Global Day of Action for Yemen
On Yemen, learning things, and world updates
YEMEN. Sanaa. Gardens cultivated in the middle of the city. 1995. - H.G./Magnum Photos
After sending out my last newsletter and reflecting on how much I loved writing to people, and also how I didn’t think what I had to say mattered enough to publish on a public writing platform like this — I’ve figured I should create a habit of sending things out. Even if it’s going to be sporadic and random in the range of topics since I have a myriad of interests. My life isn’t interesting enough for me to report about it in the way that a lot of the people on Substack do, who write consistently and have a specific niche. For example, I often read a woman who writes on sustainability in the makeup industry or another woman who writes only about new COVID-19 strains. This newsletter and the readers who’ve decided they are willing to engage with whatever I write really does make me feel like I’ve created an intimate digital community in an era of severe isolation and loneliness, for everyone. My point is, I don’t always want to write about my personal discoveries or inner-healing like I usually do and it’s because when I do write things that fall under that category, I would need an abundance of actual free time and perhaps a short capacity to be responsibility-free. I’ve written before about how much internalized capitalism often stifled my ability to express, or cultivate the creativity that I knew I possessed but I wasn’t granted the spare time to explore all these facets of my interests.
Elena Ferrante, “Writing That Urges,” Incidental Inventions
I am currently finishing my last semester of graduate school where I study International Relations (and other specific things but whatever I do generally falls under the umbrella of IR), and I also studied IR. and Arabic as an undergrad. So generally, most of the information I do encounter on a daily basis is political, statistical, and not interesting. Most of my training, whether it be academic or professional, has also turned me into a very analytical person, and most of the countries I’ve had to specialize in during my studies, internships, and other positions, I still remember. I still check on those places, what happens across the world every day rattles me deeply, and perhaps that is why I loved IR so much in the last couple of years. I really do enjoy being in tune with global happenings and it is something I hope I can write about more transparently and frequently.
Yemen, 1995, Harry Gruyaert
If you check Al-Jazeera’s front page, none of them include what is happening in Yemen right now. If you Google “Yemen” what immediately comes up is “Yemeni rebels attack UAE” or something along those lines that paints the current US-backed and Saudi and UAE-led siege on Yemen as a confrontation based on fairgrounds. On January 17, the Houthi militia (who goes by the name “Ansar Allah”) fired missile and drone attacks at Abu Dhabi, UAE, which hit an industrial plant (oil plant it seems) and killed 3-4 foreign nationals. The Houthis initially fired two missiles, the first was intercepted by US-UAE forces and the second actually did hit an industrial-oil plant in Abu Dhabi. The Houthis claim that in the first missile they were targeting Al-Dhafra Air Base, which is an American-British facility in the Emirates. This comes after a series of escalations between the Houthis and UAE and Saudi-backed forces who were fighting in Yemen on behalf of the internationally recognized government of Yemen. For reference, the Houthis failed to consolidate power in the Marib governate in the last few weeks as UAE-backed Yemeni forces pushed them back, closing off any chances for the Houthis to dominate northern Yemen. Marib is a strategically important region for any party seeking to rule Yemen. It is essentially a powerhouse for oil and gas in the country and produces relative wealth through its massive oil reserves and gas and electric pipelines. The Houthis fired missiles at the UAE in an attempt to pressure the Emiratis to stop backing these forces that had defeated them in Marib (who go by the name “Giants Brigade”) and to taint the UAE’s international reputation of stability, extravagant and safe tourism, and business development. To be frank, the minimal missiles sent by the Houthis did have some impact. According to the Associated Press, after the attacks the “Dubai Financial Market closed down nearly 2% after the attack, with nearly every company trading down. The Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange also fell slightly”.
The UAE-Saudi response to the Houthis small-scale missiles was catastrophic. The Saudi and UAE coalition (backed by American support) launched a relentless series of airstrikes on Sanaa and other rebel-held areas in Yemen like the Saada governate, where the airstrikes hit a detention center and killed over 100 civilians (Saada governate is in north Yemen and borders the KSA, meanwhile Sa’naa is the national capital and is in the mid-west of the country). Local Yemeni media reported that the death toll is above 140, while Reuters has confirmed from Houthi ministers that the death toll from this airstrike is at 91. More than 200 have been injured. Locals on the ground estimate that many of those killed were migrants from Ethiopia who were being held by Houthis in the Saada detention center (according to Save the Children, information retrieved from Bridges for Yemen). Despite Yemen’s almost decade-long civil war, African migrants often chose to travel through Yemen’s dangerous routes to reach the Gulf for better economic opportunities. A 2021 IOM report estimated that around 6,000 migrants (it is estimated almost all are Ethiopian, or from the HOA) are held in prisons across Yemen and smugglers held thousands more migrants hostage. Targetting prisons or detention centers is not a new phenomenon for the Houthis or for the Saudi-UAE forces in Yemen. On March 27 of 2021, Houthi forces launched projectile missiles at an immigration detention center in San’aa which caused a fire that led to scores of Ethiopian migrants either being burned to death or gaining irreversible burn damage. The NYT reported that over 170 migrants were injured. Again, this isn’t uncommon — in April of 2020, Houthi forces launched mortar shells on a prison center in Taiz that killed several migrants, in August of 2019 the Saudi-UAE coalition launched airstrikes on a detention center in Dhammar which killed more than 90 people, in October of 2016 the coalition bombed a detention center in Hodeida which killed over 63 people. This week’s airstrikes are not an isolated event, it is a pattern.
The Saudi-led coalition proceeded to launch another airstrike at the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, hitting a key telecommunications center which was the main point for Yemen’s undersea web connection— damaging the entire country’s entire telecom infrastructure. The airstrike in Hodeida killed four and injured over 17 while plunging Yemen into a total internet blackout for 3-4 days (connection returned this morning). As Yemen had no access to basic communication and was left in the dark, the Saudi-UAE coalition continued its airstrikes and detonated several buildings in Sanaa and other Houthi-led areas while many Yemenis abroad were unable to contact their families and loved ones. Some Yemen experts estimate that the recent round of airstrikes has caused over 300 casualties, and yet none of this is trending in global news outlets.
Network data from NetBlocks confirm a nation-scale collapse of internet connectivity in Yemen on Friday, January 21 2022 from around 1 a.m. local time.
Data from NetBlock shows the 4-day disruption of connectivity in Yemen above.
Additionally, what has been left out of the indistinct news reports on Yemen at the moment is that the coalition of US-backed forces has used weapons from Raytheon during the recent retaliatory attacks. Raytheon is an American company, and the second-largest weapons manufacturer in the world responsible for selling arms to the Saudi government. In fact, Raytheon is so prominent because it is one of the first weapon manufacturers to foster a close relationship with kingdoms in the Gulf. Fragments of Raytheon’s weapons have been found in the rubble amidst the ruins in places like Sa’naa and Saada. As an American company, Raytheon garners strong lobbying capabilities and has the power to sway U.S. foreign policy as they have before. The U.S. is as accountable for the demise of Yemen as its counterparts in the Gulf. The article linked previously states “Corporations like Raytheon do not, as they claim, follow U.S. foreign policy: they make it” as it warned that Americans should remain wary of Biden’s promises towards Yemen.
Trump was notorious for dismissing the human rights abuses of the Saudi Arabians and ramping up arms sales to the kingdom, and in 2017 he struck a $100b dollar arms deal with KSA. Biden campaigned on the foreign policy promise that he’d cease the U.S.’s support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Still, in Nov. 2021, the State Department under his administration approved an arms sale to the kingdom amounting to up to $650 million. And before Trump or Biden, Obama was the key figure who laid the foundational grounds for US-Saudi arms deals, and he operated with full knowledge that these arms would be used against Yemenis and not for national defense.
Ironically so, the recent airstrikes have fallen on the same week of the annual Global Day of Action for Yemen, January 25. We have an obligation to use our privilege, our voices, to advocate on behalf of Yemen and its people, considering the US’s role in exacerbating the conflict. Here are some things you can do today to bring awareness, learn more about Yemen, or advocate:
RSVP for Code Pink’s #YemenCantWait Emergency action Call that will be tonight from 8–9 p.m. EST. The point of the call is to urge Congress members, brief attendees on happenings on the ground, and provide all viewers with more advocacy tools for everyone interested in learning more about Yemen.
Follow @/YemenAllianceCommittee, @/Shireen818, @/AishaJumaan, , @/Afrahnasser, @/FCNL, and @/ActionCorps_National on Twitter for updated information for on the ground updates.
Use this 2015 Yemen advocacy toolkit and share it with friends.
Read Helen Lackner’s: Yemen in Crisis: The Road to War”.
Donate to Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation.
Americans love to undermine their ability to apply pressure on their government to change specific foreign policy trajectories. It takes solid and consistent transnational advocacy at a large scale for an institution as vast as the U.S. government to feel pressured, and it has happened before, and it can happen again. But complicity is easier than standing up for others, and I know many Americans will choose to look the other way. Certain events can open windows of opportunity for human rights advocates or progressive political movements to actually make groundbreaking changes. In 2018, the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated by the KSA government, and the U.S. could no longer turn a blind eye. There had been progressive lawmakers who were already trying to highlight the war in Yemen, such as Bernie Sanders and Ro Khanna. Still, it wasn’t until this rare and highly publicized event that those advocating for Yemen were finally able to pass meaningful legislation that was at odds with previous US-Saudi foreign policy paradigms, such as the Yemen War Powers Resolution of 2018 (Senate Joint Resolution 54 (S.J.Res 54).
It took the murder of one journalist for the American political establishment to take Yemen seriously.
Yemen matters to me because it is an essential issue for all of humanity, and everyone who claims they are a defender of human rights should be invested in a better future for Yemen. But I also care about Yemen because my paternal grandmother (الله يرحمها) is from there. She was an Ethiopian-born Yemeni and a large portion of my adolescence was shaped by my grandmother’s heritage. My grandmother would go to San’aa every year or several times a year to visit her sisters and her brother’s children, their children, and so on. She would wait for our summer school break to come around so that our parents could babysit us, so she could spend her entire summers in Yemen. I couldn’t really communicate with distant relatives through the phone in Yemen when growing up because I didn’t speak Arabic. My grandmom was also the woman that raised me from ages 5 to 15 since my parents worked 12hr shifts for several years (night/day), and a large part of my personality was influenced by the time I spent with her. It was an era I hold close to my heart and cherish dearly. When she passed away in 2016, it was because she had fallen ill in Yemen after recovering from ovarian cancer and eventually contracted pneumonia which forced her to return to the US to receive medical care. I never thought that that summer would have been her last summer back home. She still visited often despite the escalation of the civil conflict in 2014-2016, which were the earlier periods of the war. After my grandmother’s passing, Yemen became a fragment of my imagination. I lost what little connection I had to the country. The crisis in Yemen felt so close to me but also very far removed. Sometimes my dad would receive calls about relatives who had died from the difficulties of the war (cholera epidemic, militant clashes, etc.). And other times, we’d hear about relatives whose houses had been damaged or about those who needed us to send money for relief since the country’s economy has been ravaged due to the war, in addition to a Saudi blockade imposed on the country throughout 2015 and 2021.
So, I guess my point is don’t forget the 29 million-something people in Yemen (of which over 5 million are at risk of starvation). Even if the world has forgotten, I hope this was a brief reminder for you. I hope reading this prompts you to develop a passion for Yemen’s cause and you continue learning about the complex situation ravaging the country and tearing up the last pieces of a possibility for Yemen to have a future of prosperity and dignity for its people.
A photo of the aftermath of the Saudi-UAE airstrikes in San’aa on January 19.
Some additional readings on Yemen:
“War in Yemen: Global Conflict Tracker” from CFR
“Biden’s Shameful Silence on Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen” from The New Republic
“Deconstructing the Saudi narrative on the war in Yemen” by Aisha Jumaan
“In Yemen, All Sides Are Using Hunger as a Weapon” by Maysa Shuja Al-Deen
Yemen’s War Explained In Maps and Charts from AlJazeera