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Yemen Can't Wait: Why a Global Day of Action Has Created a Chance for Change

Joe Biden has suggested a new direction on Yemen—we must seize the opportunity to protest in his first week as US President to make sure he keeps his promise.  

Supporters of Yemen's Huthi rebels march with banners during a rally denouncing the United States and the outgoing Trump administration's decision to apply the "terrorist" designation to the Iran-backed movement, in the Huthi-held capital Sanaa on January 25, 2021. (Photo: MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Supporters of Yemen's Huthi rebels march with banners during a rally denouncing the United States and the outgoing Trump administration's decision to apply the "terrorist" designation to the Iran-backed movement, in the Huthi-held capital Sanaa on January 25, 2021. (Photo: MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP via Getty Images)

P TO a quarter of a million people have died as result of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen. The UN believes the war and the accompanying blockade threaten 24 million people with acute food shortages.

Yemen has experienced the worst cholera outbreak anywhere in the world for decades while the Covid-19 situation in the country remains unclear because the health system has been pulverised.

Yet the war on Yemen is a largely unreported catastrophe. The problem for the Western media is that this is a disaster whose roots lie in Western foreign policy.

As Jan Egeland, the council’s secretary-general and a former UN humanitarian relief official said recently, “Yemenis aren’t falling into starvation, they are being pushed into the abyss by men with guns and power.”

Everyone who wants to see an end to the hidden savagery of this war should get involved one way or another.

Saudi Arabia is the biggest recipient of arms sales from both the US and Britain.

In the nearly six years since the start of the war both countries have increased their support for Saudi Arabia, diplomatically, politically and militarily.

Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has had red carpet receptions in both Washington and Whitehall in the intervening years.

Though government spokespeople deny direct involvement, both Britain and the US have forces and technology supporting front-line troops.

Saudi’s military effort is in fact largely dependent on Western support. A former MoD mandarin and defence attache to Saudi Arabia, John Deveril, said in 2019, “the Saudi bosses absolutely depend on BAE Systems, they couldn’t do it without us.”

A BAE employee confirmed this view to Channel 4’s Dispatches, “If we weren’t there, in seven to 14 days there wouldn’t be a jet in the sky.”

Britain’s support for the war effort is partly a product of its colonial history in the country.

It is driven too by post-colonial concern to secure oil supplies from the region as well as the recent emphasis on Britain’s global role.

But more than anything it is a product of the general strategy of strengthening the anti-Iranian alliance in the region with Saudi Arabia at its heart.

We have now, however, a real opportunity to push for the end of the war.

Public opinion in the West is clearly against the intervention. In Britain fully 63 per cent of the population have opposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia for at least the last two years, with only 13 per cent in favour.

In the US the figure is even higher.

Despite a recent accord between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the war coalition is no nearer achieving its war aims than it was after the initial bombing campaign in 2015.

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The majority of the population remain in areas controlled by the Houthi-backed Alah Ansar who oppose the Western-backed former president Hadi.

The growing economic crisis in Saudi Arabia makes this costly war more and more difficult to sustain.

All this is reflected in the fact that Joe Biden has changed his attitude to the war.

In 2015 as vice-president he was instrumental in launching US involvement in hostilities.

During last year’s election campaign he promised to end US support for the war and to push for a peaceful solution, even if he provided little detail.

His picks for his foreign policy team are not particularly encouraging, but the new administration and Biden’s promises provide an opportunity to escalate the pressure on the Western powers to change course.

That is why the global day of action against the war is so important. Timed to coincide with Biden’s first full day at work, its purpose is to maximise pressure on all the countries backing the Saudi-led coalition of war.

Support has been remarkable. There are 320 organisations from eighteen different countries backing the protests.

These range from local anti-war groups to national peace coalitions and political groups like France Insoumise and the Democratic Socialists of America.

Many Yemeni organisations from the country itself and beyond are involved.

Despite the difficulties posed by Covid-19, news of more and more local protests keeps coming in. In other places, local groups are putting on their own zoom events in support.

The protest will culminate in an international online rally at 7pm GMT on the day.

Speakers include Cornel West, Danny Glover and Shireen Al-Ameida from the US, Daniele Obono from France, Yanis Varoufakis from Greece and Jeremy Corbyn.

Everyone who wants to see an end to the hidden savagery of this war should get involved one way or another.

Post photos and video messages on social media, tweet using the #YemenCantWait hashtag, lobby your MP, and above all get along to what looks like being a historic rally.

A global movement to end this war has now been launched, we have a chance for change, we must take it.

Chris Nineham

Christopher Mark Nineham is a British political activist and founder member of the Stop the War Coalition serving as National Officer and Deputy Chair of the Stop the War Coalition in the UK. He served under Jeremy Corbyn from 2011 to 2015.

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