Saudi Arabia continues to wage war in Yemen, disregarding the high number of civilian casualties. The regime also mistreats its own people. Riyadh’s conduct is extreme, says Kersten Knipp.
It was a mistake – one of many. A spokesman for the military coalition operating in Yemen said the attack was supposed to target Houthi rebels. Obviously, they got it wrong. Instead of rebels, what they hit was a school bus full of children. Twenty-nine pupils have been killed; almost 50 others, including 30 more children, were wounded.
This mistake, which cost so many children their lives, is symptomatic of the unscrupulousness with which the Saudi-led coalition has been waging war in Yemen for nearly three and a half years. Almost 6,000 civilians have already been killed in this conflict; more than 9,000 have been wounded. More than 22 million people are dependent on aid shipments; there are more than 2.5 million young Yemenis who are no longer in school. Day by day, Saudi Arabia and its allies are bombing this impoverished country ever deeper into misery.
Citizens as a rightless mass
So far, the coalition has achieved little. The Houthis, who are allied with Saudi Arabia's greatest rival, Iran, remain unbeaten. Saudi Arabia continues to pursue its proxy war, the high number of casualties notwithstanding. The ongoing attacks, deadly for the civilian population, make little impression on the political and military leadership. It continues to allow the country to be bombarded from the air, regardless of whether — as in this instance — it is in retaliation for a previous Houthi attack on Saudi territory, or whether it is completely groundless.
However, this latest attack is not just symptomatic of the Saudi government's military actions in Yemen. This cynicism is also typical of the government's conduct towards its own citizens. It treats them like its own personal property: an anonymous mass of people to be dealt with however it pleases, rather than citizens with rights.
Just a few days ago, the Saudi authorities arrested two young female civil rights activists. One was Samar Badawi, the sister of the blogger Raif Badawi, who is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence. The reasons for his sister's arrest are not yet known. Saudi human rights activists believe the only motive is to further intimidate potential political opponents.
The Canadian foreign minister tweeted criticism of the arrests and called for the civil rights activists to be released. The reaction of the Saudi regime demonstrated just how volatile and extreme its behavior is. It responded by expelling the Canadian ambassador and recalling its own envoy from Canada. It also announced a freeze on new trade and investment with Canada, and on academic programs and exchanges between the two countries.
Measures like these, on account of a single tweet? This blatantly disproportionate response reveals the dictatorial arrogance the regime displays towards all dissenters — both other countries, and its own defenseless citizens. It is a reaction that betrays a terrifying absolutism.
An absolutism that must, above all, be protested. Norbert Röttgen, a member of the Bundestag for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, is right to call on the EU and the German government to declare their solidarity with Canada and repudiate Saudi Arabia's actions.
So far, though, that hasn't happened. This is shameful. The EU sees itself as a community of shared values. But what happens to these values when confronting dictators who sit on vast reserves of oil?