The Court of Appeal ruling yesterday requiring the British government to review its arms export licences to Saudi Arabia was a victory for those who want to write the people of Yemen out of their own story.
According to the perspective of the likes of Campaign Against Arms Trade, the war in Yemen was caused by Saudi Arabia and the people of Yemen are resisting their aggression. Whether deliberately or through ignorance about Yemen, they amplify a narrative trotted out by the Houthi rebels — and it is wrong.
The war that is ravaging my country was not caused by Saudi Arabia or any of our neighbours. It was started by the Houthis’ coup: an action not against a corrupt or unjust regime, as they claim, but rather against the results of the greatest democratic exercise in Yemen’s history, in favour of their own belief in their divine right to rule.
The National Dialogue Conference, which ran from 2012-14, had drawn Yemenis from all sections of society, including 30 per cent women, to determine what the new, democratic Yemen was going to look like. Their results were just about to be put to a referendum when the Houthis launched their assault.
As the government fled south — President Hadi narrowly escaping when the rebels bombed his residence in Aden — it appealed to the international community for support. Under a UN Security Council mandate, Saudi Arabia headed an Arab coalition of states to assist the Yemeni government in pushing the Houthis back and restoring the democratic transition.
It is heartbreaking to witness the devastation wrought on my country by the war. All sides have made many mistakes and all civilian deaths are a tragedy. But let us be under no illusions: forcing Saudi Arabia and the Arab Coalition to withdraw will not end this catastrophe.So long as the Houthis persist in their determination to impose their own religiously-inspired dictatorship on Yemen, use our country to fire Iranian missiles at our neighbors and international shipping, and reject its people’s right to choose their own destiny, it cannot end.The Yemeni government’s first aim is peace, which is why at the end of last year it participated in the Stockholm negotiations with the Houthis and other follow-up summits. But it must be a peace that secures Yemen’s future.The Houthis reneged on the agreements that they made at Stockholm — withdrawing from the ports of Hodeidah only after they had installed a loyal militia in their place — in a pattern that matches their previous behaviour. Their lack of concern for Yemeni civilians is made clear by their use of human shields, child soldiers and by the mass planting of landmines on farmland and near wells and roads.The Houthis’ allies are those who forget the longstanding desire of the Yemeni people to control our own destiny. This war won’t be ended by protests against our Arab neighbors. It will only end when the Houthis accept the democratic will of the Yemeni people.