How will historians talk about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen? Will they call it a civil war? Will they refer to it as a “proxy war”? A sectarian conflict synonymous to all other conflicts in the Middle East? Did this bloody campaign against Yemen begin only to counter the Iranian threat and to protect its Arab identity? What is the Arab identity, anyway?
A lot has been said to emphasize the sectarian aspect of the conflict; the two ancient tribes of the Middle East are fighting each other as usual, but can we talk a little bit more about the economics of it?
The nearly three-year old conflict yielded an enormous death toll of over 10,000 Yemenis. The escalation of violence following the Houthi insurgency and the beginning of the Decisive Storm campaign forced around 300,000 people to flee the country and led to the internal displacement of over 3 million people.
17 million Yemenis are currently food insecure, 7 million of which are living under famine-like conditions.
Since November 6, the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen has been blocked due to the closure of the country’s air, sea, and land ports by the Decisive Storm Coalition following a missile attack, reportedly fired by Houthi rebels.
The United Nations describes the situation in Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the internationally recognized president of Yemen is based in Riyadh, along with his administration and his allies in Aden, enjoying a monopoly over fuel supply into the city.
Despite human rights concerns, the United States continues to supply arms to the coalition which was formed to accomplish the strategic goals of Saudi Arabia; the long-sought-after Hadramout oil pipeline which was strongly opposed by the previous Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
On a similar note, the government of the United Arab Emirates continues its mission in the Yemeni island of Soqotra after it was granted, by Hadi, full sovereignty over the island for 99 years. The UAE’s involvement in the war will also fulfil its ambition of controlling the port of Berbera in Somaliland which is the gate to Africa’s largest economy; Ethiopia. The Houthi-Saleh alliance, on the other hand, takes full control over industrial areas that have high economic revenues in Taiz.
In a workshop at Issam Fares Institute for Public policy and International Affairs,Ali Al Mamari, the former governor of Yemen, says:
“The Houthis concentrate on areas around the city with high economic activity for tax collection, such as the industrial area called Hawaban. The factories [there] provide an annual revenue of around 25 billion Yemeni rials (YR), or around $50-60 million (US). This area of economic activity, where the 22nd republican guard brigade is based, has always been controlled. The Houthis are fighting there so as not to lose this revenue. Towards the west of Taiz city there are factories such as al-Shaybani as well as the paint and soap factories, among others. The Houthis allocated their best forces, arms and equipment towards these areas because they know for certain that if they were to lose control they will suffer. This is one of the reasons why it is not easy for the national armed forces to progress in Taiz, because it is home to important areas for the Houthis and Saleh.”
The pursuit of these economic interests have been devastating Yemen for more than two years now. Yet, none of the fighting entities seems to know where they are heading. What began as a peaceful uprising against injustice has turned into a catastrophe; so let’s remember in the future, when Saudi Arabia constructs its pipeline and when the UAE enjoys full control over the most important shipping routes in the world, let’s remember the deadly price that Yemenis have paid.