Yemen Has Two Options

Once upon a time, there were seven brothers. Mother Earth blessed the first six with gold. Father time buried the youngest one’s treasures very deep beneath the sand. Mothers and fathers worry about sibling rivalries. Sheba took care of the youngest, who befriended others outside the home. The first six formed the GCC; the youngest was bombed. End of chapter 3. ~Mehrunisa Qayyum 5/18/15

This sentiment came up again at the Wilson Center, a DC-based think tank after civil society activist, Mohammad Al-Shami, presented his view: “Yemen has two options – living under a regime, whichever it may be or living in crisis.”

Al-Shami shared where Yemen’s society stands nine months since Yemen’s civil unrest erupted into a crisis resulting in what we see today: a multi-country, military campaign to eliminate rebel fighters, which is spearheaded by Saudi Arabia. He argued that civil society serves as “the strongest source of information right now”.  Yet, despite his argument that Yemeni civil society is a force, dead Yemeni civilians may disagree with that assertion.  In Yemen, 80 percent of the population are in need of immediate humanitarian aid.

Why is Yemen a crisis?

Reason #1: Thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed in airstrikes that were supposed to target Houthi fighters–but didn’t.

Reason #2:  Outside Players Co-Opting Local Players

Four years after Yemen ousted its authoritarian leader, Saleh, he continued to play politics.  Al-Shami argues that the crisis took form because Yemen’s political players do not work with its local civil society because they can operationalize agendas with military force.


These political powers are more comfortable in conflict than in peace.

Political powers include Yemeni tribes, Houthis, exiled ex President Salah, GCC, Iran, Turkey, Al-Qaeda, and a myriad of groups who have taken up arms in the name of any of the above.  Oh yeah: ISIS has managed to insert itself in the name of taking down Houthis… while opposing everyoneelse too.


It is very difficult to access villages. There are many villages being deprived from lack of water and food.

Yemen’s humanitarian dilemma is compounded by Yemenis access problem.  There’s no food, no water… and many villages are deprived of this in Taiz and Habebah.


Al-Shami traces Yemen’s unrest back to youth not having many options. Fighting is fueled by youth who do not have options.

[Yemen’s ]youth wanted to do town halls, they wanted to do work shops, they wanted to do art campaigns.  They either stay home or fight. – Al-Shami

The youth needed to see the other fight going on within civil society, according to Al-Shami… but we were hoping for some specific examples happening in Yemen.

Noting all these reasons, Al-Shami calls upon international NGOs to support Yemen’s local civil society.  He argues that the focus on Yemen cannot just be the immediate need to deliver humanitarian aid.  Short-term efforts like this are necessary, but will not stem the reasons for civil unrest to explode into what we see today: war.  Rather, NGO commitments to Yemen need to be viewed in 10 year horizons– 3 years at the very least, “We need to start realizing, specifically short-term, is helpful, but must focus on capacity building for long-term.””

Even $200 can make a huge difference on the local level in Yemen.

Examples of requested NGO support include Yemen civil society to educate each segment of society.  Though, we are confused about his request for educating the military.  Al Shami stated:

Restoration of military needs education for soldiers on human rights law.  Soldiers violate [human rights] not because they want to, but they might not know what [actions] makes up human right law.

Picking up from sentiment above, here’s how chapter four could start:

Suddenly, the youngest stood up and said, ‘Enough!  Although we are a desert without water, we have rivers…of blood…which now flood our towns.’  We have two options – living under a regime, whichever it may be or living in crisis.  One may suffocate, but the other has already suffocated our children.

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