The Yemen Humanitarian Crisis, Explained

The United Nations has described the ongoing conflict in Yemen as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” Thousands have died in battle, and the resulting famine has killed as many as 80,000 children and civilians. On April 2, for FIT’s annual World Affairs Lecture, Sama’a Al-Hamdani, an independent researcher and analyst focusing on Yemen, gave a talk about the politics that led to the war and specifically the United States’ role.

The conflict is almost indescribably complex. It can traced to 1990, Al-Hamdani said, when two countries rather uneasily united to form Yemen. In 2011, a series of protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions known as the Arab Spring led to sweeping changes across the Middle East, touching off the current situation. It has been called a civil war, a war between Sunni and Shia denominations of Islam, and a proxy war. All three descriptions fit, though Al-Hamdani seemed most inclined toward the latter interpretation. An Islamic religious-political-armed movement, Houthi, has taken charge of half the country, including the capital. Iran has supported the group, and their assistance has increased since the election of President Trump, who is hostile to Iran. Saudi Arabia has conducted airstrikes against the Houthis, with support from the U.S.

For Al-Hamdani, the situation is personal. Though she is an American citizen, her father is not, and because Yemen is one of the seven countries subject to President Trump’s travel ban, her father can’t visit her. “Not all American citizens are the same,” she observed. Further, she said, “Yemen has always been a place where the U.S. has only focused on a counterterrorist agenda,” and ignored the more complex issues at stake. Yasemin Celik Levine, executive director of FIT’s Presidential Scholars program and professor of Political Science, who moderated the event, said, “We all have a lot more reading and learning to do.”

One audience member wanted to know, “Is there any solution in the future—any hope?” Al-Hamdani said she herself found hope whenever she spoke to Yemeni people, who have faith that the conflict will be resolved. “Yemen is probably going to be two countries, if not more,” she said. “It will probably look similar to what’s happening in Iraq.”

The World Affairs Lecture is presented by the Department of Social Sciences, in collaboration with the Presidential Scholars Program, the History of Art Department, and the Middle East and North Africa liberal arts minor.

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