Assessing the Chaos in Yemen – Part 4 – Hamdani

Published: April 7, 2015

Editor’s Note:

It was standing room only at the National Council on US-Arab Relations hosted event “Yemen in Chaos: Analysis, Prognosis, and Prospects” at the U.S. Capitol Rayburn House Office Building in Washington on Thursday. The event, broadcast live to the country on C-Span TV, brought together a distinguished panel to examine the issues and developments in the aftermath of the Saudi-led coalition intervention in Yemen to fight Houthi rebels:

Dr. John Duke Anthony, Founding President & CEO of the National Council, served as moderator and H.E. Adel A. Al-Jubeir, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States, delivered featured remarks. Additional featured specialists included: Mr. Jeremy M. Sharp, Specialist in Middle East Affairs for the Congressional Research Service and Author of the CRS Report, “Yemen: Background and U.S. Relations;” Ms. Sama’a Al-Hamdani, Analyst and Writer for Yemeniaty and former Assistant Political Officer for the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Washington, DC; Professor David Des Roches, Senior Military Fellow at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (National Defense University) and Council Malone Fellow in Arab and Islamic Studies (Syria); and Mr. Abbas Almosawa, Yemeni Journalist and Analyst, and former Media and Information Advisor for the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Abu Dhabi and Beirut.

SUSRIS has already provided Ambassador Al-Jubeir’s remarks from this event. Today we provide the presentations of Mr. Sharp, Professor Des Roches, Mr. Musawa and Ms. Hamdani. We also have the question and answer portion of the event, moderated by Dr. John Duke Anthony. You can also review the entire session on C-Span [Link] and find extensive articles, interviews and more in “Yemen in Turmoil” a SUSRIS Special Section.

Here in Part 4 is Ms. Sama’a Al-Hamdani, Analyst and Writer for Yemeniaty and former Assistant Political Officer for the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Washington, DC.

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[Dr. John Duke Anthony]
Our last resource specialist is Ms. Sama’a Al-Hamdani. Any of you who are students of genealogy and ethnic groups, travel groups, historical dynamics in Arabia know that the Al-Hamdani have strong roots, impeccable roots. Sama’a Al-Hamdani. She’s an analyst for Al Jazeera English and Arabic, BBC, NPR, and CNN’s analyst on Yemen.

[Sama’a Al-Hamdani] I’m very happy to be here and to see so many people in the audience who care about Yemen. To the Yemenis here and to our brothers and sisters, Salam Alaikum. Thank you for coming.

I’m actually going to do something different here that I don’t usually do at my other talks. Rather than focusing plainly on the politics and on the analysis behind everything, I would like to say that when I first came here I came to study university and I never thought that I would stay in this country. My hope was to go back. Of course, this is becoming less and less a reality.

The situation in Yemen has gotten significantly worse every year, and recently a friend of mind sent me a photo of a drawing done by a child who’s 6 years old of planes dropping bombs on them and I realized how bad the situation has gotten. I myself was in Yemen in 1994 during the civil war and I participated in the “Children Draw for Their Rights” program, but I never thought that I would draw a plane with things falling on my head.

Having said that, I would like to represent the voice of Yemeni people considering I speak to so many people on the ground in the north and south of Yemen. I want to begin with Aden that is really suffering today. So many people have died. People are talking about bodies piling up on the ground without being able to pull it away. The fighting in Aden is a result of Houthi fighting with elements of AQAP and Adeni locals. The shootings are random and have targeted everyone.

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In Abbalah [phonetic] alone there are sixty-three thousand internally displaced people. People from Sana’a have fled into villages, and at the moment a lot of people can’t go anywhere because of this shifting of movement. The airstrikes won’t stop. Rather than talking about corruption and politicians and having the blame game when we talk about Iran and Saudi Arabia fighting each other we forget there are 26 million people stuck between these names that we talk about.

Everything that we see today, it’s important to note, is a result of having a weak government, having a weak leader. The government had an opportunity from 2011 to 2014 to deliver services to the people to do anything, which left a vacuum for the Houthis to step up and take the plate.

Yemen at the moment is surrounded. Our territorial water and our airspace is considered a no-fly zone. Nothing can go in or out. A lot of Yemen’s population is dependent on humanitarian aid. Having said that, besides the humanitarian aid we actually import a lot of our oil. About 80 percent of our gasoline is imported from the outside, and our revenues can only last for up to three weeks.

Right before this war started we were expecting another shipment that we did not receive. That means that there’s inflation. Oil prices are going up. The dollar is really, really up. It’s impossible to find it in the market, and there are laws now restricting people on how to find gasoline. Of course in Yemen we depend on gas for more than just cars. We need it for electricity. If we don’t have electricity the country is running out of water.

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At the moment a lot of the countries that are participating in this coalition are claiming that they’re there to save Yemen. However, 4,900 people – more than that, actually, it’s increasing every day – are stuck at airports worldwide because no country would grant them visas. Yemenis have been eliminated – don’t have the opportunity to get visas to enter anywhere. And at the moment Yemenis – the only country accepting Yemenis as refugees is Somalia. We have in Yemen 240,000 Somalian refugees on the ground. We have Iraqi refugees. We have Syrian refugees. Yemen has worked as a home and opened its doors up to these refugees. However, no other countries are opening their doors for our refugees or immigrants, and that is very tragic.

Past that, since we are technically in a siege, we don’t have medical supplies for those who are wounded. We don’t have enough doctors, we don’t have enough medication, and the situation in Aden and Sa’dah is getting really, really bad. This could expand to the governorates of Taiz and Ibb and maybe even Ma’rib.

Talking about this airstrike I constantly think how can you curb an ideology by launching airstrikes against the people. We learned before through the drone strikes or through other experiences that you cannot fight an ideology by dropping bombs. You need a proper government infrastructure, you need a better education, you need a development plan, you need to employ people in order to shift them from fighting with militias into participating in good governance.

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Moreover, a lot of the airstrikes have targeted military sites and military bases meaning if there is a leader that’s going to go back to Yemen, and if President Hadi goes back to Yemen, he will not have a military to lead. They will have to start everything from zero. They have to build that infrastructure from nothing.

And everybody here on this panel has talked about the role of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. Just yesterday they freed 300 prisoners from Al Mukallah prison and are taking advantage of this opportunity to expand on the ground. The problem with this war is that the only group that was capable of defeating and fighting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was in fact the Houthis, and what’s worse is that the Houthis took these airstrikes to go to the south and commit atrocities and they’re blaming everything on President Hadi for escaping from Sana’a to Aden, claiming that he dragged the war there.
Of course, our southern brothers and sisters are suffering from the consequences of these politicians.

At the same time, AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has looted Sana’a central bank and we are still not sure of how much money they took.

What’s worse than that is that we have on the ground – if we talk about the scenario of having on the ground troops, it’s going to be really hard to distinguish who’s who in Yemen, considering that the military going in is not going to know the geography of Yemen very well and is not going to be able to distinguish who they’re shooting at by just looking at them.

I call on the ethics and rules of jus ad bellum, just war theory. I request that the Saudi government reveal the targets that they’ve attacked, and I actually ask them to be transparent about who they’re attacking and to give people notice of the areas that they’re going to target.

Just a few days ago in Sana’a they attacked a weapons depot that was in the heart of Sana’a, and this weapons depot was targeted or blew up all the weapons and they self-imploded and missiles came out of that mountain in every direction, and that was in a heavily populated area. All of the areas where these airstrikes are taking place are in Taiz, Sana’a, Hudaydah, and Aden, and they are the most heavily populated areas, again.

So far we don’t have any international NGO workers in Yemen. We can’t get the right statistics. However, within the last 24 hours we had several NGOs come up with rough drafts of the number of deaths that are happening there. Considering that there are no journalists on the ground and it’s very hard to tell what’s happening and who’s killing who, I personally depend on the Saudi government to provide us with their targets to know what’s going on.

Besides the effects on human beings, whether psychological or physical, I want to pay attention to what’s happening to the biodiversity of Yemen. A lot of these weapons are going to cause environmental damage and probably are going to effect peoples’ health long-term if we don’t know what weapons they’re using and who they are targeting.

The repercussions of this could be very great. We already have smuggling in Yemen and illegal markets. For me personally as a woman I wonder what that means to my sisters back home in Yemen. Are they going to be part of a smuggling operation? Would they be trafficked as wives? Would they be – I just don’t know what’s going to happen, and the idea itself terrifies me.

Looking at what is happening in Aden at the moment and this chaos I’m very worried about other minorities in Yemen as well. This is the time to launch attacks on them and we have to look at other minorities and protect them.

I guess this is me stepping out of my professional realm, and I do request that the humanitarian law is implemented in Yemen.

Unfortunately, Yemenis now are stuck between fire coming in and between fire from within. A lot of the people have not had the chance to make plans to evacuate. There are no flights coming in or out of Yemen.

For instance, Yemen has many, many Yemeni-Americans, and roughly there are 40,000 Yemeni-Americans, American citizens in Yemen trapped in this fire. And so every other country has citizens there that they cannot evacuate.

I think that it’s very necessary for the government of Saudi Arabia that is leading the coalition – of course it’s not the only country responsible for this – but to reveal what political agenda they have in the future for Yemen. What is their plan? And I also urge them to have a plan – another backup plan because everything that is happening in Yemen now is a result of having only one plan in Yemen, which was Yemen’s national dialogue conference, which I have to say failed miserably.

Having said all of these things, I think that we need to pay attention to the governorates of Marib, Al Bayda, Taiz, and Ibb. Those are going to have a lot of turmoil in the future. And talking about the military, moving forward I really urge the U.S., Saudi, and other countries, the nine other countries participating to pay attention and learn lessons of the NATO in Libya, of the GCC in Syria, of the U.S. in Iraq. It’s very important moving forward of paying attention to how to restructure the military.

Everything that we’re talking about today, analysts like myself have warned of a long time ago. We’ve warned about the failure of Yemen’s national dialogue. We’ve warned about the expansion of the Houthis out of Sa’dah into the capital.

We’ve warned and warned and warned, and unfortunately I feel that our voices are not heard, and here I am today. I’m warning about the repercussions of this war continuing.

It’s going to be – Yemen is going to be a disaster and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is expanding. ISIS declared a state in Lahij and has carried out an operation in Sana’a.

So this is an opportunity for me to warn that if this war is continuing without a clear plan, without an opportunity to save people, it’s just going to recruit more people in the fight against – into the Houthi side or into the al Qaeda side, but it definitely is going to move all Yemenis against the side of Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

Therefore, I urge everybody to request, I urge all the analysts to request a humanitarian ceasefire for the people to make plans of evacuation to find places to move. A lot of people are trapped in their own houses and our resources are about to go down. I also ask for the allowance of shipments of aid and so on to enter the country, for the return of some NGOs in, for allowing Doctors Without Borders to come in to treat the patients. Otherwise, a lot of those who are wounded would die out of not getting the proper health care.

And at this point I’d like to end my conversation, but I’d like to point out that I’m also very well versed in Yemeni politics and in the Iranian-Saudi war, so if you want to ask about that, too, I’m happy to answer. Thank you.

[Dr. John Duke Anthony] Thank you, Ms. Al-Hamdani.

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