Doc­u­men­tary screen­ing on Ye­men

Doc­u­men­tary screen­ing and Ye­menite stu­dent shed light on ig­nored cri­sis

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Omar Arafeh The Mcgill Daily

On March 13, the Mcgill Syr­ian Stu­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, and the World Is­lamic and Mid­dle Eastern Stu­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion hosted speaker Ala’a Ahmed and screened the FRONT­LINE PBS doc­u­men­tary “In­side Ye­men” to raise aware­ness on the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in Ye­men. Ahmed was one of the or­ga­niz­ers dur­ing Ye­men’s up­ris­ing in 2011. He is cur­rently pur­su­ing a Master’s de­gree in Po­lit­i­cal Science at Con­cor­dia Univer­sity, after com­ing to Canada as a refugee. He also co-founded a me­dia ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion called Sup­port­ye­men.

The doc­u­men­tary, re­leased in July 2017, fo­cuses on the com­plete lack of com­pen­sa­tion for work­ers in Ye­men due to the con­flict and its ef­fects on their daily lives: “[It was] the first time all em­ploy­ees in the coun­try re­ceive [...] coupons be­cause we have not re­ceived a salary,” says one man in­ter­viewed in a gro­cery store. Garbage work­ers were not paid, leav­ing the streets filled with garbage that has caused bac­te­ria to col­lect and in­fil­trate the wa­ter. This has ef­fec­tively led to a cholera epi­demic, leav­ing many hos­pi­tal­ized for ex­treme de­hy­dra­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, there are over 300,000 cases of cholera and 1,600 ac­counts of death by cholera as of mid-2017. Ac­cord­ing to a nurse in­ter­viewed in the doc­u­men­tary, the num­ber of mal­nu­tri­tion cases has dou­bled since the war be­gan.

Miryama Ab­du­laziz, one of the hosts, ex­plained that the event’s goal was to shed light on what is hap­pen­ing in Ye­men, and raise funds for Mona Relief.” This or­ga­ni­za­tion fo­cuses on relief, giv­ing peo­ple food, medicine, blan­kets, and other ba­sic sup­plies.

Ab­du­laziz fur­ther de­scribed that, “each fam­ily re­ceives a bas­ket for the price of $30-35 USD, [which] con­tains wheat, sugar, rice, oil, and pow­dered milk — enough for a fam­ily of six to eight peo­ple for one month.” Since 2015, the or­ga­ni­za­tion it­self has been “able to sup­port more than 40,000 peo­ple as of July 2017.”

After Ab­du­laziz’s in­ter­ven­tion, Ahmed de­scribed his ex­pe­ri­ence in Ye­men dur­ing the 2011 up­ris­ing.

“The per­fect places for us to go [for protests] were the uni­ver­si­ties where more ac­tive young peo­ple were. [...] Ev­ery­thing we did was vol­un­tary, we worked hard to­gether to build tents and to have sit-ins, but the govern­ment cracked down, and with more peo­ple be­ing hurt or killed, the more in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion there was to our cause.”

Ahmed then re­counted the po­lit­i­cal events that led to the hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter that plagues Ye­men to­day. Saudi Ara­bia and the US cam­paigned an ini­tia­tive to pro­pose that the for­mer pres­i­dent, Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh, step down. They of­fered Saleh im­mu­nity ac­cord­ing to the agree­ment, and pro­posed that his vice pres­i­dent Ab­dul Man­sour Hadi lead the tran­si­tional pe­riod as pres­i­dent, from 2012 to 2014. Saleh, un­will­ing to lose power, formed an al­liance with the Houthis, a po­lit­i­cal re­li­gious group from North­ern Ye­men in 2015. He man­aged to take over Sana’a, the coun­try’s cap­i­tal city. Hadi took refuge in the port city of Aden caus­ing the out­break of the war.

In March 2015, Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates launched a mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion to re­store Hadi to power. But the war set­tled into a stale­mate. “Of­fi­cially the Houthis re­main in con­trol of Sanaa, the cap­i­tal, and much of the North, while the Saudi-uae coali­tion con­trols much of the South,” Ahmed added, “A com­pre­hen­sive SaudiUAE block­ade and air cam­paign has caused famine con­di­tions, the spread of com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases such as cholera, and a wave of in­ter­nal dis­place­ment.”

He then ex­panded on the flow of in­for­ma­tion in and out of Ye­men: “both the Houthis and Saudi-uae coali­tion tightly con­trol ac­cess for jour­nal­ists, with the me­dia cen­ter­ing its at­ten­tion on an Ira­nian- Saudi proxy war.” Saudi-backed me­dia claims that Iran sup­ports Houthis fight­ers, while the op­pos­ing side of­fers a vi­sion of Saudi ad­ven­tur­ism.

The war has four main axes of mo­tion. Ahmed ex­panded on each of them: “the first and most fa­mil­iar [axis] is es­sen­tially a north­ern con­flict with forces aligned with for­mer pres­i­dent Saleh and his for­mer al­lies the Houthis, against the Saudi backed coali­tion forces loyal to the dis­placed tran­si­tional pres­i­dent Hadi. [Sec­ond, is the] strong sep­a­ratist move­ment in the South of Ye­men [...] and a de­vel­op­ing con­flict be­tween the se­ces­sion­ist south­ern tran­si­tional coun­cil and pres­i­dent Hadi’s govern­ment.the third axis is an in­creas­ingly ac­tive ji­hadist move­ment.”

The fourth axis re­volves around re­gional pol­i­tics. “Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE have dif­fer­ent in­ter­ests in [ Ye­men] [...] with Saudi Ara­bia be­ing more fo­cused on airstrikes and tar­get­ing the Houthis, while the UAE is more fo­cused on the South and sup­port­ing the sep­a­ratist move­ment,” ex­plained Ahmed.

Saudi airstrikes of­ten tar­get schools. “Youth in Ye­men who com­prise 75 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion are de­nied an ed­u­ca­tion and mean­ing­ful ac­tion to po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses,” stated Ahmed, adding that the dis­ap­pointed youth were left with few op­tions but to join ei­ther side of the con­flict.

Ahmed then put the con­flict into geo­graphic con­text, ex­plain­ing that Saudi Ara­bia con­trols al­most all land and sea bor­ders sur­round­ing Ye­men. This means it con­trols ev­ery­thing that goes in­side the coun­try, some­times tak­ing med­i­cal equip­ment away in metic­u­lous searches of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid pack­ages.

“One of the rea­sons [ they do this] is to frus­trate the peo­ple. The Houthis are not the ac­tual govern­ment in the coun­try, and the less ser­vices pro­vided and the more frus­trated the peo­ple are, [...] [ the] eas­ier [ it is] to get some kind of up­ris­ing against the Houthis from [ the] in­side.”

Jeeda Is­mail, the pres­i­dent of the Syr­ian Stu­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion, ex­plained the group’s in­volve­ment in the event. “The rea­son [ why] many of us at the SSA were pas­sion­ate about this ini­tia­tive is be­cause we em­pathize and un­der­stand the strug­gles with our broth­ers and sis­ters in Ye­men. We can only imag­ine the suf­fer­ing they’re go­ing through and it’s very fa­mil­iar to us with ev­ery­thing hap­pen­ing in Syria. There’s lim­ited me­dia cov­er­age on it and no clubs in Mcgill are ad­dress­ing this is­sue.”

Ahmed was “happy to share [his] own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence as an ac­tivist who is in­volved and who is liv­ing in Canada.” He ex­plains that “the war is never talked about in the me­dia and [he] wanted to bring some at­ten­tion to it. How­ever, he con­cludes “the most out­stand­ing chal­lenge is that Ye­men has frac­tured in ways that will make any ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment ex­tremely chal­leng­ing and fragile. [...] Reach­ing an end to the war will be dif­fi­cult, and do­ing so will only be the first step in a very dif­fi­cult re­con­struc­tion process.”

“[It was] the first time all em­ploy­ees in the coun­try re­ceive [...] coupons be­cause we have not re­ceived a salary.”

- Anony­mous

“The per­fect places for us to go [for protests] were the uni­ver­si­ties where more ac­tive young peo­ple were. [...] Ev­ery­thing we did was vol­un­tary, we worked hard

- Ala’a Ahmed, speaker and or­ga­nizer of the 2011 Ye­men re­volt

“Both the Houthis and Saudi-uae coali­tion tightly con­trol ac­cess for jour­nal­ists, with the me­dia cen­ter­ing its at­ten­tion on an Ira­nian-saudi proxy war.”

- Ala’a Ahmed, speaker and or­ga­nizer of the 2011 Ye­men re­volt

“Youth in Ye­men who com­prise 75 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion are de­nied an ed­u­ca­tion and mean­ing­ful ac­tion to po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses.”

- Ala’a Ahmed, speaker and or­ga­nizer of the 2011 Ye­men re­volt

“Many of us at the SSA were pas­sion­ate about this ini­tia­tive is be­cause we em­pathize and un­der­stand the strug­gles with our broth­ers and sis­ters in Ye­men. We can only imag­ine the suf­fer­ing they’re go­ing through and it’s very fa­mil­iar to us with ev­ery­thing hap­pen­ing in Syria. There’s lim­ited me­dia cov­er­age on it and no clubs in Mcgill are ad­dress­ing this is­sue.” -

Jeeda Is­mail, pres­i­dent of the SSA

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