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Do you care about Yemen? The multimedia conglomerates want to forget the plight of the Yemenis

Why does no one care about Yemen?

Shortly before IRIN’s regular contributor in Yemen, Almigdad Mojalli, was killed in an airstrike, he took a trip to Jordan and had a disturbing realisation.

He had been working tirelessly to cover the war that had driven his country from humanitarian disaster to humanitarian catastrophe.

He had spared no detail in describing the civilian casualties, nor the survivors so desperate they were eating out of garbage bins.

Andrew Bossone shared a link.
More than 6,000 Yemenis have been killed since March in a conflict that has set off a humanitarian catastrophe so severe that humanitarian agencies are struggling to cope.

But in Jordan, he discovered that the war hardly made the news.

Locals were shocked to hear what he had to say. Mojalli knew it was a struggle to get an English-speaking audience interested in his country, but he thought in a place with a shared mother tongue it might at least make a few headlines.

Before he fell victim to the war, which has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people since March, the dogged Yemeni journalist was still struggling to understand why the world found it so easy to turn a blind eye.

Experts ask the same question. “It is absurd,” says Adam Baron, visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “This is one of the most devastating conflicts in the region, but people apparently don’t get it.”

IRIN went hunting for the answer. Here’s what we came up with:

It’s marginalised 

In 1996, when the sitcom Friends was in its heyday, Matthew Perry’s character Chandler attempts to evade an on-and-off girlfriend by telling her he’s been transferred to Yemen.

The joke works because it’s the furthest, most ridiculous place he can think of, where she can’t possibly follow him. The show’s dunce, Joey (Matt LeBlanc), doesn’t quite get it.

Yemen, that actually sounds like a real country,” he says.

It’s not only in American sitcoms that Yemen is a byword for backwater.

It’s a regional problem too – stereotyped as tribal and traditional, it somehow lacks the cultural standing of countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq or Jordan. And in a region where oil is king, it has no great reserves. Even before the war, it was by far the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula.

Apart from when the occasional “terror” plot is linked to a group operating in its mountainous hideouts and large wildernesses, Yemen is simply not a priority, regionally or internationally.

The war was born of a failed political transition after Arab Spring-inspired protests, a movement dubbed the “forgotten revolution” long before the current fighting became Yemen’s “forgotten war.”

Farea al-Muslimi of the Carnegie Middle East Institute believes the country’s isolation is to some extent its rulers’ doing.

Low spending on education by Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for 33 years, meant that contacts with the Western world were more limited.

Until a few years ago, he told IRIN, “it would have been easier to get an AK-47 in Yemen than an English dictionary.”

Lacking the same strong diaspora of an Egypt or a Syria, Yemen “is a country of untold stories,” al-Muslimi says.

It took two decades and two failed attacks against the United States traced to Yemen – including the infamous underwear bomber – to bring a high-ranking US official, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to the country in 2011.

It’s complicated

Those trying to get the word out aren’t helped by the fact that the conflict is incredibly complex. It lacks the clear good guy v bad guy narrative many in the West saw at the start of the Syrian war, for example.

In Yemen, it never felt simple. This is a complicated civil conflict with local and international alliances that don’t appear to make much sense to the casual – sometimes even the studied – onlooker.

The trouble began long before the Saudi Arabia-led coalition began bombing in March 2015. Saleh had been battling a Shiite Houthi rebellion since 2004, but was only forced out in 2011 amid a power struggle with opposition leaders and their tribal militia, as the country was roiled by months of popular demonstrations against his rule.

His replacement, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is still the internationally recognised president of Yemen, but he was effectively ousted when the Houthi rebels took the capital in January last year, later fleeing to Saudi Arabia. That he is the leader of a united Yemen is his main claim to legitimacy, but he also happens to be on the same, tenuously allied side of southern separatists, anti-Houthi tribal leaders and Sunni Islamists.

While the Houthis are often portrayed as proxies of regional Shiite superpower Iran, they have their own grievances, leaders, and decision-makers. Confusingly, they are now also backed by Saleh, their former enemy.

Saudi Arabia entered the fray in March, accusing Iran of supporting the Houthis and forming a coalition of 10 Sunni-majority or Sunni-ruled countries, including all the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, save Oman.

In addition to almost non-stop airstrikes in support of Hadi’s forces, the coalition has imposed a naval blockade and put boots on the ground: there are even Colombian fighters sent by the United Arab Emirates.

Islamist groups have meanwhile taken advantage of the chaos to gain new territory. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and so-called Islamic State are both now present in the strategically important southern port of Aden.

No one seems any closer to actually winning the war, so it is harder to become invested in its outcome, especially as neither side has made any real move to negotiate and UN-led peace talks have been postponed.

“The fact that it has long been enmeshed in one conflict or another makes it is easy for people to shrug it off,” says Baron. “They recognise that Yemen is at war, but see it as always at war.”

Vested interests & crisis fatigue

Surely the United States, Britain and France – all of whom either provide logistical support or sell arms to the Saudis – have reason to care?

A report by a UN panel of experts on Yemen, leaked last month, found the Saudi-led coalition had carried out “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets in violation of international humanitarian law.

Human rights groups have been pressuring the UK in particular to reconsider its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which last year were at a record high – 2.8 billion pounds ($4.2 billion) in the first three quarters alone.

UK military export licences for Saudi Arabia

That’s dwarfed by American sales.

Since September 2014, US President Barack Obama’s administration has informed Congress of arms sales to Saudi Arabia totaling more than $21 billion. Some members of Congress have spoken out against a proposed $1.29 billion deal on air-to-ground munitions because of how they might be used in Yemen, but the sale appears poised to go ahead.

Last week, US Senator Chris Murphy called for his country to get out of the war, but he is for the most part a lone voice.

“I just don’t see any evidence right now that the Saudis are conducting that military exercise in a way that’s responsible. It’s just feeding the humanitarian crisis inside Yemen,” Murphy said.

The fact is that intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia has been a key part of US and UK foreign policy for years, and they consider the kingdom a stabilising force in the region. With the Houthis attacking its borders and Saudi Arabia raising the threat of Iranian influence, the West is unlikely to rein its allies in.

The media, meanwhile, gravitates towards the bigger regional conflicts in Syria and Iraq, whose impact on the West is so much clearer to define in terms of refugees, extremist attacks, and geo-political dangers.

“Policy makers have limited bandwidth, think in relatively short term, and pay attention to things that generate headlines,” explains Peter Salisbury, an expert on Yemen from the influential Chatham House think tank.

There is also a sense of crisis fatigue, a feeling that the audience can’t find room to process Yemen when their minds are already saturated by so many other, more pressing emergencies.

“It is sadly a forgotten conflict in many ways,” says al-Muslimi. “Everyone is overwhelmed with Syria, the rise of ISIS in Libya, and the world is quite a messed up place to start with.”

Why we should care

The World Health Organization counts more than 6,000 conflict related deaths in the last 11 months. Given that Yemen’s health system is decimated – there’s a lack of supplies, not to mention 69 facilities damaged or destroyed – and 14.1 million Yemenis lack sufficient access to healthcare, it’s safe to say the real number is higher.

OCHCR, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told IRIN by email that it recorded 318 civilian casualties in January: 118 killed, 200 injured. This brings estimated civilian casualties since March 2015 to 8,437: 2,913 civilians killed, 5,524 injured.

By comparison, after a year of conflict in Syria, the UN was reporting 7,500 deaths.

UN agencies and other aid organisations are struggling to cope with the severity of the humanitarian crisis, with their access to conflict zones restricted and an ongoing siege in the city of Taiz.

Some 19.3 million people lack access to clean water or sanitation, and almost 320,000 children are severely malnourished.

“The needs are huge, so there is no way that humanitarian organisations can cover all of them,” Julien Harneis, UNICEF’s Yemen country director, told IRIN in December.

Maybe, in today’s social media-dominated news environment, Yemen just needs its viral moment. It took a photo of Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian toddler lying facedown on a Turkish beach, to bring the world’s attention to the refugee crisis.

But those, like Salisbury, who realised the scale of the humanitarian disaster and the risks of the war in Yemen long ago, are fairly exasperated.

“With the people who know or who have worked on Yemen, there is fatigue from people jumping up and down and saying, ‘Yemen is important,’” he explains.

Ultimately, “people will be asking this question: Why didn’t we pay more attention to Yemen? Why didn’t we take it more seriously when we had a chance to do something?”

Note: Apparently, the US and Israel want to have a fixed and permanent naval and military base on the Red Sea. Already, the US has rented for 99 years, through The Gulf Emirate cover, the largest island belonging to Yemen, and Not done legally and legitimately. That’s the price of the destruction and genocide in Yemen.


Are you sure there are no more journalists in Yemen?

“Foreign journalists, don’t make us feel like you are doing us a favor by being here.”

“Instead of deporting militants, our national security deported a journalist. What a shame” wrote Yemeni journalist Hani Al-Guneid on Facebook.
Similar sentiments were widely expressed by activists and writers on May 9th, when journalist Adam Baron was wrongfully expelled from Yemen without an explanation. Until today, messages continue to spread condemning this attack on freedom of expression and some even felt obligated to apologize on behalf of their non elected government.The reactions to his deportation have highlighted a number of interesting points. It exemplified the reality that race/nationality/or passport matters in today’s media.Three days prior to Adam’s deportation, journalist Saeed Thabit Saeed sent a letter of complaint to the minister of interior, which he then published on Facebook. In it, he accused passport control, and later national security, of maintaining and using the same “black list” that Saleh’s government previously used against journalists and activists.

Saeed explained that he is often interrogated or detained at the airport upon arrival or departure from Sana’a. His passport was confiscated that day, and after some phone calls he was finally able to enter his own country.

Saeed is not the first journalist to complain of such harassment. A number of local journalists have been targets of intimidation tactics, violence, imprisonment and abuse. According to a March 2014 report by Reporters without Borders,

“Two years after Abd Rab Mansour Hadi became president, the situation of freedom of information in Yemen continues to be very worrying, especially as regards violence against media personnel.”

While it is very important that Adam’s deportation made headline news, it is as important to speak out against the numerous attacks on local citizens.

The last two years witnessed numerous violations including:

1. the murder of two young innocent boys,

2. a military attack on a funeral service of members of the Southern Movement in a public school courtyard killing 15 people,

3. a one-year jail sentence and fine of 100,000 Yemeni Riyals imposed on journalist Majed Karout, and

4. continuation of patronage through the $11.3 million allocated to the Tribes’ Affairs Authority in the 2014 budget despite the rising poverty.

None of these events made the international community question the practices of the current government. Why does it take a western journalists’ unfortunate deportation to make others see that “there might be something undemocratic” about this internationally supported government?

The second observation regarding Adam’s deportation is that while journalists have thankfully continued to unite in support of their colleagues, some have unfortunately used it as an opportunity to market themselves.

After announcing Adam’s deportation on twitter, a journalist was quick to immediately mention that there’s now “only one foreign journalist” officially in Yemen. Her tweet, taken out of context, implied to many that she was the only one left to report in the land of chaos.

I’m not a stranger to the hardships of freelancing, as my husband was one for quite sometime, yet this is no excuse to use this inappropriate time to market oneself. In fact, if anyone had the right to over-hype the issue it was Adam, but he did not.

I will not go into the semantics of what defines “official” in the dictionary, and what defines “official” in Yemen. Yet, I will say that the documents needed for western journalists to operate in Yemen are the following:

WHO KNOWS? Journalists have come to Yemen in a number of different ways. Yes, technically it could help if you have a journalism visa, but most of the time it is irrelevant. In fact, Adam Baron was deported even though he was “officially” working in Yemen.

Today, there are other journalists “officially” working or have worked in Yemen with very different residency papers/work permits. Some have a press card from the ministry of informaiton without a journalist visa, some are on a journalist visa, and others with neither.

Even the ones here without a press card work with the full knowledge of the Yemeni government, and in fact, many were officially registered as journalists during the 10-month National Dialogue Conference.

In addition, they continue to be invited by government officials to attend “official” events. Even the journalists without proper documents have traveled all over the country, met and continue to meet with high level officials, and publish their work under their name.

This is obviously not an ideal way to operate, as the government could easily deport them using the excuse that they do not have a valid visa, which the government did in 2011 when it deported four western journalists.

Then again, the government can deport anyone with no excuse such as the case of Adam. For this reason and many others, members of civil society and journalists continue to demand media reform in Yemen.

A third reflection is that it was curious how stressing “foreign” journalist based in Yemen was very important to distinguish one’s self from “local” as if it is necessarily correlated to credibility.

Yes, there is category of media professionals known as foreign correspondents, but majority of Western reporters in Yemen are not staff reporters. They are freelancers and work exactly like the local freelancers.

And there are Western journalists with Yemeni origins who are often not included in either the “foreign” or “local” journalist categories.

Foreign analysts and journalists should continue to travel and write about different countries including Yemen, as it can help provide a fresh perspective on things. Yet, their analysis should not be taken as the only credible voice in a country of 24 million people!

It is not the nationality that makes a journalist, but rather knowledge of the country, language skills, objectivity and professionalism. Whether the person is a foreign or local journalist should not be the basis for judging whether someone is a credible source.

It is important to remember the following:

1. there are Yemeni journalists who report to international media, and

2. Yemenis, like any other people, can also be credible, can also be objective, and can also relay the truth.

Why are local journalists in the west credible enough to report their own news, while it is not the case in Yemen?

Finally, while it’s admirable that some journalists leave the luxuries of their homes to work in less comfortable societies, it is important to remember that this is entirely their choice, and they do get something in return.

What you may wonder?

Well, where else could a new freelancer meet the highest government officials only two weeks after their arrival? This of course helps boost their careers in addition to their reputation. Once someone lives in “dangerous” Yemen, he/she is automatically given the “brave” award.

So my dear journalist friends, with all due respect, I admire your passion and your hard work, but please don’t make us feel like you are doing us a favor by being here. Please give us the respect and spare us the brave altruistic hero persona. It is not a favor you are bestowing on us to be living here.

I realize some of my journalist friends might be upset with this post, but I am sure that those who know me well enough will know that my intention is merely to give another side to the hype of last week.

While the government may not be friendly towards journalists, Yemeni people are. In fact, in almost every travel article, book or website, the one constant characteristic about Yemen is the description about the hospitable and friendly people of the country.

Let us work together to show the world what Yemen is really about.

Chilling anger in Yemen: And the “Muhammad Film” reaping more coverage…

And very few have seen the film yet. I didn’t even see the trail on Youtube, and I think millions of Moslems didn’t either, and might never see it. And the producer Sam B. is in hiding, somewhere in California?

And it doesn’t mean that because the film is not seen that it is not outrageous, and totally political in nature. Even Sam said that the film was political…And why right now on the “anniversary” of 9/11?

So far, the US embassies in the Moslem World are the direct targets, and might extend to Israel embassies wherever they are established in the Islamic World: In any case, it is getting obvious that Israel has funded the film (500 Jews contributed their money) and the director is Israeli, and the actors have at least Israeli passports…One of the actors is a new convert to Christianity and the son of a Hamas leader…

Hezbollah uncovered a long series of demonstrations this week in almost every large town in Lebanon. Starting Monday afternoon in Dahieh, Wednesday in Tyr (Sour), Thursday in Bint Jbeil, Friday in Baalbek, Saturday in Hermel…and expecting more demonstrations next week as the program is fine tuned…

Adam Baron, a freelance journalist based in Sanaa, published on September 15, 2012:

SANAA, YEMEN—As a mob of angry demonstrators descended on the heavily guarded United States Embassy in Sanaa, many observers seemed stunned into disbelief: The breach of the Embassy itself was unthinkable.

And the sheer anger displayed by the demonstrators, even according to many Yemenis, was chilling. But even if a video regarded as blasphemous prompted Thursday’s events, the factors at play involve much more than a movie.

Ostensibly, what sparked the siege on the US Embassy were statements by a number of religious leaders—amplified by social media and word of mouth—who condemned the film and called for protests.
While many in politically contentious Sanaa seemed eager to tie the protests to a prominent figure or faction, the truth was far less simple. Most of those taking part in the demonstrations lacked any obvious signs of religiosity: rather than bearded men or tribesmen in traditional garb, the bulk of those at the embassy were young men in western clothes, united, if anything, by their rage.

Vowing to sacrifice themselves for the honor of the Prophet Mohamed, they marched towards the embassy, and upon arriving at the walls surrounding the compound, apparently had little difficulty overwhelming the troops guarding the building.

Scaling walls, they moved to break glass, set cars alight and loot whatever they could, leaving graffiti expressions of “God is Great” and “Death to America” as testaments to their sentiments prior to being pushed out by Yemeni security forces about an hour later.

As word spread of the siege, few were surprised that protests against the video had occurred.  The logistics of the attack on the embassy compound left many Yemenis incredulous.  Among the most secure buildings in the capital, the American Embassy bears greater resemblance to a fortress than the sumptuous diplomatic residences of less volatile capitals.

In the context of Yemen’s contentious political scene, it was hard to believe that the breach of the embassy merely represented a security failure.

Although current president Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who formally replaced former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in accordance with an internationally backed power transfer agreement this February, Saleh is still a major player behind the scenes, as his relatives control key branches of the Yemeni Armed Forces.

Most of the troops guarding the embassy hailed from the Central Security Forces, a branch of the Yemeni military led by Yahya Mohamed Saleh, a nephew of former president Saleh. And in the wake of Thursday’s events, local observers expressed suspicions that the former president had a hand in the attack, or at least allowed it to happen.

“It’s nearly impossible to imagine that the Embassy could be breached with such ease,” said one Yemeni analyst, commenting the evening after the demonstration. “It’s not hard to suspect that something beyond incompetence was involved.”

But while tensions within Yemen’s divided military may have played a contributing role in allowing for the embassy breach itself, the origins of the anti-American rage displayed by demonstrators lie elsewhere.

Thursday’s events were not solely a response to the controversial film, which few Yemenis—including those taking part in the demonstrations—have seen. Rather, the film struck a nerve in Yemen because of long-simmering resentment of American policy.

Specifically, Yemenis resent what they characterize as the United States’ persistent meddling in Yemen’s internal affairs.  Even as government forces cracked down on peaceful anti-government demonstrations last year, the United States appeared reluctant to drop support for Saleh, who American officials viewed as a key ally in the battle against Yemen’s local Al Qaeda franchise.

Faced with the choice between siding with the Yemeni people and siding with the corrupt government, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to topple what they believe to be the US chose for Saleh oligarchical system.

Since Saleh ceded power, resentment over the United States’ past alliance with the former president has lingered.

Even today, many powerful opponents of Saleh claim that the United States still has not done enough to force the former president’s allies from power.

One opposition politician, while condemning the siege, commented that the CSF’s failure to protect the embassy was ironic payback for the United States’ hesitation to make a full break with the Saleh family.  After all, CSF commander Yahya Saleh was once a favored US commander.

At the same time, factions outside of Yemen’s political establishment have said that American reliance on traditional elites has contributed to their marginalization.

Beyond political issues, many Yemenis have expressed deep resentment over the ongoing American drone campaigns against local Al Qaeda (AQAP) figures. While the Yemeni government has permitted the strikes, many Yemenis see drone attacks as an infringement of the nation’s sovereignty and a violation of the rule of law, and they bristle at the way civilian casualties are brushed off as “collateral damages.”

Some Yemeni politicians and tribal leaders have long quietly argued that the drone strikes have led to a hardening of anti-American sentiment in Yemen. The recent deaths last week of 10 Yemeni civilians in an apparent US drone strike further inflamed popular anger over the drones.

Today is your day, oh Ambassador,” shouted the youthful crowd as it triumphantly ran through embassy property, mentioning Ambassador Gerald Feierstein by name.

Feierstein is largely praised by policy makers in Washington and he has held his post since September 2010. Feierstein is viewed in Yemen as a deeply controversial figure and profiled as Yemen’s “new dictator” by a prominent Yemeni journalist. 

Feierstein has come to personify unpopular American policies. The United States may have moved past its previous relationship with Saleh, providing important backing for his successor, but few Yemenis have forgotten that Feierstein himself stood by Saleh’s side, and a number of the ambassador’s apparent gaffes continue to resonate—most infamously, his characterization of the “Life March,” a 155-mile protest march undertaken by unarmed demonstrators in December, as an effort to “generate chaos.”

Activists charged that Feierstein’s statement effectively gave government forces a green light to launch a deadly crackdown on the march that left nine dead.

Ali al-Kamaly, a Yemeni youth activist, said: “The American administration has to rethink its foreign policy as the world has changed. The ambassador chose to oppose the aspirations of the Yemeni people during the life march last year. The movie was just the drop that inundated the beaker…peoples’ beliefs, rights and lives are the true redline.”

Note: So far, president Obama has executed Bush Jr foreign policies in the Middle-East, as if he was mind-reading what Bush Jr. might have decided…and making a policy to decapitate the “leaders” of Al Qaeda using drone attacks…Why?

Obama wants to prove to the US citizens that whoever is elected president will invariably follow the Middle-East foreign policies, even if the counsellors and political analysts in the CIA and State department have demonstrated to be incompetent and totally biased against Arabs and Moslems…

Note 2: I keep wondering: Why most US ambassadors in the Middle-East have to have a Jewish last name?




June 2023

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