What the People of Yemen Want, with Shireen Al-Adeimi

Published April 21st, 2021 - 04:33 GMT
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Yemenis protest during the 2011 Arab Spring (AFP/FILE)


If there’s one well-known thing about the war in Yemen, it’s that it’s a humanitarian catastrophe. Its people are blockaded from the world and are suffering from famine, cholera, COVID-19, malnutrition, and a war that seems like it has no end.

But so far little is said about the reasons the war has gone on so long, or about what motivated it to begin with, and what are the political forces driving it forward.

Instead, most mainstream media coverage of the politics of Yemen is mediated through a dense network of security-minded analysts who mystify the dynamics underlying the war, and leave out the Yemeni people entirely. You can find endless analyses about the war in Yemen as either a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, the US and Iran, how it’s a part of the never-ended War on Terror, and how it’s really a sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia. 

Little is said about what the people of Yemen want, and how these demands can be achieved. Their suffering is decontextualized and depoliticized, and they are depicted as helpless objects of despair amidst a raging conflict that is beyond their reach. 

My guest today is here to set the record straight. I’ll be speaking with Shireen al-Adeimi, a Yemeni activist and Assistant Professor at Michigan State University. 

Study Skills: Shireen Al-Adeimi | Harvard Graduate School of Education

Shireen al-Adeimi (Courtesy of Harvard University)

Together we’ll debunk the myths surrounding the war in Yemen and highlight a foundational but rarely discussed dynamic that informs much of it. We’ll hone in on how the conflict can be viewed as part of an ongoing adversarial relationship between the elites, who have organized themselves into governments and warring parties as a method to ensure their power remains in place, and the people, whose dream of a responsive political and economic system remains unfulfilled. 

In 2011, Yemeni people mobilized into the streets, demanding a better life for themselves and their families. They, like millions of Arabs around the region, took heart from the revolutionary efforts that had begun in Tunisia a few weeks prior. And their experience in pushing for change only to see the extent to which elites were willing to go to prevent their demands from ever being realized, including going to war, begins to contextualize the ongoing conflict in Yemen as part of a global struggle for democracy from below. 

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