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Jemen Sicherheitskräfte in der Hafenstadt Mukalla
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Y. Arhab

Saudi Arabia's 'blank check' in Yemen

Interview: Matthias von Hein
August 15, 2016

For roughly 500 days, the Saudi Arabia-backed Yemini government has been fighting a civil war with Houthi forces. DW spoke with political analyst Hisham Al-Omeisi about the conflict and the recent failed peace talks.


DW: There were more deadly bombardments in Yemen over the weekend. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned a Saudi-led air strike on a school in the north of the country that killed 10 children and called for an investigation. Taking past experience into consideration: Do you expect that to have any impact?

Hisham Al-Omeisi: Unfortunately, no. This is not the first time that the UN or Ban Ki-moon condemned the air strikes. They have done so for the past 16 months. There have been many more deadly airstrikes in the past – 131 people were killed in an airstrike in Saada that targeted a local market. Unfortunately, despite calls for investigations none have taken place. These incidents have happened repeatedly in Yemen. So far we have not seen any official, independent investigation taking place, let alone action against the Saudis, so people are very skeptical.

What is the general feeling in the capital, Saana? Why do people think more has not been done to condemn the strikes, and why is nobody making a serious effort to stop Saudi Arabia from conducting them?

To be honest, for Yemenis, they have seen for the past 16 months that the international community has been, to a certain extent, complicit [in the Saudi airstrikes]. They have given the Saudis a kind of blank-check - a sort of leniency - while the Saudis have exponentially increased their impunity. We have seen that despite the Saudis being responsible for the majority of the more than 2,000 Yemini children killed thus far, they have been removed from the UN´s blacklist. When we saw that in Yemen, we knew that nobody would actually investigate the Saudis, let alone stop them.

Jemen Sanaa Hisham Al-Omeisi
Political analyst Hisham Al-OmeisiImage: Privat

To a lot of people around the world, Yemen is a very poor and remote country [that generates] very little interest. It is exactly the opposite with the Saudis: The Western world does a lot of business with the Saudis - they have interests; they have mutual relations; they will not risk stepping in the Saudis' way for the sake of Yemen. For them, our lives don't matter. It is Saudi business that matters more.

Part of the Saudi narrative is that they took action in Yemen to counter Iranian influence over the Houthis. From your perspective, how much Iranian influence is there in Yemen, and how important is Iranian support for the Houthis?

For the past 16 months, the Saudis have been saying that there are Iranian Republican forces here in Yemen fighting alongside the Houthis. We have not seen a single Iranian soldier in Yemen. We have not even seen a single Iranian civilian in Yemen. They have been saying that Iranians are actively helping the Houthis on the ground. We have yet to see proof of that. Over the past 16 months, the Yemeni government, backed by the Saudis, has repeatedly said that they have arrested [dozens] of Iranian soldiers in [the country]. Where is the proof? They could not even show a single picture, despite claims that they have arrested so many of them. We don't have any proof, just empty statements in the media. We Yemenis on the ground don't see the Iranian influence.

Yes, the Houthis tried to reach out to the Iranians, but the Iranians did not give them anything. And this is exactly why the Houthis, over the last two months, realizing that is was futile to reach out to the Iranians, basically went out publicly [to say] they don't want relations with Iran anymore and they want the Iranians to stay out of Yemeni affairs.

The recent peace-talks in Kuwait faltered after months of negotiations. Where do you place the blame for that?

Jemen - Friedensgespräche in Kuwait
Recent talks in Kuwait failed to produce a peace dealImage: Getty Images/AFP/M. Huwais

I would place it on the Saudi-backed Yemeni government for being stubborn. The Yemeni government insists that the Houthis pull back from the cities, that they hand over all their weapons before any sort of political deal. The Houthis have fought for 16 months. They will not hand over their necks to the Yemeni government. That would basically mean defeat. They will not accept that. The Saudi-backed Yemeni government has been refusing to compromise. The whole point of the negotiations is to arrive at a common ground. When they keep insisting that the Houthis surrender before establishing any common ground, [a peace deal] is not going to happen.

You just shared a photo on Twitter of your son playing with shaving foam. It is a picture full of happiness. How does this happy snapshot relate to the dire situation in a country enduring a civil war with an outside power dropping bombs?

It is very scary. The kids have been traumatized, including my own son - he is just six years old. [On August 13] there was an airstrike on a school. Children aged six to 14 were killed. It is very dangerous for them to go out on the street. It is very dangerous for them to go to school. We keep them inside the house and try to occupy their minds with something; keep them sheltered from the war and its effects. This morning my son came up upstairs - I usually keep him in the basement during bombardments – and he saw me shaving and found a lot of happiness in little things like putting shaving foam on his face.

You can see that kids all over the world go to parks, swimming pools and school. Our kids stay at home and fear for their lives. They have been traumatized by the bombing and they find happiness in little things like shaving foam.

Hisham Al-Omeisi is a political analyst based in the Yemini capital of Sanaa.

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