The Story of Yemen

The UN says that Yemen is on the brink of the world’s worst famine in 100 years if the war is to continue. The civil unrest has been going on for a long time with Yemen partaking in the Arab Spring uprisings. However, it escalated into a war in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened. This has had devastating effects on the Yemen population. To this day, the World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of Yemen’s population need humanitarian assistance and protection. Whilst 14.3 million are said to require an acute need of assistance, a further 10 million are considered to be one step away from famine. An estimated 2 million of that figure are said to be children, with 360,000 children under the age of 5 struggling to survive. To make matters worse, an estimated 18 million people do not have enough clean water or access to adequate sanitation. With 20 million people lacking access to adequate healthcare, this has led to a rise in deaths from disease, with 2.2 million suspected cholera cases. However, the effects have not only been in Yemen. An estimated 3.65 million people have been displaced from their homes, with refugees seeking refuge in Oman, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and more. But, how did Yemen get here and what is the world doing to help?

After a wave of pro-democracy uprisings occurred across the Arab world, Yemen’s longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdulah Saleh, stepped down, handing his power over to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. However, Hadi struggled to revive the country which led it to persist through high unemployment and food insecurities. Not only this, but Hadi struggled to achieve the loyalty of his security personnel, who continued to support Saleh. This made it harder for Hadi to prevent attacks by Jihadists and a separatist movement in the south.

With chaos persisting in the country, the Houthi movement decided to take advantage. The movement, which champions Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority, repaired their relationship with former president Saleh in order to take control of the capital and much of the north. With the capital, Saana, and neighbouring areas being seized, the group looked towards taking control of the entire country. This forced Mr Hadi to flee abroad in March 2015. Neighbouring Saudi Arabia saw the Houthis, who were said to be backed by Iran, as a threat to their own security. A rise in the Houthis could be an opportunity for Iran to gain a foothold on their border. As a result of this, Saudi Arabia and 8 other mostly Sunni Arab states, began an air campaign aimed at defeating the Houthis, ending Iranian influence in Yemen and restoring Mr Hadi’s government. 

Whilst it was predicted that the war would only last a few weeks, it continued for years after. In August 2015, coalition ground troops landed in the southern port city of Aden. This helped drive the Houthis and their allies out of the south. Hadi’s government was then able to re-establish a temporary home in Aden. However, the Houthis remained in Sanaa and the north-west of Yemen.

After a deadly clash in 2017, over Sanaa’s biggest mosque, the alliance between the Houthis and Saleh collapsed, with Saleh being killed during the attacks.

In June of 2018, the coalition launched a major offensive to capture the Red Sea city of Hudaydah from the Houthis. This port was a principal lifeline for almost two-thirds of Yemen’s population. The UN said that the port’s destruction would constitute a tipping point beyond which it was going to be impossible to avert massive loss of life due to famine. This led to 6 months of fighting which ended in a ceasefire under the Stockholm Agreement. Under this agreement, both sides had to redeploy forces from Hudaydah, establish a prison exchange mechanism and address the situation in Taiz. Whilst many prisoners went on to be released, forces were not redeployed.

In September 2019, Saudi Arabia’s eastern oil fields of Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by air. This disrupted nearly half of the country’s oil production- representing 5% of global oil output. Whilst the Houthis claimed responsibility for it, Saudi Arabia and the US accused Iran of carrying out the attacks. 

In August of 2019, fighting erupted between the Saudi-backed government forces and the southern separatist movement (Southern Transitional Council, STC). The fighting stopped in November after an agreement was signed. The Riyadh Agreement sought to end a power struggle in the south of Yemen which risked opening a new front in the multifaceted conflict. However, in April 2020, the STC declared self-rule in Aden which broke the agreement.

Fighting between the Houthis and coalition-led forces persisted through the beginning of 2020. However, in April, Saudi Arabia announced a unilateral ceasefire due to the coronavirus. The Houthis went on to reject this, demanding that air and sea blockades needed to be lifted in Sanaa and Hudaydah. 

Whilst fighting persists, Yemenis suffer. Since March 2015, the coalition has conducted numerous indiscriminate airstrikes, using munitions sold by the US, UK and others. This has led to the destruction of civilians and civilian structures. Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented at least 5 unlawful attacks on Yemen fishing boats, by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. In addition to this, HRW have calculated that there has been an average of 12 attacks a day. Many of these attacks have destroyed hospitals, schools, buses, markets, mosques, farms, bridges, factories and detention centres. Whilst in June 2019, the UK government agreed to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the US have continued. In fact, Donald Trump has vetoed any congressional efforts to end US arms sales to Saudi Arabia. This has led to Saudi Arabia being America’s largest weapon buyer. 

In addition to this, the Saudi-led coalition has consistently restricted imports into Yemen. This has made the humanitarian situation worse as fuel tankers have been delayed and diverted, critical ports have been closed and goods have been stopped from entering Houthi-controlled seaports. Similarly, Houthis have continued to impose severe movement restrictions, including the flow of aid into Yemen’s third largest city, Taizz. This has had a devastating impact on the local residents. 

According to ACLED, over 100,000 people have been killed in Yemen, including 12,000 civilians, as well as an estimated 85,000 who have died as a result of the ongoing famine. However, as coronavirus has escalated, the issue of Yemen has been ignored. Countries have had to prioritise themselves so that they can tackle and recover from the pandemic. The economic impact of the virus has meant that aid has not been delivered to Yemen. In fact, the UN has said that 30 out of 41 programmes in Yemen will be closed due to not receiving enough funding.

Whilst several charities continue to prioritise Yemen, through delivering aid and creating awareness, the country is far from being saved. Until countries come back together, through the UN, Yemen will continue to be a war-torn country seeping towards the worst famine in 100 years.

Stonewall Riots

In the early hours of the 28th June, 1969, police raided Stonewall Inn, a popular place among young gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Immediately, they arrested 13 people. These individuals consisted of employees, who had been selling alcohol without a license, and people violating the state’s gender appropriate clothing statute, which disallowed cross dressing. When the officers left the bar, crowds outside became enraged. The police were jeered and many went on to throw coins and debris at them. It got so bad that the police had to barricade themselves inside the bar to await backup. The riots continued for a further 5 days…

During the 1960s, society was not very welcoming to the LGBT community which is why many individuals flocked to gay bars and clubs, as they were able to express themselves and socialise with others, without worrying. During this period, the New York State Liquor Authority, the place to go to for a license to sell alcohol, was very corrupt. Many places were penalised and shut down if they served alcohol to known or suspected LGBT individuals. They perceived homosexual gatherings to be “disorderly.” In 1966, this changed, allowing LGBT bars to start selling alcohol. However, it was still wrong to engage in ‘gay’ behaviour in public. This allowed police to continue to harass gay clubs and bars operating without licenses.

In 1966, the Genovese crime family, one of the five families that dominated crime activities in New York city and New Jersey, purchased the Stonewall Inn. They cheaply renovated it and reopened it the next year, as a gay bar. The bar was said to be a private bottle bar. This meant that it would not need a liquor license as individuals would bring their own liquor. In going to the club, individuals had to sign their names upon entry in order to maintain the club’s false exclusivity. The family, who had connections to dangerous people, would bribe the club’s wealthier guests who wanted to keep their sexuality a secret. In addition to this, the family had connections to people within the police. Many officers had been bribed by the family to ignore activities that were going on within the club. These officers would tip off the mafia bars in advance, which would allow them to stash alcohol that was sold without a license fee.

However, on the night of the raid, the bar had not been tipped off. The invasion of the club led to an uproar among the community. Particularly, among the LGBT community who had little spaces where they were accepted within society. Although this wasn’t the start of the LGBT movement, it was a catalytic force. Many gay rights organisations began as a result of this night and the days which followed it. On the year anniversary of the raid, a march began. The Christopher Street Liberation Day march, named after the epicenter of New York city’s gay community, had an outcome of between 1,000-20,000 people (the number is not known). It started small but as the march walked 51 blocks north, the numbers increased majorly, with people shouting “say it clear, say it loud. Gay is good, gay is proud.” 

On the 2nd of June, 2000, President Bill Clinton declared June as “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month” in order to commemorate the June 1969 Stonewall riots in Lower Manhattan. On the 1st of June, 2009, President Barack Obama expanded the commemoration further by declaring June “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.” The month, to this day, is a reflection of the years of struggle for the civil rights and pursuit of equal justice under the law for the LGBTQ community, as well as a celebration of how far the movement has come. Each year, Pride parades take place across the world in order to celebrate and support the community. Unfortunately, the parade in London has been cancelled this year because of the coronavirus. However, the organisers have pushed people to take digital actions in order to show their support for the movement. 

Society is steadily becoming more accepting. Older generations, and the views of their time, are slowly dying out, which leaves the younger generations to learn from their mistakes and be more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. Whilst it is good to learn from the past, we cannot become fixated on it. Instead of thinking who is to blame, which will cause further divide in society, we need to think ‘what next?’ That way, society will continue to evolve.

“We are the 99%!”

On the 17th of September, 2011, a group of activists took to Wall Street, the finance capital, in order to protest against income inequality across the US. The group, who called themselves Occupy, wanted to draw attention to how the top 1% of the population hold the majority of the world’s wealth, whilst the other 99% struggle to pay off their debts. The movement soon won the hearts of many across the world as within 2 months, around 2,300 other protests began across 2,000 cities worldwide. But, were they successful?

Occupy is the first major public response to thirty years of class war.

Noam Chomsky

When the protestors took to Zuccotti park, after having the police shut down their first two destinations, they were angry. With the 2008 financial crisis still in sight, the protestors felt that they had been sold out. In response to the crisis, many banks were bailed out by the government because they were “too big to fail.” Under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA), the Treasury Secretary was able to buy up to $700 billion of troubled assets in order to restore liquidity to financial markets. In simple terms, the government used their money, much of it being tax revenue, in order to help the large banks out.

The first aim of the movement was to occupy the mainstream. They wanted to do this by first occupying space with tents and people. This was in order to get the attention of the media and henceforth, the global community. The protestors remained in Zuccotti square for just under a month before they were ordered to leave by police due to hazardous and unsanitary conditions. Before this time period, the police were unable to legally remove protestors from the park as it is private property and would require the permission of the owners. When police ordered them to leave, by dismantling tents and removing property, they assured the protestors could come back after the park had been cleared. However, they were told to not come back with camping equipment. Unfortunately, the removal of protesters was not that simple as more people started arriving at the scene after a mass text message was sent out alerting followers of the raid. Many protesters had to be forcibly evicted and many were arrested. This, however, was not the end of Occupy.

As mentioned earlier, the protest blew up across the world with people occupying places like Brooklyn, Long Island, the Bronx and even cities across Europe and Asia. This led to large media coverage across the world with large newspapers like the New York Times adopting language from the movement within their articles. In February 2012, they posted “why Obama will embrace the 99 percent.” By media outlets adopting language from the movement, Occupy became successful in occupying the mainstream.

There was a two to three month period in which the Occupy movement became more pessimistic. People started losing interest as the movement had no clear leadership. In a lot of movements, there is usually a leader who organises everything and ensures the success. However, the whole point of Occupy was to remove the concentration of power from the 1%. If they were to have a leader in the movement, then they would be undermining their argument about control and power. On the other hand, by not having a leader, they did not have organisation as there was not one way to go.

In order to continue to be relevant, the movement decided to diversify their tactics. They began to disrupt auctions where people’s stolen homes were up for sale. By doing this, they were able to expose the heartlessness and inhumanity of the system whilst also offering meaningful solidarity to those being crushed by it. Another way the movement chose to get heard was by going to an Obama campaign. The group had a tactic called ‘Mic Check.’ This was in order to get their voices heard in a large group of people. When ‘Mic Check’ was heard, the movement would listen to one person and repeat what they say in unison, so that more people can hear it. At an Obama campaign, they used this tactic in order to speak to the soon to be President about what they wanted. Within this rally, the group was successful in getting Obama to listen. He responded to them by saying “I appreciate you guys making your point. Let me go ahead and make mine. I’ll listen to you if you listen to me.” 

However, with the process of diversifying tactics, with no clear leadership, violent protests began to erupt. Alongside the peaceful protests came the black bloc, a group consistently categorized as hooligans, thugs and youth who take joy in private property destruction. They were described as being “the cancer of the Occupy movement” by Chris Hedges. These individuals began shattering windows, sending flares and vandalising the streets and local businesses. As always, the press will focus on those within the movement who are causing the most damage as it will get the most views- that’s journalism! Due to this, the media completely changed their opinions on the Occupy movement. Large news outlets like Fox News began calling them “drug addicts” and “terrorists.” This earnt the movement a bad reputation in the mainstream which caused people to dissociate themselves.

Another aim of the movement was to end corporate personhood. This gives corporations rights and responsibilities similar to the natural person, under the law. As a result of this, corporations across the US have a right to free speech under the First Amendment. This gives them limitless individual contributions to political campaigns. Many financial institutions, therefore, began to pour money into the political campaigns for their chosen politician. As the price for campaigning in the US is extremely high, candidates, who want to be successful, are forced into the hands of the corporate sector. When it comes to the primaries, candidates surround their campaign with publicity and advertisement in order to tell people who they are and what they will do. Instead of this, candidates should be communicating with people through having town meetings and discussions. This will enable candidates to understand what the people want in their local area, in the country and with regards to foreign policy. Unfortunately, by collaborating with large banks and corporations, political candidates have to impress them rather than the people, as they are the ones funding their campaign. When Mark Hanna, a great political financier, was asked what is important in politics, he responded “the first is money, the second one is money and I’ve forgotten what the third one is”. This concentration of wealth within the corporate sector is what yields concentration of political power. This then gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle. 

The continuous campaigning to end corporate personhood became successful in 2012 as the New York City Council passed a resolution that opposed it. Resolution 1172 formally expressed disapproval to the landmark US Supreme Court decision which gave corporations the same first amendment rights as people. A statement released after said:

“As our support of this resolution demonstrates, restoring confidence in government and strengthening democratic participation is a core principle of the Progressive Caucus. We believe that corporations should not share the same rights as people, that unlimited and unreported corporate donations meant to sway the electoral process should not be considered freedom of speech, and that the government should regulate the raising and spending of money by corporations intended to influence elections. We cannot allow corporate money to manipulate our democracy.”

This resolution was a major success to Occupy who had been continuously campaigning for this. However, just because they were successful in New York, it did not mean that they had ended corporate personhood. In fact, it is still an ongoing legal debate.

As of 2020, the Occupy movement has died down. It is not expressed in the media and is not a daily conversation that people have with each other. Just because the movement is not spoken about to this day, it does not go to show that they were unsuccessful. In fact, as Noam Chomsky said, their greatest success was simply putting the inequalities of everyday life on the national agenda. Through influencing reporting, the movement was able to change the public perception. In fact, two thirds of the US population now believe that there are very strong/ strong conflicts between the rich and the poor. This was an increase of 19% since 2009. Whilst the movement were unable to achieve all of their aims, they were successful in educating people about the inequalities that persist within society.