Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Sun, Oct 25th, 2015

Photoshopping the Yemen War

The propaganda, false accusations, misleading information and outright lies swirling through the social media and network news about the crisis in Yemen can make one dizzy. The image above is a classic example of a photoshopped image to link the Houthis with Iranian Islam.

Flogging in Iran (top) and photoshopped image suggesting flogging in Sanaa (bottom).

Flogging in Iran (top) and photoshopped image suggesting flogging in Sanaa (bottom).

When I first saw the image of men flogging their backs outside Bab al-Yaman in Sanaa, I was in shock. This has never been a Zaydi practice and it was hard to believe that even the most ardent Houthis had borrowed such a custom wholesale. But, of course, it is a fabricated lie. I suspect it was not done by the Saudis, but rather Daesh/ISIS or Ansar Shariah or al-Qaida or any of the myriad names these temporary “Hadi supporters” go under. To the extent there is bloodletting between the Saudis and everyone in Yemen who is not with them, this is a gift to the most radical elements. Just as the bombs and missiles are “made in America”, so is the newfound expansion of al-Qaida. Osama Bin Laden must be laughing in his deep sea grave (if indeed that is where he ended up).

A recent article documents the intended unintended consequence (I see no other way to characterize it) of the Saudi-led bombing fiasco:

Al-Qaida militants had been fighting alongside pro-government forces without revealing their affiliation, focusing on capturing and storing weapons during the clashes with the Houthis, a security official in Aden said. Security officials said al-Qaida and other extremist Islamic groups in Aden obtained more than 55 armored vehicles, 22 tanks, anti-aircraft missiles and large amounts of other weapons during the fighting and hid them underground and in fields.

Aden, once one of the busiest world ports under British control and the most liberal part of Yemen before unification, is rapidly becoming another neo-caliphate victim. Thanks to the Saudis, the northern city of Sa’da is leveled, Taiz has suffered irreparable damage (including the total destruction of the National Museum), Sanaa is on the brink of a threatened invasion and now much of Aden has become rubble. On Sunday some 30 militants attacked an Aden supermarket, claiming that men and women must not mingle together in the store and all the women must wear niqab. It is obvious that this temporary advance into Aden is not seen as temporary by al-Qaida, nor Daesh/ISIS.

Let’s consider the possible scenarios that led to this result. First, perhaps the Saudis thought that the Houthis and Salih would say “Ammu” [uncle] after a week of bombing. Fat chance, as it is obvious in hindsight. But then there were American advisors who thought that Iraq would become a democracy willing to give the leader of the free world all the oil rights it wanted overnight. That turns out to be even a fatter chance.

Second, perhaps the Saudis thought that once they uprooted the Houthis and Salih, it would be a piece of cake to remove al-Qaida and its variants. The fact is that almost the entire Yemeni south, once a socialist enclave of sorts, has been overrun by these radical elements. This is not over loyalty to Hadi, who no one in Yemen seriously wants to return. But with the beating back of the Houthis and the collapse of the American drone program, there is little standing in their way. And now with tanks and armored vehicles, they have Americanized their arsenal, just as ISIS has done in Syria.

Third, perhaps the Saudis would rather see a Yemen in chaos, even with al-Qaida establishing its own little shariahstan, just to make sure that no democracy succeeds on the Arabian peninsula. God (I do not include Allah here) forbid there should be a successful republic next door. There is, of course, a fourth scenario: perhaps no one in the newly installed Saudi regime thought through what might happen but simply unleashed its massive arsenal to show the world how mighty it had become. I would call this an act of conspicuous destruction.

Let’s be blunt. Whatever the reason for this absurd proxy war, the people of Yemen are the victims of war crimes and malicious acts approaching ethnocide, whether from the Saudi air campaign, indiscriminate Houthi bombing or al-Qaida violence. It is bad enough that Saudi exported its intolerant Salafism, the root cause of the Houthi rebellion in the first place, but now the tolerance of extreme radical elements is further destroying Yemen. Whether the pieces can be put back together is an open question. If the promised peace talks do occur, the damage will linger for a generation, if not more. This is a sad future that cannot be photoshopped away.

About the Author

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Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, a Senior Postdoctoral Scholar at the Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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