Do you ever wonder to what extent we allow international media to shape our knowledge of the world we live in? Do you notice the obvious prioritization of certain news stories over others? Why do stories of the Syrian Crisis, for example, seem to appeal to a wider audience than those of Yemen? As a friend of mine actually mentioned some time ago in utter bewilderment: “Where even is Yemen?”
Instead of focusing on my friend’s more basilar geographic concern, I want to discuss the apparent halt of information relayed on Yemen’s War and the international media’s diluted narratives on a conflict that is actually rooted in years of civil strife. Yemen’s story – much like that of other Middle Eastern countries – is not as simple as good versus bad – nor, for that matter, is it as simple as one party versus another.
The information furnished to us from external sources in regards to the country’s conflict relays it as a confrontation between the Yemeni government – backed by the Saudis – and local Shiite Houthi rebels – backed by Iran. In time, what this oversimplification created is an image of the country where, as Thanos Petouris of Muftah organization states, “local conflicts and social movements [are] either ignored or subsumed, further obscuring the nuances of the war and the motives of local actors”. Yet, unfortunately, the situation we have before us is much more complex – a potential reason for why Yemen is no longer spoken of in the news.
As a premise, let us specify that Yemen was once divided in two states: the North led by Ali Abdullah Saleh, who went on to rule the country once it was unified in 1990 for a further13 years, and the South led by twice elected Ali Nassir Muhammed. In 1990, the two governments reached a full agreement on the joint governing of Yemen, and the countries were merged on 22 May 1990, with Saleh as president and the former President of South Yemen, Ali Salim al-Beidh, as Vice President. However, al-Beidh withdrew in view of what he stated was northern violence against his Yemeni Socialist Party, as well as the economic marginalization of the south. Despite various attempted peace negotiations, civil war continued, resulting in the defeat of the southern army in 1994.
Hey! Don’t miss part II – to be posted next week.