Six months into their bombing campaign against Yemen, Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and U.S. President Barack Obama will hold a Washington, D.C. meeting later this week—the monarch's first since taking the throne.
The world leaders will be confronted by protests and petitions denouncing the two countries' "special relationship," which rights campaigners say is driving the rising civilian death toll in Yemen—and war and sectarianism across the Middle East.
"Twenty-four million people are slowly dying and that is at the hands of the United States government for backing Saudi Arabia's illegal war in Yemen," Rooj Alwazir, a Yemeni activist currently based in the U.S. who co-founded Support Yemen Media, told Common Dreams.
"Saudi Arabia is engaging in war crimes and the United States is blatantly supporting it," Alwazir continued. "In addition to the bombs being rained down over the entire 24 million people, 21 million have no access to humanitarian aid—that's 80% of the population. If the U.S. were serious about peace and democracy, it would stop supporting and empowering murderous dictators and end the siege immediately."
A new U.S.-based coalition was formed this week for the explicit purpose of "ending the U.S.-Saudi alliance." Co-founded by the Institute for Gulf Affairs, the Middle East Crisis Committee, CODEPINK, and Peace Action, the alliance is planning to protest the king's visit. In addition, it has already launched a petition pressing the U.S. government to "stop supporting Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Tyrannies."
"Saudi Arabia is engaging in war crimes and the United States is blatantly supporting it."
—Rooj Alwazir, Support Yemen MediaThe initiative was launched amid increasingly dire conditions on the ground in Yemen. In addition to the now more than 4,500 people killed and 23,400 wounded, Yemen is "on the brink of famine," the UN recently warned. The Saudi coalition is enforcing a naval blockade while bombing civilian residences and infrastructure, including a water bottling factory and warehouses storing humanitarian aid—thereby worsening the food and water crises.
The coalition's pattern of killing civilians has been documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Yemenis themselves, who have repeatedly taken to the streets to protest the bombings. In an article published Tuesday in The Intercept, journalist Iona Craig confirmed this trend, noting that "from the northern province of Saada to the capital Sanaa, from the central cities of Taiz and Ibb to the narrow streets at the heart of Aden, scores of airstrikes have hit densely populated areas, factories, schools, civilian infrastructure and even a camp for displaced people."
While the U.S. claims it is not formally part of the coalition, it is providing direct supporting including logistics and intelligence assistance for the strikes, enforcing the naval blockade with its warships, and serving as major weapons suppliers for the campaign.
But the U.S.-Saudi relationship goes beyond the war on Yemen, stretching back seven decades, and is anchored by trade in oil and weapons, as well as joint military operations. In 2014, Saudi Arabia was the number one weapons trading partner with the United States.
Earlier this year, when Obama prepared to cement his relationship with Salman, then a new king, the U.S. president told CNN he would not challenge the country's domestic human rights track record: "Sometimes we have to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns that we have in terms of countering terrorism or dealing with regional stability."
Rights campaigners say that both countries are, in fact, collaborating on horrific human rights abuses.
"Right now it is becoming much more clear to everyone that this alliance has caused a lot of instability and has led to death and destruction across the region," Ali Al Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, told Common Dreams. "There has already been a lot of interest in our coalition, and we expect more to join our cause."