Monday, September 26, 2016

Frequently Asked Questions about Yemen War

A graffiti work by Yemeni artists, Murad Subay, commemorating 15 children killed in 
Bani Hawwat area, in Sana’a, by an airstrike. May 18, 2015.

"Time to go back to blogging"

A dear friend and blogger from Syria, Razan Ghazzawi wrote a few days ago on her FB wall. Despite that the heartbreaking brutal war in Syria is on the news all the time, she's noticing that people know little about the situation in Syria. When I read her FB post, I thought: been there, done that. In international conferences I give talks about Yemen, I also often meet an audience who doesn't know much about the situation in Yemen, and doesn't know who to follow or read on Yemen. 

Murad's work was one of the topics I discussed at the "Arab Spring Generation" talk run by
Amnesty at Gothenburg's book fair, yesterday.

Inspired by Ghazzawi's call and by my participation in Gothenburg's Book Fair yesterday, where I took part in three talks about women's rights in patriarchal societies, journalism from exile, and Arab Spring generation, inspired by all that, I list below some of the most frequently asked questions about Yemen and the ongoing war, and my answer to them. 

* * * * * * 

Q1. Why don't we hear much about the war in Yemen in the media? is it because Yemen war is overshadowed by Syria war? 

From your question, I understand that you at least know more about the war in Syria but not in Yemen. Which is good. Better than not knowing about the two wars at all. From your question, I understand as well that you care about Syria and want to care as well about Yemen. Which is awesome. At this point, I appreciate your desire in trying to know about Yemen war. 

Now, answering your question, I think you don't hear much about the war in Yemen for three main reasons among many other: 

A. Yemenis are stranded and can't escape the war to Europe. Embassies in Yemen have shut down a long time ago. People can only apply for a visa to travel abroad from Jordan, Egypt or Ethiopia. To get to these countries by itself can be impossible with their extremely arbitrary and constantly changing rules. Even for those who have the patience in following the rules, they might run out of money in the course of traveling to Jordan, then coming back to Yemen and then traveling again to take the passport. And when you could afford the agony of traveling, there is a 99% chance that your visa application is rejected. Mind you that Yemen's main airport in Sana'a has been bombed several times by the Saudi-led coalition and only hidden diligent airport workers work in repairing what's repairable. Only one single airline can operate in Yemen and that is Yemenia, Yemen's airlines. 

Moreover, Yemen's geographical location makes it much harder for people to flee. Most of Yemen's neighbouring countries are taking part in the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen. When Yemenis are desperate enough to take the boats to neighbouring countries, the destination is typically towards Somalia and Djibouti. Despite that these countries are one of the world's poorest countries, they represent Yemenis' tiny window to escape. Once they arrive in Somalia & Djibouti, they have uncertain future. Having said that, you may measure the implications. You won't see Yemenis speaking in international conferences. And you were only able to see and talk to me because I live in Europe. 

B. Unlike the war in Syria, the Saudis are a direct actor in Yemen war and this tremendously impacts the lack of reporting or the non-reporting about Yemen war. Last year, Wikileaks released thousands of diplomatic cables from Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minstry, which includes documents showing how Saudi Arabia is buying media silence. Understandably, the oil-rich country, one of the world's top economic powers, Saudi Arabia has cash that can buy anything and anyone. The problem is, Saudi is at war with not any country but the POOREST Arab country, Yemen - which gives you an idea about the inequality in power in this war. 

C. The misconception that the war in Yemen is based on sectarian lines, as some reporters speak of Iran's role in Yemen war and how the war in Yemen is a proxy war and all that.. then, one reduces the bloodshed in Yemen to a mere Sunnis killing Shi'ites rhetorics. Whoever made you believe that is only doing a lazy journalism. Sectarianism is not the key driver of Yemen war, a super complicated political and economic power struggle is what drove this war to break out from the very beginning. There are many different internal and external actors in Yemen war with many different political agendas - some actors can find a cross-match point where secterian and politica motives meet. 

Q2. How is the press freedom in Yemen today? 

The press in Yemen is in crisis, as everything else is in crisis in the country. The humanitarian crisis could be the worst humanitarian tragedy in the world today, even beyond Syria. Nearly half of Yemen's population, over 14 MILLION people inside Yemen lack food, water, medicine and other basic human needs. No doubt among these millions of people are journalists and writers who are struggling to stay alive. Then, you have that the Houthis have forcibly disappeared and detained many local journalists who tried to expose Houthis-made human rights violations or even simply who want to report about what’s on the ground. Only those journalists who are, or sound like, pro-Houthis and abide by Houthis’ narrative can practice their work safely. It’s important to note that many journalists or commentators try to sound like a pro-Houthis, while not identifying oneself as a pro-Houthis. That’s done because they are scared of Houthis’ oppressive and barbaric rule. So, there is much self-censorship. 

Plus, as the war prolongs, journalists are discarding journalism and turning into armed fighters at frontlines, each motivated by his political affiliation to this or that armed group. 

For international journalists, it's almost impossible to get in Yemen. For more details into this, please check the following tweets: 

And I also co-spoke yesterday at the Book Fair about several aspects of media and Yemen war:

Q3. How is the situation for women's rights in Yemen today? 

Horrible. So far 10 thousand people have been killed in Yemen war, which includes women and children as they are the most vulnerable victims in this war. In light of the horrific humanitarian situation, million of mothers are suffering from malnutrition and therefore can't breastfeed their little babies and therefore both million of mothers and babies are suffering from hunger, which has extremely damaging consequences to their health. Despite that women are directly affected by the war, peace advocate Yemeni women had little, if nothing at all, say in Yemen's previous peace talks. 

Nonetheless, Yemeni women activists are still doing what they can do to end the war. To be a women rights advocate in Yemen today means you are an anti-war activist, an anti-arm-sales activist, among many other forms of activism.

Q4. Has the Arab Spring achieved anything for Yemen?

Both yes and no. As the war rages on in Yemen, it seems foolish to say that Yemen harvested any merits from Yemen's 2011 uprising. It actually did. It started a movement, a process, which calls for civil rights for all Yemenis. This can't be finalized in 2 or 5 years. This will take generations. But on the other hand, Yemenis need the world's solidarity. Yemen can't get back on its feet again, while governments in London and Washington DC are an ally to unjust and oppressive regimes which shape Yemen's politics, and here I can name Saudi Arabia. For a more current example, UK was accused of blocking UN inquiry into claim of war crimes in Yemen. However, there are still ongoing efforts by the Netherlands pushing a UN draft resolution in establishing that independent international committee. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Solidarity with Yemeni Children

Half of Yemen's population are children who are thirsty, hungry for peace, food, education, & above all for the world's solidarity. 

Photos courtesy/ Julien Harneis

Photos courtesy/ Julien Harneis

Photos courtesy/ Julien Harneis

Photos courtesy/ Julien Harneis

Photo courtesy/ UNOCHA

Photo courtesy/ UNOCHA

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The world must save Yemen from this man-made famine

Photo courtesy/ UNICEF
“I wish there is no war in Yemen. I wish that we have electricity and water back and that we live happily. And that we eat until we are full.”

So says a 10-year old Yemeni kid, reflecting on his dreams of a return to peace in war-ravaged Yemen, a conflict that is pushing millions of people into famine, with 320,000 of children already facing severe malnutrition. Despite the lack of specific figures, reports show that a lot of children were born and died during the ongoing conflict due to the collapsing health system and severe malnutrition.

Eighteen months of war has certainly plunged the already impoverished country beyond destitution. The severe impact of the war was well-described last year by Red Cross chief, Peter Maurer, who wrote that, “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.” The scale of devastation is on the rise by the day; there’s a type of death in Yemen which is unmeasurable, since if the bullets and shelling don’t kill you, the lack of food, water and medicine will. I lost count of my relatives, friends and friends’ relatives who have died in the wake of the catastrophic humanitarian situation. In light of Yemen’s failed peace talks and the early warnings of Yemen slipping into famine, Yemenis are unsurprisingly hungry both for food and peace.

Photo courtesy/ Akram Alrasny

Food as a weapon of war

Just as wars are never a coincidence, neither is hunger - it’s man-made. Hunger was already prevalent in Yemen long before war erupted in March 2015. Yemen had been in a state of chronic food insecurity for years, ranking near the bottom of the Human Development Index, while ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh was piling up his wealth in billions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Discussing Yemen is no longer a mere political analysis

Last night I co-spoke in Emmaus Björkå's event. My focus was Yemen. I never was more focused like I was yesterday. Discussing Yemen is no longer a mere political analysis; Discussing Yemen is rather my daily life, my daily calls with shattered family members, relatives, friends, friends of friends and the new Yemeni refugee friends I make along the way. Discussing Yemen is discussing why I have sleepless nights. Discussing Yemen is about why I have this guilt every time I feel full and think of the million children in Yemen who forgot how feeling full used to be. Discussing Yemen is about how I have this guilt every time I get sick and can get medicine while thinking of my fellow Yemenis sieged with no hospitals, and if they can get to the hospital, they can't afford to pay for anything. Discussing Yemen is no longer a mere political analysis, it's rather remembering that fathers today bury their newly-born starved to death babies and can't even afford to buy all gravestones.

My anger is one without scream, my pain is one without tears, for my fellow Yemenis whose blood seems cheaper than the Saudis' cash. So, I spoke last night with a clarity I hope I can keep on holding.

I didn't miss the chance to call on the audience to question what Sweden-made weapon does in Yemen war and many wars in the MENA region. How can Swedes not know how Sweden is investing in conflicts?! hope the audience start to question and be better well-informed citizens and stop the tragedies unfolding in the other corner of the world...coz what happens over there, will, inevitably, backlash.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Yemen & Image Politics: Weapon, Qat & Misogyny

*Visualization is an integral part of how we perceive the world, so visual images about Yemen do construct how Yemen is perceived. That’s the case, as well, in how Yemenis perceive each other. Having said that, I tackle Yemen and Image Politics on two levels. One, how western media use images to portray Yemen? Second, how Yemenis use images to narrate stories about each other. Between the misleading political image and misogynic image, images from Yemen are confusing.

Yemen’s Image in Western Media

It is difficult to tell when exactly the relationship between the western media and the Old Sana’a’s beautiful architecture began. That relationship was contagious that it was duplicated in the Arab media. No doubt that the Old Sana’a’s dazzling architecture is difficult to ignore; but as I just mentioned, it’s called the “Old” Sana’a; meaning that there is a new one. To box all Yemen, with all its cities and diversity, in a bunch of images from the Old Sana’a is not only doing injustice to the rest of Yemen’s cities and their beauty, but it also gives a flawed impression that Yemen is just the Old Sana’a. And when western media wants to dig deeper into Yemenis’ lives, it boxes their lives in limited topics about weapons, tribal culture and Qat, and other easy and repeated topics.

The image of an Arab has always been demeaned in Western media; we are told that we, Arabs are barbarians, terrorists and uncivilised. Yemen falls into that stereotyped image which perhaps can be summarised in the “Salmon Fishing in -the- Yemen” movie. The movie demonstrates to be one of the best movies that wrongly portray Yemen. It’s based on the novel with the same title for a novelist that has never been to Yemen. The movie crew, including the actors and the actresses never been to Yemen, as well. The movie was never shot in Yemen. How can we have a movie depicting a country without touching its ground for real is something I don’t understand!

Images’ Use among Yemenis

As movies are discussed, here is a Yemeni movie that’s one of the best movies that genuinely used images to relate to Yemenis. “I am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced” by the Yemeni filmmaker, Khadija al-Salami is a movie inspired by the book “I Am Nujood, Aged 10 and Divorced” which was about the real story of the Yemeni child Nujood who is believed to be the first Yemeni child to get divorced in Yemen. The movie was shot in Yemen and following its release has won several international awards. The movie is genuine and honest; its message is to raise awareness about the child marriage tragedy in Yemen. Unfortunately, the movie has not been shown in Yemen, due to the absence of established cinema and, most importantly, the consecutive occurrence of armed conflicts and violence, since the release date of the movie in 2014. This made politics dominate any intellectual and cultural debate in the country.

Media in Yemen is obsessed by a political debate that mainly revolves around today’s political leaders. For instance, topics that dominate media in Yemen are the states of the ousted president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, president, Abdurabou Mansour Hadi, and Houthis’ leader, Abdelmalik al Houthi. Images about this or that political leader represent a mirror in which Yemenis see through each other. Polarisation is extreme and any middle ground is inevitably absent.

In this regard, one of the issues that concerned me the most is the issue of Misogyny and how images are used in Yemen’s political debate. Throughout the past 5 years, since the beginning of Yemen’s 2011 uprising, and along the way with my blogging experience, I found one pattern of a concept being repeated whenever images are used and meant to demean a political leader. That is, whenever any political camp wants to insult another political camp, the easiest thing to do is to portray him as a woman. For example, when ousted president Saleh is meant to be demeaned, he’s being portrayed with full make-up and jewellery so he can supposedly look like a woman. In that way, there is an association being drawn between a demeaned status for men and being a female; an expression of an insult is channelled by describing the other as a female.

I collected the following images over the past five years. As the political phases in Yemen develop, Yemen’s social media users seemed busy designing and posting these images - which sometimes found their way to the streets’ protests as posters.