Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Wed, May 1st, 2019

War and the Housing Crisis

After four years of bombing and military exchanges, Yemen remains a humanitarian disaster made by human hands and arms, not by nature. The number of direct deaths from the conflict continues to rise every day, perhaps as high as 80,000 in some recent estimates. In addition the UN reports that 85,000 Yemeni children under five years of age have died since the war started in 2015. About 3,000 of the more than one million Yemenis hit with cholera have died. The crisis continues unabated as the Saudi-led coalition buys off opposition and attempts to weather the protests over the complicity of Crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman in the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Denna bild har ett alt-attribut som är tomt. Dess filnamn är houses-1.jpg

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Above are two images that contrast the unrelenting extravagance of a ruling elite and the dismal reality of the poor losing everything. The scene at the top is of a French mansion bought by the Saudi Crown Prince:

Saudi crown prince is the buyer of world’s most expensive home after spending £225m on a French chateau with its own Sistine Chapel-style vaulted ceiling, aquarium moat, cinema and underground nightclub.

The irony is quite heavy for the next-in-line monarch of a country which until recently did not allow cinemas and certainly did not promote underground nightclubs. Rather than an Arab bard for an Arabian king, the scene evokes the English poet Coleridge’s Kubla Khan:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan 
A stately pleasure-dome decree…
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted 
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover! 
A savage place! as holy and enchanted 
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted…

The remains of the building in the photograph below show the impact of American-backed Saudi bombing in the Yemeni capital Ṣan‘ā’. Countless civilian homes have been destroyed, many trapping men, women and children inside. Another Victorian poet, Lord Byron, penned words that fit this scene in his “The Destruction of Sennaherib”:

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea…

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

The two scenes above reflect a housing crisis, one in which a man with wealth beyond belief clearly thinks that he can buy whatever he wants and get away with anything he does. If the love of money is the root of all evil, then this evil is the shaitan that fuels an insensitive and brutal war. It is the love of money not only by a royal figure, but also by the international arms dealers and countries that export weapons.  The image below shows a home destroyed, the end product of an immoral arms supply that never runs dry.  The rich man buys a palace he will never live in; the poor man loses the only home he has ever known.

How can one measure the lasting impact of this war on Yemen beyond the rubble? Should we measure the amount of victims’ blood spilled and compare it to the floods of tears streaming from the survivors? Would it matter which has the greater volume? The burden of this tragedy, the full weight of its destruction and slaughter, will stay within Yemen. No amount of petro-dollars promised by those who caused the crisis will be sufficient to atone for the damage done. The money will pour in from international donors after the fact, but it will be little more than a bandage for a gaping wound. 

Perhaps the words of an ancient Arab poet make more sense of the reality facing the pain this war has created in Yemen. In his poem “The Tomb of Sayyid” from the Mu‘allaqat, al-Ḥārithī wrote:

Upon thy grassy tomb I knelt,
and sought from pain a short relief:
Th’ attempt was vain – I only felt
Intenser pangs and livelier grief.

About the Author

- 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, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.