Sunday, August 2, 2020

Yemen's Multilayered Civil War: A Brief History

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Children in Yemen | Source: Rod Waddington via Flickr

This is the 1st part of a short explainer article series on the current crisis in Yemen.

Since 2015, Yemen has been at war on two different fronts, 1) The Civil War between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the UAE-Saudi Arabia backed government headed by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and 2) the war against the local terrorist outfits of Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

However, last year one more complexity was added to the conflict when UAE withdrew from the coalition backing Hadi government and later threw its support behind another secessionist force in southern Yemen, which seeks to re-create the State of South Yemen, as it was before the unification of Yemen in 1990.

As of early this year, it has added another layer to the war: the failing healthcare infrastructure and the rise of COVID-19.

The staggering cost of this war in the past five years has prompted the UN to name it the worst man-made humanitarian crisis in history, with Some 24 million Yemeni people - 80 percent of the country's population - requiring assistance or protection.

This series of articles seeks to build historical context to follow the current events in Yemen, believing much of the recent media coverage to have been ignored, or otherwise made wholly uncontextualized in the process of following the crisis for over a decade.

Yemen and the greater neighbourhood | Source: Google Map

The History

Much of the current conflict can only be understood as a result of the events of the latter half of the 20th century. Here is a brief look at the history that has shaped today’s wars in Yemen.

At the heart of several issues in the conflict is the fact that modern day Yemen was initially divided into North Yemen and South Yemen until 1990, when it was unified.

Yemen and the greater neighbourhood | Source: Wikimedia

North Yemen:

The Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), a coalition in North Yemen, overthrew the Mutawakilite Kingdom in 1970, which had been ruling since Yemen’s decolonization, in 1918. The YAR established their capital at Sana’a, a site which will often be the site of conflict in the following years.
This part of Yemen, during the cold war  was backed the countries aligned with the anti-communist block like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the US, the UK and West Germany. The influence of Saudi Arabia and their relations with the US will come to play a greater role in the following decades.

South Yemen:

This referred to the region that was under the British Raj as the Aden Protectorate, since 1874. It consisted of two-thirds of present-day Yemen. In 1937 it became a Province of the British Raj, and in 1963, it collapsed and an emergency declared. The collapse was the joint effort of the National Liberation Front (NLF) and the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY).

Aden was used by the East India Company as a coal depot, and to stop Arab pirates from harassing British-India trade. Until 1937, Aden was part of British India, officially titled the Aden Protectorate.

Aden, like Sana’a will come to be the capital of southern Yemen, and the site of many conflicts.

This part of Yemen, during the cold war was backed by the Cummunist bloc countries like USSR, Cuba, and East Germany.

The Unification:

North and South Yemen united in 1990, after several years of conflict with one another. The leader of North Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was named President of unified Yemen in 1990. He was to continue ruling over Yemen for over three decades.

The unification of Yemen finally fulfilled almost a century of struggle that started during the British occupation and continued at different paces throughout the monarchy and cold war period. This unification also took away the privileges and power vested with many important tribes and people. Unlike the political forces, the armed forces of North and South Yemen were not unified at the time of political unification of the country.

The disgruntled former elites and the partisan army provided the fertile ground for the first civil war of Yemen which followed shortly after the unification.

Link to the second part.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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