- Yemen's main port, Hodeidah, is about to be captured for Saudi-led forces
- The move makes Mohammad bin Salman's blockade of Yemen nearly total
- Meanwhile, bin Salman is giving more rights to Saudi women
- He is selectively choosing who gets a livelihood or a death sentence in the Middle East
By Ty Joplin
On June 17, images of Saudi-led Arab Coalition soldiers taking the Hodeidah airport in Yemen began circulating. One particularly haunting image is of a pile of dead bodies, presumably Houthi rebels, being gathered in an industrial bulldozer to be swept aside, most likely in a mass grave.
The ongoing war in Yemen has been one of the world’s worst catastrophes; the country has become a mass grave for its 29 million residents, most of whom cannot survive without humanitarian assistance. Now, with a new Saudi push to take the major port of Hodeidah from Houthi rebels, the catastrophe will deepen to levels never before seen since the war’s beginning.
A few hours north from Hodeidah, Yemen, Saudi women are beginning to take their drivers’ licenses as Saudi heralds a new future for its society, one that is being sold as a more equal one. One man is behind both projects to bring Saudi into the future and bomb Yemen into the past: Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
Bodies of soldiers gathered in a bulldozer (Twitter)
Shortly before he unveiled his grand vision for Saudi, called Vision 2030, bin Salman ordered the invasion and occupation of Yemen. While he was meticulously planning which marketing strategy to use in order to re-launch his country as a modern one, he was also plotting how to most effectively choke the entire country of Yemen off from the world.
Both dreams are becoming realized. Saudi women are scheduled to be included much more in the general Saudi workforce, while millions of Yemeni civilians will be subjected to a kind of collective punishment, sarvation and deprivation the country has yet to see.
The Selective Opening and Closures of Futures
Bin Salman has decided that Saudi women, after decades of rules intended to suppress their presence outside the public world, deserve a future in it. He has also decided that millions of Yemeni civilians deserve no such future.
Women can now work in car dealerships along with men, selling families with new women drivers luxury additions and warranty packages. Uber has launched a new initiative aimed at attracting women drivers. Even though many of the women who campaigned for their rights to drive have been arrested and silenced, an air of optimism has swept over the country.
Neighboring Saudi to the south, millions of civilians inside Houthi-held territory are bracing for famines to worsen, malnutrition to run rampant, cholera to go untreated, and food and water to run more scarce than it has in the past.
Hodeidah, one of the last major air and sea ports to be rebel-controlled, is about to be captured by Saudi-led coalition fighters. It is Yemen’s main port in the Red Sea, and it ties Sanaa, Yemen’s capital city to the rest of the world. Once it is taken, millions living in the governorates of Hodeidah and Sanaa will be totally reliant choked off from food, water and medical aid.
“I have close family in Hodeidah now who are telling me the situation is getting scarier. People feel more tension with every day that passes, wondering what will happen tomorrow, or next week, or in a few minutes,” the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Office Coordinator in Hodeidah, Saleem Al-Shamiri said from Sanaa.
A tank rolls through Taiz, Yemen (AFP./FILE)
“I am deeply worried about people who fled to Hodeidah city because their homes were under attack in other areas. Tens of thousands of people came with nothing and are now left to fend for themselves until we can get to them with food and clean water. These are my fellow Yemenis, my neighbours and colleagues. They need help, but what they need most is a guarantee they will be safe.”
Bin Salman, who ordered Saudi’s invasion and occupation on Yemen in 2015, does not appear interested in that guarantee. Amidst calls for the U.N. to control the port city of Hodeidah and for de-escalation channels to be created in order to minimize civilian casualties, bin Salman likely sees a moment for Saudi to gain the upper hand in a stalling war.
International mediation, for Saudi, means a loss of control from the war effort and thus an obstacle in their strategy to obliterate the Houthi rebels and their sympathizers out of existence. Ignoring calls for peaceful resolution for Hodeidah, Arab Coalition soldiers have begun closing in on the city, which will likely see brutal, prolonged and indiscriminate violence through the city streets.
Bin Salman’s War Strategy
Mohammad bin Salman (Rami Khoury/Al Bawaba/AFP)
Saudi’s entrance into Yemen included a two-pronged strategy to erase Yemen’s agricultural infrastructure off the map before enforcing a total air and sea blockade on its ports. Bin Salman wanted to make the 29 million people who live inside Yemen, the poorest Arab country, to rely totally on outside aid and then deny them that aid.
Only 2.8 percent of Yemen’s land in cultivated; despite this, about a third of the Saudi and U.A.E. bombs that landed in Yemen hit those areas. Entire farms were destroyed, cattle were slaughtered, roads were made unusable, and economic activity—already stalling by a previous war—halted.
“To hit that small amount of agricultural land, you have to target it.” Martha Mundy, emeritus professor at the London School of Economics and analyst of Yemen’s agriculture, told The Telegraph.
According to her, the data she has been collecting “is beginning to show that in some regions, the Saudis are deliberately striking at agricultural infrastructure in order to destroy the civil society.”
The blockade of Yemen has forced the vast majority of the population to rely on humanitarian assistance to live. To that end, the capture of Hodeidah represents the logical conclusion of bin Salman’s strategy to starve Yemen. Once his forces take the air and sea port of Hodeidah, he controls the supply routes to and from the entire governorate in addition to vital routes to Sanaa.
According to the U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, “90 percent of food, fuel and medicines in Yemen are imported.” About 70 percent come through Hodeidah, giving a lifeline to approximately seven million people. Capturing it effectively means bin Salman has a direct say in what gets through those who depend on the port for their goods.
Associated Press reports that it is the war in Yemen that has been the most devastating:
“The three-year stalemated war has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million. It has damaged Yemen’s infrastructure, crippled its health system and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.”
While this is technically true, the wording is misleading: it is not merely the ‘war’ but the deliberate war strategy of bin Salman: that of a medieval style siege on an entire country.
While it is worth rejoicing in the news that Saudi women may get more rights, bin Salman’s obliteration of Yemeni men, women, and children is the news story constantly lurking behind the headlines which herald Saudi’s ‘new future.’
They are not separate developments but rather part of bin Salman’s grand vision for his country and those surrounding him.
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