Who is really fighting whom in Yemen?
The following speech was given on 25 January 2021 by Australian anti-imperialist activist Jay Tharappel on behalf of the Yemen Solidarity Council at an online antiwar meeting hosted by the Workers Party of Britain.
Thank you to the Workers Party of Britain for putting on this event in solidarity with the people of Yemen. It’s a great honour to be among you all.
Yemen should be making headline news every single day for the sheer brutality inflicted upon its people, but instead the war is not only ignored by the corporate media, but it is subject to big tech censorship. Indeed, our website yemensolidarity.org is banned on Facebook.
The reason for this media blackout, however, is easy to understand. There is no conceivable humanitarian pretext to justify the war on Yemen.
An unjustifiable and genocidal war
Any public discussion about Yemen would soon lead millions of people around the world to ask: why are the richest and most powerful states on earth inflicting collective punishment on a nation of 27 million people that even before the conflict was one of the poorest nations on earth? One that relies on imports for 90 percent of its food according to the United Nations’ world food programme.
1. There is no humanitarian pretext for why the Saudis and Emiratis have recruited over 100,000 mercenaries from the poorest countries in the world to fight in Yemen.
2. There is no humanitarian pretext for why the Anglo-American powers – that is, the USA, Britain, Canada and Australia – have sold weapons to the Saudis and Emiratis, and have trained the Saudi navy to enforce this genocidal blockade.
3. And there is no humanitarian pretext for why arms industries across the world have profited from selling billions of dollars’ worth of equipment that are being used against the Yemeni people.
The Saudis spend $200m per day committing this genocide. This isn’t David versus Goliath; this is David versus one thousand Goliaths, and when this conflict ends it’s highly likely that the death toll will be counted in the millions, not just the hundreds of thousands.
But despite these incredible odds and despite the weapon of mass starvation being used against its people, the Yemeni national resistance is winning.
What do I mean by the Yemeni national resistance?
I mean the national salvation government of Yemen based in the capital, Sana’a, which represents a coalition of political movements, most importantly Ansarullah, which is also known as the Houthi movement.
On the odd occasion that you do see Yemen being covered in the media, they frame the conflict by saying that the US-Saudi alliance is helping the so-called ‘legitimate’ government of Yemen defeat the allegedly ‘Iranian-backed’ Houthi rebels, but this framing is completely absurd.
The president of this so-called ‘legitimate’ government resigned from office before the war began. He then travelled to Saudi Arabia, where he proceeded to claim he was still the president of Yemen and that Saudi Arabia was acting on his behalf. Two years later, the Saudis placed him under house arrest, and we haven’t heard a word from him since.
The framing is absurd because around 83 percent of the fighting force of the so-called ‘official government of Yemen’ is comprised of foreign mercenaries, whereas the Yemeni national resistance led by the Ansarullah movement is 100 percent comprised of Yemenis, and yet it’s referred to as being ‘Iranian backed’ as if there’s something foreign about its members.
The reason for this absurd framing is UN resolution 2216, which was passed in April 2015. This was co-sponsored by the US, Britain and France. Russia and China could have vetoed this resolution, but they chose not to, thereby ‘legalising’ the war on Yemen in the eyes of the UN security council.
That which is legal isn’t always moral, and that which is moral isn’t always legal.
A long tradition of resistance and independence
Yemen has been resisting imperialism since the 17th century, when the armies of the Ottoman empire invaded because they wanted to occupy Yemen for its strategic position as the naval gateway to India. After the Ottomans were defeated in World War 1, the British empire started arming and funding Saudi Arabia to invade Yemen in 1934.
The plan was that the British would control south Yemen and help the Saudis to invade and conquer north Yemen, but that plan failed because of the resistance of the Yemeni people who beat back the Saudi invasion force. And in the south, the people kicked out the British and established a Marxist-Leninist republic of South Yemen.
Fast forward to the 1970s, North Yemen had a modernising Arab nationalist president called Ibrahim al-Hamdi, who continues to be deeply respected in Yemen today. But in 1977 he was assassinated, and we now know that the Saudis were responsible, because they wanted to keep Yemen weak – a major part of the story here.
This assassination paved the way for the 34-year reign of Ali Abdullah Saleh. On his watch, Yemen was transformed into a virtual colony of Saudi Arabia that provided cheap labour for the Saudi economy. The Saudis proceeded to spread wahhabi-salafi ideology across Yemen, and with that ideology they were able to recruit Yemeni mercenaries to join the ranks of al-Qaeda in the so-called ‘jihad’ against the socialist Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan.
After the unification of the two Yemens in 1990, when these Yemeni al-Qaeda mercenaries returned home, they were unleashed against the Yemeni Socialist party, which had previously ruled South Yemen. After the Socialist party had been completely crushed, the pro-Saudi regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh turned on the Houthis.
One of the few Yemeni politicians who had the courage to speak out against the violent jihadist persecution of south Yemeni socialists was Hussein al-Houthi, who became the founder of the Ansarullah movement. Al-Houthi was brutally murdered in 2004 by the Saleh regime.
The irony of calling the Houthis ‘rebels’ is that the Houthis never took up arms against the Yemeni state; it was the Yemeni state that took up arms against the Houthis in 2004. In fact, according to the Rand corporation, the Houthis “were acting within the boundaries of the laws and constitution”.
This is a think-tank that advises the US military, so we can’t accuse it of being biased in favour of the Houthis: “it was not until the US government pressured Saleh that he began cracking down on the Houthis” (Barak Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen, Rand Corporation, 2010).
In other words, before the revolution, Yemen was ruled by the type of government that responded to a peaceful political movement with military force, and because the war against Ansarullah was unpopular with the Yemeni people, it had to increasingly rely on using al-Qaeda militants to do its fighting.
From 2004-10, the old Yemeni government and the Saudis waged six wars to crush the Ansarullah movement, but every time they tried, they not only failed, but the Ansarullah movement got stronger and stronger.
Ansarullah’s members belong to the Zaydi branch of Islam; they see themselves as the Sunnis of the Shia and the Shia of the Sunnis. The Zaydis are the revolutionaries of Islam, and their core political belief is that Muslims have an obligation to rebel against corrupt and unjust rulers (the concept known as khurruj). When you combine this with Arab nationalism, you get the Ansarullah movement.
During the Arab spring, to appease the Yemeni people, the US and Gulf monarchies stepped in to replace the old president with a new president. That is, they told Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in favour of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, but Hadi turned out to be even worse for the people of Yemen.
Hadi tried to divide Yemen into six pieces, so that he and his backers could separate the resource-rich regions with small populations from the resource-poor regions with large populations. According to Yemen expert Isa Blumi: “To any rational observer, the idea of developing Yemen into six disproportionate regions with enormous autonomy was a blatant effort to benefit foreign interests and subdue the rebellious population through poverty and administrative obscurity” (Destroying Yemen: What chaos in Arabia tells us about the world, University of California Press, 2018, p.196).
This was done to serve the interests of Saudi Arabia, as Wikileaks revealed, so that the untapped wealth of Yemen could be controlled more easily by a weak and divided state.
Hadi also slashed fuel subsidies following the recommendation of the IMF. This caused inflation to rise by 200 percent, so that by September 2014 Ansarullah had become so popular that the Yemeni state and army defected to the side of the revolution.
This was the only revolution actually to live up to the stated principles of the Arab spring, but it has been completely ignored by the same forces, the same people, the same social movements, the same imperial cruise missile leftists who supported the fake revolutions in Libya and Syria.
Support the Yemeni people against the massed forces of imperialism, Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda and Isis
There’s another reason the western corporate media can’t talk about this war, and that’s because the US is on the same side as al-Qaeda and Islamic State in Yemen. This is why there are voices in the US military, even, who favour the Ansarullah movement in Yemen – because they’ve been told for the past two decades that the US is fighting al-Qaeda, when in fact the US has collaborated with al-Qaeda to destabilise the Arab world.
Those of us who live in the west should be offended that our ruling classes constantly lie to us about their motivations for waging these extremely wasteful wars.
That said, the change of administration in the United States offers new opportunities for ending the war on Yemen. In April 2019, the US Congress voted to end US support for the war, but this was vetoed by then president Donald Trump – which is perhaps the single most evil act of his administration.
Incoming president Joe Biden has promised to end US support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen. In this climate it’s extremely important to maintain the pressure on the new US administration to force it to live up to its promise.
We should also call for the international recognition of the national salvation government as the legitimate government of Yemen, because if that is recognised then this war becomes automatically illegal and millions of lives can be saved.
The war in Yemen is an immoral, genocidal war, and the vast majority of humanity – the 99 percent – has every interest in supporting Yemeni national liberation.