By Magnus Lundström
Western media and society have a tendency to focus on one thing at the time. In most instances, their choice is of the most pressing and current issue in the world. Or more accurately: the most pressing and current issue in the western world. This is of course natural and understandable. Readers and viewers tend to lose interest in certain issues fast. The news value of the usual story plunge within a week or two, and the focus shifts to another place in the world. There are plenty of examples of this.
For instance, it was not easy to compete against the American election, when it comes to news coverage. However, some places do not get any attention whatsoever. And if they do, it is – in most cases – unspecified, limited, or vague. One clear example is found in the Middle East. Ever since the civil war in Syria started back in 2011, events in the country have gained a great deal of attention. This only increased with the rise of the so called Islamic State (especially after the Charlie Hebdo-attacks), with the Russian involvement, and with the huge stream of refugees to Europe. Only this December, the terror-bombing of Aleppo grabbed plenty of headlines. In addition to that, information about the horrible conditions under which many civilians lived under was spread on social media by engaged souls.
On the other side of the Arabian Peninsula, however, the country of Yemen is located. Yemen’s situation is, in many ways, quite similar to Syria’s; fighting including numerous actors, both domestic and international, has been tearing the country apart. There are multiple acts in the Yemeni tragedy. In 2009, the then Yemeni government started fighting AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) on a larger scale with support from the American government, as a part of the “War on Terror.” As in most cases when it comes to the War on Terror, this conflict consisted of drone strikes, suicide bombings and large civilian casualties. Also, Yemen was hit by the Arabic Spring in 2011, which led to the resignation of the then president Saleh. However, things were just starting in Yemen.
The rebel group Ansruallah was formed in the mid-1990s by a man called Husein Badr al Din al-Houthi. The group is often known under its former leaders’ name; as the Houthis. The group received attention for making anti-American, and anti-Israeli declarations in 2003. In the same year, the founder was killed in combat with the government. Their goal was to overrun the government and improve living conditions for the group of Houthis in Yemen’s southern parts, who predominantly are Shia Muslims. Thus, besides governmental power and access to resource wealth, this conflict has religious factors too, since the Houthi’s enemies in the government are predominantly Sunni Muslim. In 2014, the Houthi leader, Abd-al-Malik al-Houthi demanded the resignation of the resignation of the new president, Hadi. A swift offensive by the Houthis followed, and in September 2014, they controlled the capital, Sanaa. Hadi fled to the city of Aden in the south, and started ruling therefrom. He refused to recognize the new government in Sanaa. In February 2015, a coalition of the Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, decided to take measures in order to reinstate Hadi as president of Yemen. The rivalry between the two giants of the Middle East could now be seen clear. Iran supported the Shia Muslim Houthi-government, whereas Saudi Arabia allied themselves with the former Sunni Muslim president.
Yemen is suffering from a brutal, internationalized civil war. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the Saudi-led coalition is causing the most civilian deaths (by the end of October 2016, an estimated 4,100 civilians had been killed). The BBC reported on January 17th, 2017, that the UN now estimates casualties over 10,000 people, and that 40,000 have been injured. And if this was not bad enough, there is a heavy shortage of food in the country, and a peaceful resolution is not in sight. Amidst this conflict, AQAP as well as a section of the so called Islamic State are gaining territory and power, and entrenching their positions. One can wonder why this “forgotten war of the Middle East” is attracting so limited attention. Is it just because of the civil war in Syria, its atrocities and refugees? Is it because that the warring parties do not go viral? Or is it so far away that it is not relevant? One can also ask the rather provoking question: would we, in the West, have cared even without a civil war in Syria? I fear not.
By Magnus Lundström
Banner photo Ibrahem Qasim