BY EMMA RUBIN '20
On Wednesday, March 1, the Mount Holyoke Arab Association hosted Bring- ing Yemen to the Table, an event seeking to inform community members about the current situation in Yemen in light of the ongoing civil war and President Trump’s previous executive order banning Ye- meni travellers from entering the United States.
Nada Al-Thawr ’19, an international student from Sana’a, Yemen, began the lecture by informing those present about Yemen’s history and current culture. She showed a video from the Yemen Identity Project, a timelapse of the different sites throughout the country and the diversity of its landscape.
Al-Thawr discussed the circumstances of the current civil war, which officially began on March 25, 2015 with the formation of a Saudi Arabia-led coalition after a rebellion from the Houthis. The Houthis are a Yemeni group of Zaidi Shia Muslims who have been in “constant battle with the government,” according to Al-Thawr. She also screened a short video featuring Yemeni children sharing their experiences, what they miss about Yemen and even what they would do if they were president of Yemen.
Al-Thawr then introduced conflict specialist, civil society leader and long time family friend, Nadwa Al-Dawsari. Al-Dawsari recently interviewed over 160 Yemeni civilians, and from their tes- timonials she gained unique insight into the war. She described the conflict as “a manifestation of the power struggle among the political elite.”
Although the war officially began in 2015, she explained that its origins can be traced to 2011, during the Arab Spring.
According to the Irish Times, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Southern Yemen to protest government proposals to alter the constitution and allow President Ali Abdullah Saleh to retain power longer through an extended term. Along with protesting the country’s economic issues, the demonstrations specifically targeted then-president Saleh. Conflicts between the government and the Houthis have been prevalent through much of the 21st century, and after cur- rent President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi came to power, the Houthis took control of northern provinces such as Sana’a and, with intersectional support from other religious sects, seized the capital in September 2014, as reported by BBC.
According to BBC, the Houthis continued to exert their power in Sana’a and surrounded the presidential palace and other crucial locations in the city with military personnel. This resulted in the former president Saleh and some of his cabinet fleeing the capital, and eventually the country. This continued escalation prompted Saudi intervention against the Houthis, who the Saudis believed were being aided by the majority Shia Iran.
The involvement of Saudi Arabia in the crisis stems from the geographical proximity of the two states and the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, Al-Dawsari clarified that the conflict in Yemen is more complex than a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. She explained, “The Saudis have al- ways seen Yemen as a threat, not a partner.” She also recognized that Saudi Arabia has a significant role in determining how the conflict is resolved, due to their considerable investment in the region militarily and politically.
International intervention has failed to produce a sustainable peace. “The UN process has been elite-centric,” Al- Dawsari said. “Yemenis at large are not represented.” In her study, she found that the majority of Yemenis resented the UN process. She believes that there needs to be an emphasis on the citizens themselves and long-term solutions in relation to their welfare.
Al-Thawr explained that her main goal in organizing the event was to raise awareness about Yemen and to create an informed dialogue about it. In the midst of the conflict, “the biggest thing that anybody can do right now is to raise awareness,” she said.
Al-Thawr recognized the significant role that the executive order of the Trump administration has had in making Yemen’s political situation well known. With regards to that order, her biggest concern is hostility. “I think being [at Mount Holyoke] is definitely kind of different than being in the U.S.,” she said. “What I’m hearing from other people abroad [in the US] is that they are being treated very poorly by people who know that they are from Yemen.”
Even amongst failed international resolutions and continual Saudi presence, Al-Thawr is hopeful. She said, “the Yemeni youth and the Yemeni tribes are working really really hard ...just speaking to them and looking at what they are doing really gives you a lot of hope about what could possibly happen.”
Al-Thawr plans to continue to bring Yemen to the table not only through political lectures and discussions, but also through cultural events in the coming semesters.