In cima a una montagna a meno di quaranta chilometri da San’a, una scarica di mitragliatrice interrompe la nostra chiacchierata col generale Ahmed Hassan Joubran: sui sessant’anni, capelli corti, baffetti curati, è lui l’uomo che ha fatto avanzare l’esercito yemenita attraverso queste rocce impervie sotto il fuoco di cecchini e missili anticarro.
Yemen’s divided Huthi movement is sending mixed signals to the US. After President Trump vetoed Congress’ bipartisan resolution to end Washington’s support for the Saudi-led coalition intervening in Yemen, Mohammed Abdelsalam, the spokesman and top negotiator of the Huthi movement, stated that this proves the Americans were also “behind the [Saudi] decision to go to war” in 2015. “Surely we are interested in having a good relationship with the United States.
For decades, excellent academic research about Arab countries, especially Yemen, entailed ethnographic investigation via participant observation, first-hand interviews, and reading local archives. International scholars in anthropology, political science, and other fields needed to spend months or even years “in the field” in order to gather first-hand evidence, and, indeed, to obtain research grants.
Despite the geographic distance separating them, what happens in Yemen is of strong interest to Europe. And so it should be, if only for moral reasons. The human tragedy unfolding in this small nation of 28 million, bounded by the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, Saudi Arabia and Oman, should shake the conscience of humankind. While precise figures are elusive, tens of thousands of people have been killed in fighting, and tens of thousands, especially young children, have died from hunger and disease.
The regional implications behind the Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led war against the Houthis in Yemen extend beyond the Gulf and have carried over into the Horn of Africa as well. In fact, while the military intervention in Yemen has resulted in a more concrete security partnership between the Gulf monarchies and their emerging Horn of Africa allies, this has also evolved into a burgeoning collaboration beyond narrow security interests.
Various observers of Yemeni political dynamics have rightly highlighted that what we generally call the Yemen civil war is, in reality, three separate yet overlapping conflicts. The first one is the multi-sided civil war, namely the conflict opposing the internationally recognised government of President Abu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, supported by the Saudi-led coalition and a plethora of various local militias and UAE’s proxies, against the Houthi movement.
The war in Yemen has greatly affected migration and refugee movements from and to the Horn of Africa, but not in the way one would expect. Instead of a large number of Yemenis fleeing the country because of war, violence and the horrific humanitarian situation, relatively few have left. Yet, an astonishing number of migrants from the Horn has entered Yemen since the outbreak of the 2015 war.
Four years of war in Yemen have not only devastated the poorest country of the MENA region, but they have also generated new transnational layers of instability affecting the Arabian Peninsula and its neighbourhood.
Soqotra is a place apart. An isolated island located in the middle of the Arabian Sea roughly between mainland Yemen and Somalia, Soqotra boasts an almost antediluvian landscape. Much of its vegetation and wildlife is found nowhere else on earth, while its natives speak an ancient language that’s also unique to the island. While other areas of Yemen have been wracked by conflict, irrevocably changed over the last four years of war, standing in Soqotra’s beaches or rock-hewn valleys, the conflict on the mainland could scarcely feel further away.
The Yemeni province of Mahra, on the border with Oman, has not been reached by the war so far. However, Saudi Arabia – as Oman used to do to defend its influence – has started to support a large number of Mahari tribes. This has led to large community divisions in local tribal society, for the first time in the history of this eastern province. This support is not limited to the financial domain but also extends to the military.