Formation of Yemen:
Firstly, it is important to understand the modern history of Yemen, so as to understand its different international influences. The forces behind the formation of Yemen are hugely important in understanding why it is so conflict-ridden today.
As they were completely separate pre-1990 Yemeni Unification, North and South Yemen developed very differently, both politically and in terms of religion, with the north having years of Ottoman influence and the south having years of British influence.
Before its collapse in 1918, the Ottoman Empire controlled the area that was to become North Yemen. Throughout this time, tribal areas were controlled by the Zaydi community, a branch of Shi’ite Islam almost solely found in Yemen. After the Ottoman Empire’s collapse, Imam Yahya, leader of the Zaydi community, took power. North Yemen officially became a republic in 1962.
States at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula made up the Protectorate of South Arabia. They had protection treaties with Britain.
The British Empire was particularly interested in this area as it was on the East India Route, a route which Britain wanted to protect due to its usefulness in trade. Aden was a colony of the British crown until 1937
The end of British rule only came about in 1967 when Aden and the Protectorate of South Arabia joined to from South Yemen
The end of British rule only came about in 1967 when Aden and the Protectorate of South Arabia joined to form South Yemen.
Rather than withdrawing because of guilt over holding occupied land they had no right to, British troops withdrew from South Yemen instead due to rebel action against them.
Overview of the Yemeni conflict:
In the pre-unification years, there was open conflict between the two sides of Yemen. However, just as the political and religious differences did not end in 1990, nor did the tensions.
In 1994, conflicts between the more powerful north and the weaker south broken out, quickly developing into a civil war
After elections in 1993, a coalition government was formed of the ruling parties of the old north and south, a result that highlighted Yemen’s long-lasting divisions.
In 1994, conflicts between the more powerful north and the weaker south broke out, quickly developing into a civil war.
After defeating the south, Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled Yemen with a prospering north and resentful south until 2011, when wide-spread protests forced him to hand over power to Vice President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
However, Hadi was unable to gain real control of the entire country. An armed Shia group from the north, the Houthis, led revolts against him. They were aided by some of those in the country who still supported Saleh.
The rebels took over the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014 and early 2015. Their ensuing attempts to take over the entire country forced Hadi to flee abroad in 2015.
Shia-ruled Iran’s (comparatively limited) involvement on the Houthi side of the conflict was interpreted by Saudi Arabia as a major threat. Therefore, alongside eight other mainly Sunni Arab states, Saudi Arabia began an air campaign aiming to defeat the Houthis and restore Hadi’s government.
According to the BBC, the ‘coalition received logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK and France’.
It is not extreme to argue that it is largely due to Britain that there are such underlying divisions and issues in Yemen
It is not extreme to argue that it is largely due to Britain that there are such underlying divisions and issues in Yemen.
As has been highlighted, this issue goes back to the British Empire, which raises the question: Why were we ever there in the first place? And having been there, having taken control of a part of the world which we had no claim to, how can we then just leave and deny any accountability?
It is British bombs that are dropping on Yemen; British RAF working as engineers; British personnel training Saudi pilots
This is an issue that we have seen time and time again across Britain’s previous colonies. Yet, in Yemen, we are even more directly involved.
It may appear that the Saudi Arabian government is the one fighting the Houthis, but the reality is the war is more than partly funded and sustained by the US and the UK.
It is British bombs that are dropping on Yemen; British RAF working as engineers; British personnel training Saudi pilots. Britain has contributed to a crisis so enormous that now about 80% of Yemen’s population are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Further to being totally amoral, this involvement may in fact be illegal. The Campaign Against Arms Trade explains: ‘UK rules state that weapons should not be sold where there is a “clear risk” that they might be used in violations of international humanitarian law. Yet the UK government has continued to support the supply of weapons to the Saudi-led coalition, even as it has bombed schools, hospitals and food supplies’.
The Guardian points out that the ‘UK government’s argument that it does not pick the targets in Yemen resembles nothing so much as the logic of the American gun lobby, with its infamous claim that it’s not guns that kill people, but the people who use them’. In other words, a claim that strikes many British people as laughable.
The 21st June marked the one-year anniversary of the Court ruling against the UK exporting new weapons to use in war in Yemen. However, the UK government is still attempting to resist this ruling, for example, by keeping on hold a multi-billion-pound deal to sell more fighter jets to Saudi Arabia.
One of the main reasons the UK government is so keen to continue funding Saudi Arabia is our close strategic relationship with them.
This encompasses trade and investment, especially involving oil: Saudi is the world’s largest exporter of petroleum. So, the UK is directly prioritising need for oil over human life in Yemen.
How can we justify this, legally and morally? The rise in British attention to the Black Lives Matter movement after recent events in America seems to indicate a desire to stop turning a blind eye to events happening on the other side of the world. Maybe we should apply this mindset to events in Yemen.
Just as white people globally are being challenged to recognise their involvement in structural racism, maybe it is time for the British public to recognise our complicity in the war in Yemen.
Our taxes fund the UK government, and the UK government is allowing the bombing of Yemeni school children
Yes, media coverage of the Yemeni conflict has been limited, but maybe it is time we took some responsibility and did our own research. After all, our taxes fund the UK government, and the UK government is allowing the bombing of Yemeni schoolchildren.
If you agree that this is unacceptable and want to make some changes, signing this petition would be a good place to start: https://www.caat.org.uk/get-involved/act-now/stop-arming-saudi-petition .
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