Yemen: imperialist powers twist the knife as COVID-19 worries escalate

With the whole world’s attention turned towards the coronavirus crisis, the western-backed Saudi war on Yemen has continued unabated. The war machine and arms industry, fueling this savagery, have been deemed to essential to shut down during the pandemic.

It is true that last Thursday, Saudi Arabia declared a unilateral two-week ceasefire on what they called 'humanitarian grounds'. However, hours after the truce began the Houthis alleged the continuation of air strikes. Even so, the move by the Saudis reek of hypocrisy. It has nothing to do with humanitarianism, and everything to do with the fact that they have lost the war and are looking for a way out.

The Saudi-led coalition forces have carried out a bloody war of attrition not only against the Houthis, but the people of Yemen. Both Britain and the US have done everything short of pulling the trigger. These three countries are the first, third and seventh biggest spenders on arms in the world. Together they have ganged up on the poorest country in the Middle East.

The six-year civil war has been described by the UN as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. According to the International Rescue Committee, 230,000 have died as an indirect result of this one-sided onslaught. All key infrastructure has been destroyed: roads, the electricity grid, power plants, the water supply, ports, farms, schools and hospitals. Thousands of bombs have thrown the country into utter barbarism.

A recent analysis co-published by Physicians for Human Rights and the Yemeni human rights group Mwatana has shone a spotlight on the effects the war has had on healthcare. “What our report shows is how blatantly international humanitarian law has been ignored in Yemen’s conflict and how in particular attacking healthcare facilities has a long-term and wide-reaching impact,” said Osamah Alfakih, Mwatana’s advocacy director. The report is highly critical of the imperialist nations' disregard for hospitals, clinics and vaccination centres. It details how attacks on hospitals and clinics have closed more than half of Yemen's pre-war facilitates.

The Yemeni human rights group documented 35 coalition aerial strikes on healthcare facilities: this is “evidence of [the coalition’s] disregard for these structures’ protected status and apparent unwillingness or inability to comply with the principles of distinction and proportionality”. This is a damning indictment of the bloodthirsty Saudis who have ostensibly been concerned about Yemen's security and the safety of its citizens.

Today, as the coronavirus begins to spread throughout the country, there are only 500 ventilators left and two testing sites for a population of just under 30 million. How can any serious treatment be carried out in these conditions? Couple this with the anxieties of health professionals being targeted at work, and we can plainly see how underprepared Yemen is for this pandemic. “The test of coronavirus is expensive and it is not widely available in Yemen,” Yemeni pharmacist Nasri Abdulaziz explained to Middle East Eye, “so I think the cases will appear suddenly all at once and then we will face real trouble.”

Yemen has already endured unprecedented outbreaks of cholera in modern times. As of October 2018, there had been more than 1.2 million cases reported. Over 2,500 people, the majority being children, have died due to this outbreak. The lack of proper housing and sanitation makes the strategy of ‘flattening the curve’ by social distancing is an impossibility.

On top of all of this, last month, the Trump administration cut crucial aid, upon which two thirds of the 28 million population of Yemen depend for survival. Officials have claimed that this was a necessary response to interference by Houthi rebels. This move has exposed the real callousness of the American ruling class; they are willing to exploit this pandemic to increase the pressure on the people of Yemen. Oxfam has warned that these cutbacks may be as much as $200m annually, and will reduce the sanitation schemes among others. On Friday, the UN's World Food Programme confirmed that it has been forced to halve aid to the Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. The lives that this move unnecessarily puts at risk marks the nadir of an already dire situation.


Our “democratic” British state is complicit in the war, through and through. It licensed some £5.3bn of arms exports to the Saudis since the beginning of the war. Last year, the court of appeal found the licensing of arms exports to be illegal. Ever since, the red tape has been ripped up by the Tory government. The very companies whose exports were found to be illegal have been allowed to continue business as usual. To add insult to injury, last September the Tories admitted "inadvertently" issuing new licenses that could be used in the war in Yemen. The crocodile tears of the Tories when pressed on this issue really beggar belief!

boris image pixabay Chatham HouseThe “democratic” British state is complicit in the war, through and through / Image: Chatham House, pixabay

From supplying Typhoon and Tornado jets, Britain has been essential in the Saudi war effort. But the involvement does not end with the export of arms. The constant supply of training, maintenance and technical support has been crucial to Saudi's operations. The Ministry of Defence has even confirmed that British military advisers are in control rooms aiding the Saudis in bombing raids. Documents presented to the UN showed that Saudi bombing of civilian targets took place in a matter of days after this training. To put it bluntly, British officials are responsible for teaching their counterparts in the dark arts that have torn Yemen asunder.

Whilst Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson would always speak highly of our rigorous arms export controls. In a similar vein, he assured us that "it is a folly and illusion" to suggest the catastrophe has anything to do with Britain. Sadly for Johnson, facts are stubborn things. Saudi Arabia is by far the largest buyer of UK-made arms. Threatening these contracts and sales would threaten the profits of the very corporations that bankroll the party.

We have seen the government’s appeals for everyone to save lives by staying at home. Unfortunately, this sound advice cannot be offered to the millions of Yemenis that have lost their homes and livelihoods by none other than our government's role in this conflict. The concept of 'social distancing', when Yemenis are constantly displaced by the ongoing bloodshed, often crowded in refugee camps, proves a cruel joke.

Meanwhile, the Tories have quietly drawn up plans for "a new £1bn fund to support overseas buyers of UK defence and security goods and services”. Just as the coronavirus is starting to hit Yemen, the Tories are offering public money in order for the gangsters in Riyadh to ramp up their imperialism. The Department of International Trade even has a specialist team to promote such sales. Whilst the Tories preach safety and unity on TV, behind the scenes they are willing to support any kind of death and destruction – as long as there are profits to be made.


The US, just like Britain, had no 'end plan' in this conflict from the very beginning. In fact, we can see that their support is always aligned with their permanent objectives within the region: to defend their narrow imperialist interests and profiteer off disasters, of which they are (usually) the architects.

They first supported the rule of the reactionary president Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted after the revolutionary events in the midst of the Arab Spring. They then supported Saleh’s longtime ally Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, in order to divert the revolution along safe channels that would protect their interests. At that time, they also leaned on the Houthis to fight Al-Qaeda. Then they swung behind Saudi Arabia and Hadi against the Houthis, who had far more popular support than the Hadi government. They did so solely in order to maintain the fraught relationship with Saudi Arabia. But this has been the biggest help for Al-Qaueda (their nominal 'enemies' in the region), who have gained ground. As the journalist Patrick Cockburn writes, the Islamist forces in the country are the real winners of this war, despite Trump's supposed hard line on this issue.

Far from stabilising the region, US president Donald Trump has been adding more fuel to the fire. In 2017, he signed a series of letters of intent for the purchase of arms with the gangsters in Riyad. The sales totaled $110 billion immediately, and $350 billion over 10 years. Since the war began in Yemen, the Kingdom has been the world's biggest weapons importer. Initially, the liberal establishment attempted to paint the Crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman (MBS) as an impressive reformer. This was shattered after the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was butchered whilst in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

As MBS became a key pillar of support for Trump, they turned against him. The two men are now closely dependent on each other. Trump used his veto multiple times last year in Congress to prevent withdrawing support to the MBS. But the Democrats are no angels themselves. It was the Obama administration that started the war on Yemen along with the Saudi crown prince. Two members of the Obama administration have recently testified in Congress that US officials have known as far back as 2016 that senior Saudi-UEA military personnel take no interest in reducing civilian deaths in Yemen. Instead, life is sacrificed at the altar of capital, compounded with a greater destabilisation of the region.

The hypocrisy of western politicians only serves as a thin veil over the crimes that they are carrying out in Yemen. Time and time again, we have seen the ruling class cannot solve the plight of the masses in the region – they are themselves the problem. With the coronavirus on the horizon the situation is only set to get worse. This class and their system are the real disease and the only way forward for humanity is to overthrow it once and for all.

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