabia as so important that they are willing to sacrifice their self-respect to keep that alliance alive. The UK has sold more than £3.7 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since the airstrikes began.
Last week the US senate voted against blocking a $1.15bn arms deal with Saudi Arabia, tabled by lawmakers who say war crimes were being committed in Yemen. Overall, the Obama administration has sold $100bn worth of arms to the Kingdom.
The story of a sectarian divide between Shia and Sunnis - a primary narrative in this war - frankly underwhelms in the face of another murky, unsubstantiated war for power and control.
Many observers say the US is only supporting Saudi Arabia as a way to balance their relations between Riyadh and Tehran in the region. The war does not live up to any international standards of scrutiny, nor is there is any endgame in sight.
The Iran nuclear deal last year left Saudi Arabia feeling slighted and the US proceeded to support their war effort in a bid to taper down Saudi dissent. Even the UN has tapered accusations at the behest of the Saudis. In June, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said he had removed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen from a UN blacklist for violating child rights because the Kingdom threatened to cut funding to the UN. “This was one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make,” he said at the time.
The US however is still the gatekeeper of the conflict. The Saudis do not have the technical know-how to run a campaign of this nature on their own and need US expertise to continue its campaign. But little is likely to change.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world is waiting for an Aylan Kurdi moment before it is roused from its indifference.
Yemen has been for the longest time, a poor, reclusive, abused country. And its war has remained purposefully enslaved by its masters, and ignored. Even by Muslims. Very few in the disparate parts that make up the so-called Muslim world from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan to Tunisia have managed to raise their voices against the catastrophic attack against people in Yemen.
So while millions of Muslims embarked on the Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia this month, hundreds of people in neighbouring Yemen were being massacred.
The lack of mobilisation over the travesty in Yemen is hypocritical.
But on deeper inspection, it is clear that Saudi Arabia here, again, is a mere a servant of the empire.
The winners-losers of this conflict remain the same.
* Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also the co-founder of The Daily Vox.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.