Yemen’s Civil War Now Has Three Sides

May 6, 2020

The Southern Transitional Council wants the city of Aden to secede, the Saudi coalition is breaking up, and the Houthis say they weren't informed of the US-brokered ceasefire.

The Southern Transitional Council wants the city of Aden to secede, the Saudi coalition is breaking up, and the Houthis say they weren't informed of the US-brokered ceasefire.


Members of Yemen's Southern Transitional Council, STC, forces are seen in Aden, Yemen, on April 26, 2020. Xinhua via Getty Images

Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Kim Brown: Welcome to The Real News, I’m Kim Brown. As the holy month of Ramadan comes to Yemen, the likelihood of peace seems further away now than it did before. The civil war which has been raging there between two sides, has seemingly transformed now into a three-sided war. This is because the Saudi coalition is splitting apart. While the Yemeni government in Sana’a remains loyal to Saudi Arabia, the southern separatist council, which is supported by the UAE, has now announced its decision to secede from Yemen and turn the port city of Aden into its capital. Abu Hammam Al-Ba`wah is the head of the Southern resistance forces and explained why the separation took place.

Abu Hammam Al-B…: We support the taking over of government institutions so that they won’t abuse the south financially or administratively.

Kim Brown: People living in Aden seem to support the separation, or at the very least, this is what they dare to say right now. Let’s hear from [Sola Abid 00:01:10], who was a resident of Aden.

Sola Abid: There is complete support from all the Southern sects, the residents, military commanders, tribal leaders, and other important people. They all support this decision, despite it coming a little late.

Kim Brown: Yemen has been ravaged by a civil war that claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people since 2015, and which the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. A unilateral ceasefire was announced in early April, but it didn’t last. And meanwhile, the first cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in Yemen. Joining us today to discuss this is Shireen Al-Adeimi. She is an assistant professor of education at Michigan State University. Shireen was born in Yemen and she has lived in the US for over the past 10 years. She joins us today from Lansing, Michigan. Shireen, thank you so much for joining us.

Shireen Al-Adei…: Thanks for having me.

Kim Brown: So U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, complained that the Southern separatists counsel’s declaration came at a bad time, and he alleges that it sabotages the US efforts to achieve a ceasefire. So in your opinion, is the US really trying to achieve a ceasefire in Yemen?

Shireen Al-Adei…: I don’t even know where to begin with Pompeo’s statement. The US is very much part of the Saudi-led coalition. So ostensibly, this is the civil war between various forces in Yemen. But since the Saudi Arabian coalition began intervening in 2015, I don’t think it’s fair to characterize it as a civil war any longer, given how much intervention, foreign intervention, there has been. And part of that foreign intervention is the United States, a big part of it. So the US has been supporting the Saudi allies militarily and logistically and in various other ways. And so for them to claim that this is impeding any efforts, peace efforts or anything like that, it’s hypocritical, to be honest. They are a party in the war, so them calling out other parties of the war makes no sense to me at all.

Kim Brown: So this is the second time during the war in which tensions rose between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and clearly a proxy war is being waged in Yemen. Can you give us some background, I guess? And I know it’s a very complex, complicated issue, but as best as you can, can you help boil down the diverging interests that are occurring in Yemen but have its origins in both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates?

Shireen Al-Adei…: Sure. So I guess going back to 2011 during the Arab Spring, the fallout of the Arab Spring when Yemenis were among the nations who revolted against their then-president and dictator, Saleh, was that he resigned eventually and transferred power to his vice president, whose name is Hadi. Hadi is currently be UN-recognized president of Yemen. Hadi unfortunately wasn’t able to accomplish any of the goals set out by the agreement. And within three years, the Houthi rebels in Northern Yemen, who had long clashed with the government of Yemen staged a coup and that forced him in 2015 out of the capital Sana’a [inaudible 00:04:29]. And since then he’s been mostly based in Saudi Arabia. So the Saudi-led coalition and the Yemeni government does not have control over the Sana’a, the capital, or over most of the Northern Yemen, where about 70% of the population lives.

So since then, the Saudi-led intervention, which is again comprised of the UAE and various other countries in the region as well as the US and the UK, have waged this attack, essentially this bombing campaign and a blockade, ostensibly to restore Hadi to power. They’re very concerned apparently with the stability of Yemen and with making sure that whoever’s in power in Yemen is somebody who’s loyal to Saudi Arabia, as Hadi has been. And that led to clashes with the Houthis and other groups in Yemen.

And since then, it’s been five years. The Saudi-led coalition controls most of former South Yemen and the Houthis control most of the former North Yemen. And the situation of course is ongoing. The bombardment is ongoing. The blockade is ongoing. The UAE is part of that coalition, but it began supporting a separatist movement in the South. And this is what we see playing out right now. So South Yemen, there’s a group actually within South Yemen who wants to go back to historical separation, which happened under colonialism, and they’ve declared [inaudible 00:05:56] or autonomous rule, within the South and the UAE, which is part of this Saudi-led coalition is in fact financially supporting them, has been supporting them since 2017.

Kim Brown: So what has all of this meant for the people of Yemen? As you mentioned that the country was under a blockade, we have seen pictures of Yemeni starving, people going without basic supplies. And especially as we are dealing with a global pandemic in COVID-19, what is the status of people who are living in Yemen, living under this civil war and now dealing with the additional pressures of a virus?

Shireen Al-Adei…: Right. So the bombing campaign has essentially rendered the healthcare system dysfunctional. So about 50% of hospitals have been bombed and the other 50% are barely hanging on. Because of the blockade that’s imposed by the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, medicine and food isn’t able to enter the country without restrictions. And so a country that relied on importing 90% of its food is now relying on barely 20% of aid coming into the country. Speaking of the aid, currently, the agencies like USAID and the World Food Program have massively cut their aid toward Yemen, which means that they’ve exasperated this starvation that Yemenis have been going through. The numbers, we don’t even know how this is effecting Yemeni’s number-wise, but we have one report from back in 2018 that estimated that 85,000 children have already starved to death. If a child was starving every 10 minutes, dying of malnutrition or starvation or diseases, then the numbers that we’re going to have in the end are really brutal and horrific. So they far outweigh the hundred thousand people who’ve already been killed in the violence.

And now with the advent of COVID-19, there have been six confirmed cases in Yemen, and as of today two confirm deaths in South Yemen. All of these cases have been in South Yemen. But the fear is that they’re really not able to test or track or treat any of these people, because they’re already dealing with so much disease. For example, cholera, the biggest outbreak in the world, dengue fever, swine flu and other epidemics. And so this on top of everything and on top of the functioning healthcare system, it’s really pushed Yemen to the brink. And it could already be … There are reports saying that this could already be spreading undetected in Yemen. Again, there’s not an efficient way to manage the spread or to even test. And as of today, the WHO is … The UN is warning that the WHO might suspend of the services in Yemen due to lack of funding. And so without the WHO’s help, there’s really no way to track or to treat coronavirus in Yemen.

Kim Brown: So I wanted to circle back to the announcement of the succession and the Southern separatists’ decision to create, I guess, a separate state from the rest of the country. Do the residents in the Southern part of the nation … Is this their choice or is this something that they are being made to go along with? And what is the likelihood that the Southern separatists seceding from the rest of the nation … Will that have an impact on the civil war in a way that could hopefully bring it to an end?

Shireen Al-Adei…: If this were still a civil war, I think it would bring it to an end because essentially the Saudi-led coalition controls, or you could say the Hadi government controls the south part of Yemen and the Houthis North Yemen. But again, because this isn’t truly a civil war anymore, the impact is going to be different. And so the Southern Transitional Council has roots from back in 2007 when the [inaudible 00:10:07] movement was formed, the separatist movement. And it wasn’t really formed in 2007 out of nowhere. These are grievances that people in the South have had since 1994. North and South Yemen united in 1990, and within four years the unity was dissolved and it led to a war between North and South Yemen. Many in the South feel like we’ve been forced back into unity with the North.

And so tensions have been there, have been simmering, and have been festering for a long time. And fast forward to 2017, when initially the separatists were working with the Hadi-led government in the South against Houthis, but in 2017 there were clashes among these two groups and they officially formed the Southern Transition Council, whose goal is to secede. Now, the fact that the UAE’s supporting them financially speaks to this old-age divide and conquer kind of issue among colonizers. And so the UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition who is saying that they want to reinstate the UN-recognized government to power, yet the UAE is also supporting a separatist group.

And so they want to secede. They’ve agreed to an to a peace deal back in August 2019. Now they’re declaring autonomous rules. What that means is unclear. They do have a lot of support in Aden, specifically, but not necessarily in the rest of the Southern provinces. The rest of the Southern provinces either support Hadi or are anti-coalition. And so it’s really hard to kind of characterize it in one way. There’s not one group, two groups. There are several groups, just like any other country. You can’t bring ten Americans together and have them agree on anything politics-wise. It’s the same way in Yemen. But with all of this foreign intervention going on, it’s harder for Yemenis to come to the table among themselves and decide what’s best for them, when you have the UAE and Saudi Arabia and the US essentially controlling what’s going on, funding various groups directly involved in the war in Yemen. It’s very difficult for locals to get together and decide what’s best for them.

Kim Brown: We’ve been speaking today with Shireen Al-Adeimi. She is an assistant professor of education at Michigan State University. She’s also a Yemeni native. And we’ve been talking about the ongoing tribulations and difficulties, challenges, a myriad of those facing people living in Yemen in the announcement of the secession of the Southern separatists. This is in addition to the ongoing proxy war masking as a civil war in that nation. Thank you so much for joining us, Shireen.

Shireen Al-Adei…: Thanks for having me.

Kim Brown: And thank you all for watching The Real News Network.