Afrah Nasser, an independent Yemeni journalist, editor in chief of the Sanaa Review, and the recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2017 International Press Freedom Award. Follow her on Twitter @Afrahnasser.
Already the poorest Arab state, Yemen has been facing nothing but more destruction and starvation since the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention began in 2015 following the takeover of Sanaa by the Houthi-Saleh alliance in 2014. Between Saudi Arabia’s disastrous strategies, the UAE’s divergent hidden agenda, and Houthis’ aggression, civilians in Yemen are paying the heaviest price of an unwinnable war. The fact that Houthis are neither outsiders nor easy to identify, as well as the rough nature of Yemen’s geography make this war impossible for either side to win militarily.
After about four years of world leaders’ apathy over the atrocities in Yemen, at the end of 2018 the international community truly pressured the warring parties to come and sit at the table for the first peace talks in two years. The tragic killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi represented a tipping point in the drive toward peace talks. The result was a moment of hope that there could be an end in sight to the war. As the weeks passed however, it became clear that the talks were a result of international will but not necessarily a local or a regional one. Hope slowly vanished. It might take another major event with an international echo to bring that hope back.
Contemplating the fourth year of the war in Yemen and the question of what has been achieved so far, I am at a loss in finding anything but further fragmentation and destruction of an already enfeebled state of Yemen. The Saudi attempt to restore the presidency of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has only increased the possibility of a permanent division of Yemen.
Saudi Arabia’s fight against the Houthis has also involved the unnecessary bombing of historical sites across Yemen. And the UAE, Saudi Arabia’s partner, now occupies Yemen’s remote island of Socotra and controls UAE-funded militias and armed groups in south of Yemen outside the control of the Yemeni government. It is unsettling how these two rich monarchies are doing such damage to world’s poorest Arab country. Being caught between these warring parties is a hell Yemenis must deal with. Our ordeal is summed up in Thucydides’ saying: “the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”