Yemen is finally getting some media attention. The country is falling apart. One of the most beautiful countries in the world is falling apart (when it comes to beauty of the nature and architecture – Yemen is the shining jewel). Photos by the great Steve McCurry (throughout this post) are here to remind us of that beauty.
Yemen was for centuries the center of civilization and wealth on the Arabian peninsula. The Romans referred to the area as Arabia Felix, or “Happy Arabia.” Tim Mackintosh-Smith writes in Yemen: The Unknown Arabia: “Yemen…had something of a Dictionary Land about it: as well as the talking hoopoes and dambusting rodents, men chewed leaves and camels lived on fish; they (the men) wore pinstriped lounge-suit jackets on top, skirt below, and wicked curved daggers in the middle; the cities seemed to have been baked, not built, of iced gingerbread; Yemen was part of Arabia but the landscape looked like… well, nowhere else on Earth.”
Unfortunately, Yemen is now not in the news because of its beauty. This week, Saudi Arabia and other regional allies launched a military campaign in Yemen targeting Houthi rebels. The Saudi-led airstrikes are intended to thwart the Houthis’ advance after seizing control of the capital Sana’a last year and deposing President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi last month. Hadi called for international intervention on his behalf earlier this week. There are conflicting reports over his whereabouts as Houthis advance on his outpost of Aden. Unconfirmed statements say Hadi has fled Yemen by boat. The Houthi-run Health Ministry says the strikes have killed at least 20 civilians in Sana’a and wounded 30 others. The Saudi government says it has consulted “very closely” with the White House on its military campaign.
In an apparent reference to Iran, the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the operation aimed to counter the “aggression of Houthi militias backed by regional powers.” Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV reported that the kingdom was contributing one hundred warplanes to operation Storm of Resolve and more than eighty were provided by the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan.
This week, Democracy Now! hosted a discussion with Iona Craig, a journalist who was based in Sana’a for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London. When asked how this crisis ocurred, Craig said it was something like “a car crash in slow motion, to watch it.”
She continued to say: “This has come after the Arab Spring in 2011. When Ali Abdullah Saleh signed over power, he was granted immunity from that point, and he was allowed to stay in Yemen. And so, he was allowed to still continue in politics, really, and keep manipulating as he always had done, but from then on from the side. And really, this was—then seemed to be a plan of action then to use the Houthis as a way of almost getting revenge against Islah, Yemen’s equivalent to the Muslim Brotherhood, and creating this scenario that we are now in, in Yemen. And Hadi has been forced into a corner as a result of all of this. So it’s really as a result of events after the Arab Spring and the transition deal that was then signed, that didn’t address the grievances of the Houthis or the Southern Movement and others. And despite the international community pushing on with the transition, it was almost inevitable that this was going to come to a head at some point.”
Last week, a prominent Yemeni journalist, Abdul Kareem al-Khaiwani, was assassinated in the capital Sana’a. He was reportedly shot dead near his home by gunmen riding a motorbike. “He was a Houthi supporter and activist, but he was much more than that… A very outspoken voice for a long, long time against the old regime and against Ali Abdullah Saleh. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for his assassination, but, really, it’s got to be viewed as a politically motivated assassination“, Craig said.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled North Yemen from 1978 before heading the united republic, has over the years spent most of his political capital consolidating his position rather than knitting together a stable state. In 2012, the Yemeni parliament passed a law that granted Saleh immunity from being prosecuted and he left Yemen for treatment in the United States. Saleh stepped down and formally ceded power to his deputy Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi. Saleh came back to Yemen after his treatment in the USA and continued his manipulative politics. All in all – poverty, corruption and the hopelessly weak rule of law form the backdrop to al-Qaeda’s entry into Yemen.
Last year, Vice News took a look at how Yemen’s embattled government is dealing with sectarian rivalries, CIA drone strikes, and one of al Qaeda’s most sophisticated branches. Here’s the video Yemen: A Failed State.
I truly hope there is a way for Yemen, its people, its natural beauty, its architecture and rich history – to stay safe, to stay in one piece.
/all photos © Steve McCurry/