• Mahija Ratnoo

The Unforgotten War

While all of us are mere spectators to the international blame game regarding the origin of COVID-19 and the Indian media houses are all the more busy tracking the pace of virus, hardships of people like medical fraternity, migrant workers, there is a part of this very same world lurking under one of the worst humanitarian crisis the world have ever seen.

The story goes back about a decade, it was 2010 when we learned a new phenomenon namely Arab Spring making way to the headlines of the international media.

The Arab Spring or Democracy Spring was a revolutionary wave of both violent and non-violent demonstrations, protests, riots, coups and civil wars in North Africa and the Middle East, challenging some of the region’s entrenched authoritarian regimes.

Why the name ‘Arab Spring’?

The name "Arab Spring” is a reference to the Revolutions of 1848, also known as the “People’s Spring”, when political upheavals swept Europe. Ever since, “spring” has been used to describe movements toward democracy like Czechoslovakia’s 1968 “Prague Spring.” Western media began popularizing the term “Arab Spring” in 2011.

It all started from Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, on December17, 2010, with the self immolation of an unemployed youth named Mohammed Bouazizi a fruit seller, who was enraged with officials demanding bribes and confiscating his merchandise. This inspired many Tunisians to take on the streets against high unemployment, poverty and political repression under the Ben Ali regime. The government attracted severe international criticism over the deaths of protestors in clashes with the police. With increasing pressure and failure of the government to quell the unrest, the Tunisian government was finally dissolved and Ben Ali stepped down as president, leaving the country.

The apparent success of the popular uprising in Tunisia inspired similar movements in a number of other North African and Middle Eastern countries, casting doubt on the stability of some of the region’s longest-standing regimes. In the weeks following the uprising in Tunisia, countries including Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Yemen, Iran, Bahrain, Syria, and Libya experienced significant mass demonstrations demanding political change. But except Tunisia, the country-specific stories of the Arab uprising were tragic, either the regime was toppled or major uprisings or social violence occurred, including civil wars or insurgencies.

Inspired by the successes of Tunisians and Egyptians, thousands of protestors gathered in Sanaa ( capital of Yemen ) and other prominent Yemeni cities. They raised voice against the rampant poverty and corruption, demanding democracy in the country and called the then President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. The protests, unlike Tunisia or Egypt, were peaceful as it was guided by a systematic centralized leadership.

The not so convincing concessions offered by Saleh and the repeated reneging by Saleh to avoid his exit triggered widespread protests resulting in Yemenis bifurcated into pro and against Saleh factions. The violence inflicted by the Pro Saleh faction on the protestors was condemned to an extent that Saleh lost support within his own government and protestors garnered support from army units too.

The Saleh supportive military was called in the capital from the outlying provinces, exposing them to militant groups. The long-simmering Houthi rebellion under the leadership of Abdul Malik al-Houthi ( started dating back in 1979 ) gained strength in North Yemen, while in South Yemen province of Abyan fighters belonging to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) took control. With multiple players in action, Yemen seemed to edge closer to a civil war.

The built up pressure resulted in elections and Abdul Rabbuh Mansur Hadi became the new President. However the government continued to face challenges from Houthi rebels and Islamist militants and also from the dismal state of the economy, adding to these it faced a new wave of public discontent, riding on which Houthi rebels overran Sanaa, such forays into territory far from their northern stronghold brought them into conflict with other Yemeni factions like AQAP. Houthi control over Sanaa forced the President Hadi flee to seek international military intervention from Saudi Arabia. Intervention came in late March 2015, when Saudi Arabia and a hastily assembled international coalition (the Saudi-led coalition) initiated bombing raids to restore Hadi’s rule but also killed thousands of civilians and did massive damage to Yemen’s infrastructure but failed to loosen the Houthis’ grip on the capital.

So what actually is happening in Yemen ?

There are 3 fronts opened up in Yemen presently :

1. US-Saudi Arab alliance

Since March 2015 when Saudi along with its allies started intervention in Yemen, US (Obama administration) gave its full support providing with American weapons, training and intelligence assistance in the name of teaching Saudis how to avoid civilian casualties. However, the ground reality contradicts US claims heavily.

The figures of civilian fatalities are horrifying, an estimate claims to have recorded more than 100,000 fatalities, including 12,000 civilians killed in direct attacks and also significantly damaged country’s crucial infrastructures. According to the data collected by Al Jazeera and the Yemen Data Project has found that more than 18,000 air attacks have been carried out in Yemen, with almost one-third of all bombing missions striking non-military sites.

2. US-Iran Hostility

Partially nested within this first conflict is the US-Iran confrontation on the introduction of anti-ship weaponry by Iran that imperils global trade and freedom of commerce through the Bab al-Mandeb strait.

3. US led anti al-Qaeda campaign

Finally, there is the U.S.-led campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which began to ramp up again in the last year of the Obama administration and which has gathered momentum in the first few months of the Trump administration. Trump administration is trying to intensify its efforts to counter al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But the Trump administration will try to do so in such a way as to convince both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about the seriousness with which the US wants to contain the Iranian spread and also providing a safe by-pass route for Saudi to come clean out of the mess it created in Yemen.

So this is all that have been happening on the battlefield so far. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Stay tuned as my next post will dig deeper to reveal lot more, which is going on at the backstage of this war scene!

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